Russian conservation trials pave way for Spoon-billed Sandpiper recovery

Posted by by Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

An Anglo-Russian team has successfully trialled conservation methods that will pave the way for Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers to be reared and released into the wild.

For the trials an international field team of ornithologists took eggs from the wild. Twenty eggs were flown back to the UK to boost the conservation breeding programme. Nine more were successfully hatched and reared in the nearest tundra village, Meinypil’gyno, before being released as fledglings to make their 8,000km migration to Burma.


The aviary built for the young birds on the tundra. © Anastasia Sestnova

During the trial the team perfected the methods needed to rear the birds in captivity on the remote Russian tundra. The success of the trials has been in seeing the birds set off on migration, paving the way for eggs laid in the UK in the future, as part of the conservation breeding programme, to be flown to Russia, hatched and released into the wild.

WWT aviculturist Roland Digby worked with Juriy Bragin of Moscow Zoo and Liza Tambovtseva of Birds Russia to oversee the project and perfect the techniques. Speaking on his return to the UK he said:

“We worked round the clock to keep the chicks alive and healthy. It was wonderful to release them and watch them as they found their way in the wild, but it was definitely tinged with anxiety, knowing the terrible threats they face.”

“I just have to remind myself that we’d given those particular birds a far safer start in life and that as a result we’ve learned so much that is going to be critical to the future of their species.”


Ringing one of the spoon-billed sandpipers before releasing it into the wild. © Anastasia Sestnova

There are thought to be fewer than 100 breeding pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpipers left in the world and, in recent years, they have been declining by more than one in four each year.

The rear and release methods, coined ‘headstarting’ within the conservation world, effectively protect the young birds from predators and sudden bad weather. In the wild, out of every 20 eggs laid, just three birds survive long enough to migrate away from the breeding grounds. This summer the headstarting trial reared and released nine Spoon-billed Sandpipers from 11 eggs.

Roland Digby continued:

“Predation by skuas, foxes, dogs and even bears has a massive effect on the birds, but it is small beans compared with the effect of land reclamation along the coast of the Yellow Sea, which has wrecked the main place they stop to feed on their long migration.”

“The other major threat they face is in Myanmar and Bangladesh but, thankfully, initial reports indicate that measures to discourage hunters there from targeting shorebirds like Spoon-billed Sandpipers seem to be working.”

“As headstarting boosts the number of birds migrating south to Myanmar over the next few years, just as those conservation measures start to take effect, it is hoped it will speed up the birds’ recovery. £150,000 is still needed to run the project again next year. Donations can be made online.”


A spoon-billed sandpiper post-release. © Anastasia Sestnova

The loss of habitat in the Yellow Sea is a much more challenging problem. As the economies around its coastline develop rapidly, great tracts of mudflats have been encircled by seawalls and converted for industry, agriculture and recreation. Last month WWT, RSPB and others fighting for the survival of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper were at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea to lobby for better use of habitats along the Yellow Sea coast. As a result the IUCN adopted two new motions, which it is hoped will set the international conservation agenda.

To follow the project visit


The Anglo-Russian team monitoring the birds after release. © Anastasia Sestnova

Media Release issued on behalf of WWT, RSPB, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona Consulting and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.

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.

Grand Opening of the Bah??a Lomas Center, southern Chile

Written by Meredith Gutowski/WHSRN

At noon on 20 April, the community of Primavera in the southern Chilean Province of Tierra del Fuego is celebrating the grand opening of the Bahía Lomas Center! This initiative, many years in the making, was launched jointly by the Municipality of Primavera, the University of Santo Tomás (through its Faculty of Sciences), and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (USA).


Centro Bahía Lomas, Tierra del Fuego, Chile/ © Ricardo Matus

Located at one of the gateways to the island of Tierra del Fuego (the Bahía Azul crossing), the Center was established with three main objectives: 

  • to develop and carry out scientific research regarding migratory shorebirds, whales, ecological systems, and indigenous Selk’nam culture, among others;
  • to implement activities involving education, public awareness, and capacity building at various levels; and
  • to promote local tourism and economic development associated with the conservation of this globally important site.

For the island of Tierra del Fuego, the Center will serve as a new place of interest and learning for residents and tourists, providing them with ecological as well as tourist information about the area, a café and gift shop, and tours of the island.

The 150,000-acre (59,000-hectare) Bahía Lomas is the southernmost wetland in Chile, located at the eastern mouth of the Strait of Magellan. Declared a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention in 2004 and as a Site of Hemispheric Importance by WHSRN in 2009, the area is known worldwide for hosting tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds that use its habitats year after year. Some have migrated over 9,300 miles to get here! Bahía Lomas is the most important wintering site in South America for the rufa subspecies of Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa), which breeds in the Arctic. Its population has suffered sharp declines.

Establishing such a Center is called for in the Bahía Lomas Management Plan, itself developed through a process of good governance without precedent in Chile. The project is being carried out through a strategic alliance among the Ministry of Environment, the National Petroleum Company (ENAP by its Spanish acronym), the Municipality of Primavera, University of Santo Tomás, Wildlife Conservation Society-Chile, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.


© Gabriela González

The inaugural event will feature a variety of regional, national, and international authorities, and project partners. All will be celebrating this ambitious project as well as the partnerships that are supporting conservation and local development in the community of Primavera.

Congratulations to all of our partners for this important achievement—the dream of many years. Best wishes as well to the new Director of this most impressive Bahía Lomas Center, our colleague and friend, Ricardo Matus and monitors Gabriela González and Sergio Urrejola!

For more information, please contact Diego Luna Quevedo (, Southern Cone Program Coordinator, Shorebird Recovery Project, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences; Santiago, Chile.

You’re invited: Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Conservation Plan reception

Posted by Meredith Gutowski/WHSRN


Dear WHSRN Friends and Shorebird Supporters,

You are invited to attend the reception, described above, on 10 May 2012 at 5:30 pm in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. 

Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences is hosting the event with Senators Whitehouse (Rhode Island) and Cardin (Maryland) in support of a “call to action” for the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Conservation Plan.

The Plan, itself, is a collaborative effort of dozens of conservation leaders and groups, scientists, and funders to recover and then safeguard the populations of shorebirds across their entire lifecycle along the Atlantic Flyway of the Americas.  The Northeast Office of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Manomet have provided the backbone organization that is currently creating the Plan.

We hope you’ll be able to join us! If so, please RSVP to Martha Sheldon (

We encourage you to share this invitation with others whom you think might be interested.

WHSRN Executive Office
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences


Shorebirds 2020 Web App for iPhone, iPods and Androids

Editor’s update: The app has no longer available at the provided web-address and I could not find any sign of it elsewhere neither.

Written by Birds Australia

The shorebirds 2020 Identification booklet is now available as an iPhone Application. It has been developed by Neil Shelley, one of our volunteers, to be made available for free to everyone interested in our migratory and resident shorebirds.

  • Download the iPhone Web App that helps you identify and learn more about shorebirds
  1. Point Safari on the iPhone at
  2. Tap on the “+” or ‘forward arrow’ on the toolbar at the bottom of the Safari screen
  3. Tap on “Add to Home Screen” and change the name to “Oz Shorebirds”
  4. Tap on “Save”or “Add”
  5. You should now have an icon on your home screen (of a Hooded Plover) that you can tap on to run the app
  6. You can also use it on a Mac or PC via Safari or Google Chrome (and some other browsers, but not Internet Explorer or Firefox).

Surprise report from troubled Syria

Written by BirdLife Community/BirdLife International


During the current Syrian Uprising, travelling even short distances around the country has become very difficult and is in many cases extremely dangerous. Vehicles are subject to frequent spot checks by security forces and, with tensions running high, travel has been heavily curtailed. Making a journey carrying the usual paraphernalia necessary to monitor birds such as binoculars, telescope and cameras creates additional complications and risks suspicion of anti-government behaviour, instant confiscation of equipment and, potentially, much worse.

Accordingly we have been assuming no records of migrating Sociable Lapwings or hunting mitigation activity would be recorded in the country this spring leaving a gap in the usual regular information we receive from the country.

Read more…

Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance activities support shorebird conservation in Uruguay

Written by BirdLife International

Annually, Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis and American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica undertake some of the longest journeys of any migratory birds in the world, from their breeding grounds in the tundra of North America (Canada and Alaska) to wintering sites in the grasslands of Southern South America. Aves Uruguay (BirdLife in Uruguay) and partners have secured approximately 3,000 hectares for both species of shorebirds through good management practices of the natural grasslands.


Image curtesy of BirdLife International.

Both species have suffered significant population declines due to habitat loss on their migration and wintering grounds and through hunting (in the Caribbean, and historically in North and South America). Their primary wintering grounds are the Southern Cone or Pampas grasslands of South America, and Laguna de Rocha in Uruguay is one of the few sites globally where they can be found in large numbers on a regular basis. Consequently, Laguna de Rocha has been identified as an IBA for both species (IBA UY019) and in 2010 was designated as a site of regional importance within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Importantly, the lagoon and surrounding grasslands have recently been declared Protected Landscape within the new National Protected Areas System.

Laguna de Rocha is one of the pilot sites for the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance (www.pastizalesdelconosur), where, through collaboration with local ranchers, best practices for the management of natural grasslands are being developed which enable ranchers to conserve the unique biodiversity of their grasslands through livestock ranching. A combination of academic research, traditional knowledge and the monitoring of grassland bird populations are being used to develop the most appropriate grassland management practices for each species of conservation concern.

The work at Laguna de Rocha is being led by Aves Uruguay with the support of the national university (the Universidad de la República). A research and monitoring program has been established for both species, with the goal of understanding the main factors determining habitat preferences, and the relationship with land use, diet, territoriality, site fidelity (between years) and spatial segregation of the sexes. The program will also assess the local population status, estimate demographic parameters (e.g. survival), local movements and help identify the migratory flyways used by both species. Through the program, college students will receive training in topics such as migration ecology, behavioral ecology, biodiversity conservation and field techniques.

Information generated through the research and monitoring program is being used to inform decisions regarding stocking rates, rotation cycles and other aspects of livestock management by producers to help create appropriate habitat for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and American Golden Plover. This synergy has been made possible in part thanks to the support of the “Responsible Production Project” of the Uruguayan Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries.

Aves Uruguay’s work at Laguna de Rocha is made possible through the project “Connecting people and places for the conservation of Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngenites subruficollis” financed by the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Eastern Regional University Centre (Centro Universitario Regional Este, Universidad de la República). It is also supported through theSouthern Cone Grasslands Alliance, which is supported by the Aage V. Jensen Charity FoundationCanadian Wildlife ServiceNMBCA and U.S. Forest Service – International Programs; in addition to support from the Responsible Production Project, the Basic Sciences Development Program of the Universidad de la República and WHSRN.

Further information: Pablo Rocca ( Grasslands Alliance Coordinator un Uruguay.


New Flyway Network Site: ???Yubu-do Tidal Flat??? in Seocheon County, Republic of Korea

Written by EAAFP

Based on the recommendation of the Secretariat and review panel, the ‘Yubu-do Tidal Flat’ in Seocheon County is now designated in the Flyway Site Network (FSN) as an internationally important habitat for migratory waterbirds on the East Asian-Australasia Flyway.


© 2011 Partnership for EAAF

Classified as intertidal flat and islands, it is located in the centre of the western coast in Korea, and is an important staging and non-breeding habitat for many migratory waterbirds such as Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata), Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina). It also regularly supports appreciable numbers of Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus).


South-east Asia provides very important staging sites for Artctic breeder shorebirds. © Neil Fifer