Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper: the motion picture

Written by WWT

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the story, and we are delighted to announce that our feature-length film of the epic 2011 expedition to Chukotka is available.

From the official media release:

Shot guerrilla-style, in the field by its stars, saving the spoon-billed sandpiper brings real-life human drama to the nature documentary format.

The film features stunning footage of spoon-billed sandpipers, as a handful of the last remaining pairs attempt to breed in the fleeting Arctic summer.

But the story veers from the standard natural history format as we follow two of the team, WWT’s Nigel Jarrett and Martin McGill, from the UK to the Russian wilderness and see them push themselves to the limit to achieve a seemingly impossible task.

Nigel and Martin are part of an international team brought together to save this most unusual and elusive creature – the spoon-billed sandpiper – from almost certain extinction. Weather and wildlife conspire to prevent them, but the pair relies on ingenuity, determination and each other to see them through weeks of little sleep, caring for 17 of the world’s rarest young animals in extreme conditions.

The film’s producer, Sacha Dench said:

“By showing the lows as well as the highs, the gut-wrenching decisions and the near calamities, we hope people will see conservation in the raw. It’s certainly not glamorous, but it is gripping.

The guys are everyday heroes. They have ended up doing this extraordinary job, but we see the stress and strain of ten weeks spent away from their young families, which shows they’re no different from the rest of us; they just followed their hearts into a career in conservation.

It would be wonderful if their story gives encouragement to any young people that, if they want to, they can get into conservation.”

The film, which is 60 minutes long, is released on DVD on Friday 17 August and is available to buy at or in shops at WWT centres priced £9.99.

Pingo: The Whimbrel Around the Tropical Storm Isaac

Written by Fletcher M Smith

Pingo, the Whimbrel has striked around the Tropical Storm Isaac and is likely headed for either French Guiana or Brazil. As of 22 August at 11PM (Eastern time) the bird was 300 miles from landfall. The Whimbrel was averaging 35mph before hitting the storm, and averaged 25mph after, so the storm only had a minor effect on the flight speed and bearing.


Brassy whimbrels fly more than 2,500 miles out to sea and through the heart of the Atlantic Ocean completing a nonstop flight of 6 days


Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) have tracked 3 whimbrels off the east coast of Canada to the northern shore of South America via a previously unknown migration pathway over the open Atlantic Ocean. The route passed through the center of the vast Atlantic at one point passing 1,000 miles closer to Africa than to North America and within 700 miles of the Cape Verde Islands. The bird with the longest flight flew nonstop for 145 hours (6 days) covering a distance of 7,000 kilometers (4,355 miles).


The three birds named Mackenzie, Taglu, and Akpik were originally marked by CCB and Canadian Wildlife Service staff on the breeding grounds along the Mackenzie River Delta in far north-western Canada (Mackenzie was fitted with a transmitter recovered from Machi, a bird that was shot on Guadeloupe in September of 2011). In mid-July the birds flew across the continent to the east coast of Canada and staged for approximately 2 weeks in the James Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to build fat reserves. The birds then flew southeast, reaching the center of the Atlantic Ocean before turning south and making landfall in South America between Guyana and Brazil. Although this portion of the Atlantic is used by true seabirds that roost on the water, it is so isolated from shore that species such as whimbrel that cannot land on water were not believed to reach it. The birds may receive some benefit from venturing this far out to sea in the form of favorable tailwinds. Mackenzie averaged just under 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) for the 6-day flight.

The three birds are part of a larger project that has included 20 additional birds that have been tracked to better understand migratory pathways and locations that are critical for this declining species. The study has tracked whimbrels for more than 185,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) since 2008. The broader tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Canadian Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Connecting WHSRN Sites and People in the Southern Cone

Written by Meredith Gutowski/WHSRN


Male Buff-breasted Sandpiper, double-wing courtship display. © Kevin Karlson

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) breeds in the tundra of North America (Alaska and Canada) and spends the nonbreeding season (boreal winter) in the temperate grasslands of southern South America—mainly in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Priority areas for the species include Laguna de Rocha (Uruguay), Lagoa do Peixe (Brazil) and Bahia Samborombón (Argentina), all WHSRN Sites within the Southern Cone. The degree of legal protection at these sites varies, with a diversity of management actions being implemented by site managers. Private landowners consist mainly of rural farmers, who use their pastures for grazing cattle.

To help protect this important grassland-dependent shorebird species, the nongovernmental organization Aves Uruguay launched the project, “Connecting sites and people to conserve Buff-breasted Sandpiper wintering areas: putting conservation plans into action.” The project is made possible by funds from the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Grants Program (2011), facilitated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The project strengthens partners’ capacity for effective conservation at these three critical WHSRN Sites. The objective will be accomplished through joint management actions among the sites and by starting a monitoring program to assess the species’s response to the actions.


The group discusses the basis for a joint Action Plan. © Diego Luna Quevedo


Workshop participants visit the cattle ranch of Mr. Juan Muzio. © Diego Luna Quevedo

From 13–14 June, 2012, partners held the project’s first capacity-building workshop in La Paloma, Department of Rocha, Uruguay. The workshop brought together key actors and stakeholders from the three aforementioned WHSRN sites, plus the Bahía de Asunción WHSRN Site in Paraguay.

During the workshop, partners made comprehensive presentations on the critical sites for Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the Southern Cone; exchanged information on the ecology and conservation of the species; and shared management experiences. At the same time, with facilitation by Diego Luna Quevedo (Southern Cone Program Coordinator for the Shorebird Recovery Project at Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences), the participants generated a dynamic working group and laid the foundations of an Action Plan for the joint management of the sites. They addressed the challenges and opportunities that come with joint management; developed objectives for a joint strategy; and established lines of priority actions, expected results, possible activities, and indicators by which to measure the impact of joint management.

The workshop agenda included a visit to the cattle ranch owned by Juan Muzio in the area of Laguna de Rocha. He shared with the participants the keys to good management practices in the field.

For more information, please contact Joaquín Aldabe (, Project Leader and Director of Conservation for Aves Uruguay. Mr. Aldabe is also a coauthor of the WHSRN Species Conservation Plan for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.