By late June in Chukotka, the Arctic summer is in full swing. New flowers are appearing each day on the tundra – wintergreen, saxifrages, louseworts, crowberry, arctic bell heather and unexpectedly for me, tiny little Rhododendrons, each with a small but characteristically flamboyant cerise pink flower.
Rhododendron flowering on the Chukotka tundra (Photo: Guy Anderson)
Chicks of early nesting bird species are starting to hatch. One of the earliest in Meinypil’gyno are the town’s snow buntings. The noisy nest above my bedroom window fledged at least two fat healthy fledglings, which are now hopping around after their parents demanding food 24-7.
A few kilometres out of town, on the shingle spits to the east and west, and in the low hills to the north, most of the local spoonies are incubating clutches of eggs. One or two are still very vocal and apparently moving around a lot – but these look like birds that have not found a mate this year, and will return south in a few week’s time. The narrow window in which successful clutches can be started – only about three weeks - is over. Any spoony chicks hatching from eggs laid now would struggle to fledge in time before the summer is over. So any unpaired birds now will have to wait until next year for another go. But, like most waders, these can be long-lived birds – ten or fifteen years is perfectly possible, so with luck they will have more chances in following years.
Results of a good day’s work – finding a spoon-billed sandpiper nest on the tundra. (Photo: Guy Anderson)
Much of the last two weeks has been spent trying to find spoony nests. Early on it was to provide eggs for the headstarting programme and then to find second nests to monitor their success. When these hatch, we will hopefully individually mark any resulting chicks, so that we can follow their lives into the future. Finding nests takes a lot of walking, patience, concentration, and often a large dollop of luck. Some have been pretty straightforward, others incredibly difficult.
The shot of endorphins at finding any spoony nest though, and thinking that there are probably less then 250 of these in the world right now, is very real. One of the trickiest nests we finally located was that of male ‘Lime 24’. When we got close enough to identify him from his leg-flag, I suddenly realised this was a bird I’ve seen before – 5000 km away on the Yellow Sea mudflats in China, on his autumn migration south in October 2017. That really brought home what incredible lives these birds lead – tiny scraps of bird finding their way across vast distances. If Lime 24 lives to be ten, he could easily clock up 150,000 kilometres of migration. Pretty impressive for a bird that weighs about the same as a chocolate bar.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper male Lime 24 – being sneaky and difficult to observe on his breeding territory, as usual. (Photo: Guy Anderson)
In the next two weeks, Lime 24 and all the other spoonies still nesting here will hopefully have chicks. By early August those chicks will be independent, and will start to make their own way south on their first migration. From egg to thousands of miles of flying in little over a month. Incredible.
I’ll update again on the 2019 Chukotka Spoon-billed Sandpiper expedition in a few weeks when we’ll know the final scores of both headstarted and wild reared birds, and the season will be winding down. The spoonies will be winging their way south by then, heading for the Yellow Sea and then another ‘winter’ on the mudflats of south east Asia. Half a world away from Meinypil’gyno.
For more updates on the Chukotka spoon-billed sandpiper work in 2019, visit the blogs on www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com
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