Sunday, 31 May 2015

A little sidebar - The Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Not been out birding a lot over the past few weeks as have been tangled up in some issues with work but thought I'd share something that I have been watching closely over the past few months.  It involves the survival of a very enigmatic little bird called the Spoon-billed Sandiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) and the efforts being made to protect it. Now critically endangered with less than 200 birds left in the wild.

Spoonbill sandpiper
spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

I first came across the story when I was looking for a project to work on for one of the modules I was studying but have become fascinated by the great efforts being made to preserve this enigmatic little creature.
As the name suggests it is a Sandpiper but has a unique bill shape which it uses in a scythe like motion catching invertebrates from the water.  They breed in the north east of Russia and migrate annually to the shores of the Indian Ocean along the Bay of Bengal and the China Sea.  They tend spend the winter in estuaries feeding, though with so few left you would be very lucky to see one.  Their population has decreased rapidly in recent years due, it is thought, to the reclamation of many of their favourite winter retreats and a high level of chick mortality.  What is clear is that the numbers are now so low that extinction is almost inevitable if action is not taken to protect them.

A number of groups have taken up the plight of this bird notable among these is a Trust from almost the other side of the planet, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust in the UK who have, along with the BTO, RSPB, Moscow Zoo and Russian birding groups.  A specially built center has been made available by the WWT at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire UK and a number of eggs have been taken from the wild and are being manually reared there for later re-introduction.  If they are taken at the right time of year then the adults will lay a second batch so it is hoped the chances of survival can be improved in that way.  Sounds simple enough but there are huge technical and logistical difficulties involved which require a great deal of skill and cash to make it happen.  I attach a 7 minute video of the work that has been done over the past few years and a link to a BBC article on the topic.

I know spare cash is a rare commodity at the best of times and when there is the world is full of need, but maybe.....

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