Friday, 21 November 2014

Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Part 4

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

A Young Bird's trip to help the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

As a young Bangladeshi birder, I am going to Bangladesh in February 2015 to take part in Spoon-billed Sandpiper surveys on Sonadia Island. I will also be meeting local villagers and am really excited about my trip.

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Sylhet, Bangladesh
Photograph taken by Helena Craig

My love of waders (Shorebirds)

As I said in my blog post Waders and Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Part 2, I have a love of waders (shorebirds), that I get from my Dad.

My blog post from March 2014, Saving Spoon-billed Sandpiper Part 1, included interviews from Sayam U Chowdhury (Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Project) Project and Nigel Jarrett (WWT):

Sayam U Chowdhury
Photograph courtesy of and copyright WWT

World Shorebirds Day

World shorebirds Day, 6th September of each year, has been raising money for Spoon-billed Sandpiper and have chosen it as their Shorebird of the Year 2014:

Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

“Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper: an update on the conservation programme” 

By Dr Nigel Clark (BTO), Debbie Pain (WWT) and Rhys Green (Conservation Science Group), British Birds, August 2014 edition (Vol 107 439-496), sets out the up-to-date positions.

In my last blog post Saving the Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Part 3, I wrote about some of the current positions set out in this paper: 

I will now set out a couple more:

Raising Awareness and promoting education

In 2012 “Saving Spoony’s Chinese Wetlands” won the vote for $100,000 from the Disney Foundation which was great. Also children and adults across the Spoon-billed Sandpiper flyway are being taught about Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It’s important that these education programmes do not stop; otherwise locals may lose interest in Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

In Bangladesh, there was a one year awareness campaign including a photo exhibition, films on the work being done in Bangladesh and Russia, folk songs and dramas on the topic with former hunters also visiting schools.

Children during an education programme on Sonadia Island, Bangladesh
Photograph courtesy of WWT Slimbridge

Helping the population recover

In my blog post Spoon-billed Sandpiper Part 1, Nigel Jarrett spoke about “headstarting” where eggs were taken from the nest, incubated and newly fledged chicks released back into the wild after about 23 days. 

Spoon-billed Sandpiper WWT
Photograph courtesy of and copyright WWT

In 2011 a conservation breeding population was started at WWT in Slimbridge. In the first year, chicks were reared and then brought back to the UK. The following year, eggs were brought over and chicks born here. They were taken from the nest early, so that in many cases the parents had a second clutch. This is something that I wrote about in Part 1 and now there are 14 birds in captivity there. It was amazing for me to see these birds in 2012 and know that they were a significant proportion of the total Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks at WWT Slimbridge, Oct 2012
Photograph taken (without  flash) by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

This year, breeding aviaries were build that looked like Spoon-billed Sandpiper breeding site in the Russian Tundra. Unfortunately, none of them bred this year but there is lots of hope for 2015.

The fantastic news from Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is that the first headstarted bird, a female, returned to the Russian breeding grounds this summer and bred successfully.   

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Russian Tundra
Photograph courtesy of Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project

Interview with Dr Deborah Pain, Director of Conservation Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Dr Debbie Pain. WWT
Photograph courtesy of and copyright WWT

How many Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks did WWT Slimbridge bring back following the breeding season in 2011?

Thirteen (13) four month old juvenile spoon-billed sandpipers arrived at WWT Slimbridge on 11 November 2011.

How many eggs were brought back in 2012 and how many of these hatched?

Twenty (20) eggs arrived at Slimbridge at 10am on 5 July 2012 – after a monumental eight day journey from Meinypil’gyno! The first egg hatched only 6 hours after arrival and so began a nine day, 24 hours a day vigil as the eggs hatched. All 18 viable eggs hatched and 17 healthy Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks were raised. 

Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks at WWT Slimbridge, Oct 2012
Photograph taken (without  flash) by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

How many Spoon-billed Sandpiper does WWT now have? What is the percentage that has survived? What is the most common cause of death?

We have 25 Spoon-billed sandpipers at Slimbridge: 11 from 2011 (9 males and 2 females) and 14 from 2012 (7 male and 7 females). As we have lost only a few birds over these 3 years there isn’t really a most common cause of death. We certainly hope it will stay that way!

Who from WWT, if anyone, was involved in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper “headstarting” programme in the Russian for 2014? What was their involvement and how successful was this?

WWT’s aviculturist Roland Digby led on all of the in-the-field avicultural activities of the 2014 headstarting expedition. He oversaw egg collection, incubation, hatching, rearing, releasing and post-release monitoring the birds. The 2014 head-starting project was successful beyond all expectations. Thirty eggs (30) were collected and of the 29 eggs (97%) which were viable, 27 (93%) hatched and 26 chicks were reared to release. Each bird was uniquely marked on the right leg with a white leg-flag bearing an individual double digit (letter and number) code. At least 24 flagged birds were known to have migrated and three birds have since been seen on migratory staging sites in Western Kamchatka, Russia; Rudong County, Jiangsu province, China; and Yuboo-Island, Seochon-Goon, Chungchongnam-Do, South Korea. 

On Roland’s birthday (18 June) this year, the female spoon-billed Sandpiper Lime Green 8 was discovered approximately 15km from Meinypil’gyno. This was a bird Roland had reared and released in the 2012 headstarting trial (2012 was the first year that we attempted this). She went on to lay a clutch of three eggs of which one chick was reared - the first F1 offspring of the project! The re-sightings and the breeding success of Lime Green 8 demonstrate great potential of headstarting to boost the wild population. 

Roland Digby WWT
Photograph courtesy of and copyright WWT

What steps were taken in relation to the 2014 Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive-breeding programme at WWT Slimbridge and which projects funded this?

In spring 2014, birds that had been living at WWT Slimbridge as a wintering flock were separated into single pairs, trios (two males with one female, and one male with two females) and multiple pairs. These were accommodated in breeding aviaries of different sizes, each carefully landscaped with low growing turf and sedum and small freshwater pools to resemble as closely as possible the birds’ natural breeding habitat. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Project has been funded by a large number of organisations and individuals and we are extremely grateful to all of them –please see here for more information: Saving the Spoon-billed This project could not be done without the commitment and support of so many people and organisations.

Why do you think the Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive-breeding programme wasn’t successful in 2014 and do you think the chances are better for 2015?

Single pairs in particular showed lots of encouraging signs of breeding – from dawn until dusk throughout May males performed song-flight displays and made multiple nest scrapes. However, no eggs were laid. We cannot be sure why the birds did not breed but there are several factors that we are exploring. These relate to photoperiod, the unusually high ambient temperatures that we had this year and the proximity of displaying birds which may have unsettled pairs. We are finding ways of dealing with these environmental factors and others ahead of the 2015 breeding season. However, it is also possible that females were just not quite ready to breed. Most of our females were 2 years old this summer which is the earliest you would expect them to attempt to breed, and in some other bird species females in captivity delay first breeding by a year for unknown reasons.

Thank you to Dr Deborah Pain for making the time to be interviewed, particularly just before speaking at the Oriental Bird Club AGM and sharing the fantastic work of WWT in relation to Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

A Young Conservationist's Conclusion

I think that saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is really important but continues to be difficult. More wader species could easily become extinct like the Slender-billed Curlew and Eskimo Curlew, so we have to do everything we can even if that means lots of money and effort across lots of countries. 

Although there are good signs that headstarting and the captive breeding programme with the release into the wild of chicks is likely to succeed, they will only help the survival of Spoon-billed Sandpiper with the protection of the birds from habitat loss and hunting. For this reason, there is an urgent need to find the missing stop over points, wintering grounds and breeding grounds so that these and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper that visit can be protected.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Sonadia Island, Bangladesh
Photograph courtesy of Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project

About the writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mya-Rose Craig is a 12 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker.    She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.  She was the youngest person to see 3,000 birds in 2013 and she hopes to see her 4,000th bird in Antarctica, her 7th continent, in 2015.  Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter

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