Meet the team
Since its beginning, the mission to save the spoon-billed sandpiper has involved a large team of field researchers, aviculturists and support staff, as well as the vision of some of the world’s leading conservation scientists.
Too many people have been involved to mention, but here are some of the team members you will hear from on this blog.
Roland, an aviculturist and bird-rearing veteran, travelled to join the expedition team in Anadyr – Chukotka, Russia – in 2011 as they returned from the breeding grounds. He reared and nurtured the young spoon-billed sandpipers to adulthood and through their long quarantine in Moscow before they were released to travel to WWT Slimbridge. Since 2012 Roland has led the field element of the head-starting project; trialing and successfully developing the techniques to successfully rear and release spoon-billed sandpipers in situ. Whilst all the while, training a dedicated team of Russian aviculturists to eventually take over the project.
Nicky is responsible for the day to day care of the spoon-billed sandpipers at WWT Slimbridge. She started as a volunteer with the Slimbridge reserve team before being recruited as a support aviculturist on the Great Crane Project. The team discovered she had feathery fingers (the avicultural equivalent of green fingers) and now she’s a permanent member of WWT’s Conservation Breeding Unit. Nicky played a key role in successfully rearing 17 spoon-billed sandpipers at Slimbridge in 2012 and in 2013 she joined Roland on the expedition to Chukotka.
Juriy has helped with the headstarting fieldwork and is taking the knowledge and practical skills he has learned about raising waders back to colleagues at the Moscow Zoo.
Juriy is a fifth-year student in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the Moscow Academy of Veterinary Sciences (of K. I. Scryabin). He comes from a family of mushers who currently have 14 sled dogs. He personally prefers skijoring (skiing pulled by dogs) with his favourite Alaskan husky named Grafit. His practical experience with birds includes training falcons for falconry, and caring for the family’s raven ‘Chancellor’.
Nikolay is one of the leading field researchers working on spoon-billed sandpipers and is a regular on the annual expedition to Chukotka. He’s particularly skilled at finding nests.
Nikolay works at Saratov University as a Zoology lecturer. He has been studying spoon-billed sandpipers at Meinypil’gyno since 2005. He has been involved in many other nature protection projects, such as the conservation of rare birds in the Lower Volga (started in 1996) and sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, Volgograd Reservoir (from 2008). Nikolay led the spoon-billed sandpiper nest searching teams in 2011 and 2012. In recent years he was a member of two expeditions to South-East Asia to the spoon-billed sandpiper’s wintering grounds (in 2008 and 2011). Nikolay has found over 100 spoon-billed sandpipers nests making him one of the most experienced spoon-billed sandpiper field ornithologists in the world.
Pavel has been leading expeditions to Chukotka and researching spoon-billed sandpipers since the 1980s.
Pavel is Curator of Birds at the Moscow State University Zoological Museum. His scientific interests include the distribution, geographic connectivity, ecology, taxonomy, evolution and conservation of arctic birds, mostly Calidrid waders. Between 1972 and 2012, he spent over 35 summer field seasons studying waders in various parts of the Russian Arctic and Subarctic from Franz Josef Land to Chukotka and Kamchatka as well as in Alaska. He has produced around 200 scientific publications from this work. Pavel conducted detailed studies of spoon-billed sandpiper natural history in northern Chukotka in 1986-1988; then with other colleagues he revealed for the first time the spoon-billed sandpiper’s steep population decline in 2000. He participated in spoon-billed sandpiper breeding surveys in 1975, 1976, 2002 and 2005 and has monitored the key breeding populations from 2009 to 2012. Dr. Tomkovich is one of the world’s leading experts on spoon-billed sandpipers.
Egor is a field team member responsible for spoon-billed sandpiper population monitoring and nest finding. He joined the project in 2011 and also participated in 2012. Egor coordinates the expedition’s field observations and maintains the weather data log. Egor has devised a spoon-billed sandpiper photo identification database using unique plumage characteristics of individual birds. Egor is very experienced in lone fieldwork in the Russian Arctic and therefore conducts surveys of the most remote areas. Having a PhD in engineering, he provides technical advice both during expedition planning and in the field.
Nastya joined the Spoon-billed Sandpiper project in 2012, as a graduate of the Biological Faculty of the Saratov State University. She again joined the expedition in 2013, having gained the experience to become a full-scale member of the SbS team. She helps search for SbS nests and raise the headstarted SbS chicks. She has crucial fieldwork experience and helps arrange the logistics of the expedition to Chukotka.
Ivan studied at the Department of Animal Morphology and Ecology as a field zoologist. After graduation, he spent a long time working in the Anti-Plague Institute “Microbe”. His main job at the time was the cultivation of plague bacteria and isolation of antigens. Several years later, he received Ph.D. as microbiologist . Last year Ivan worked in Saratov Branch of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, where he studied the behavior of Great bustard in captivity.
Evgeny supervises the project in Russia and secures the relevant permissions.
Evgeny is currently Director of Birds Russia and Head of the Arctic Biodiversity Conservation Centre of the All-Russian Institute for Nature Conservation. As well as a wide range of scientific interests relevant to Arctic bird conservation and ornithology with a focus on Anatidae and shorebirds, he has worked on spoon-billed sandpipers for the last 13 years and is chair of the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership Spoon-Billed Sandpiper Task Force . He has spent 25 field seasons in the Russian Arctic and also conducted surveys for spoon-billed sandpiper in India and South East-Asia.
Sveta plays host to the expedition team in Meinypil’gyno. She provides breakfast and evening meals in her and her husband Roman’s home and prepares snacks for their lunches. Her and Roman store the team’s quad bikes and fuel and Roman’s tracked ATV is used to move the larger equipment. Sveta is chair of the local “Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s Friends Club”. Since the first ornithological expedition arrived in 2001, she has organised community monitoring of the spoon-billed sandpiper population and environment in Meinypil’gyno. Without her support we could hardly have made this expedition possible. Sveta is really fond of this cute bird.
Nigel is WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding, heading up projects for common crane, Madagascar pochard and spoon-billed sandpiper. With nearly 30 years’ hands-on experience, he has worked in the UK and abroad with all but ten of the world’s 163 wildfowl species and all of the world’s flamingo species. He and colleagues developed husbandry techniques and manuals resulting in WWT gaining global recognition as an ex situ conservation centre of excellence. He has been directly involved with a number of re-establishment projects, including successful conservation breeding programmes for MacQueen’s Bustard in the United Arab Emirates, five species of wildfowl in Trinidad & Tobago and the translocation of the Critically Endangered Laysan teal from Laysan to Midway Atoll in Hawaii. He has led successful conservation breeding egg-collecting expeditions to Kazakhstan (MacQueen’s bustard), Germany (common crane), Madagascar (Madagascar pochard) and Far East Russia (spoon-billed sandpiper).
Rebecca is a Senior Species Conservation Officer at WWT and a member of the Conservation Breeding team. Her background is in wildlife disease, aviculture and re-introduction policy and she’s got a thing for flamingos. Rebecca is the chair of the Wetlands International/IUCN-SSC Flamingo Specialist Group and works with zoo keepers to improve the care and breeding success of captive flamingos across Europe. She provides logistical support to the expeditions to Russia, ensuring all the correct UK licenses and permits are in place, and overseeing preparations at WWT Slimbridge. The less glamorous aspects of the project!
Christoph has been working in the Russian Arctic for over 16 years and he currently coordinates the EAAFP Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force . He led the 2012 expedition to Chukotka. An ecological consultant by day, Christoph has been at the centre of spoon-billed sandpiper conservation and research since 2000. Christoph was a key part of the survey team that identified Myanmar as the key non-breeding area for spoon-billed sandpipers. He has also regularly visited the breeding grounds around Meinypil’gyno. Christoph has contributed much of the research that has helped us understand the dire situation currently facing the birds.
Liz Brown works for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand. After three years working with rowi/Okarito Brown Kiwi, she moved to Twizel to manage the captive breeding programme for the critically endangered kaki/black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae). She first joined the team in 2011 with Roland Digby in Anadyr to rear the young spoon-billed sandpiper before their long journey back to the UK and returned to Meinypil’gyno in 2012 to collect and incubate eggs.
Karin Eberhardt first saw the spoon-billed sandpiper on a tidal mudflat in Myanmar’s Gulf of Mottama. As a volunteer with the Bird and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), the Myanmar BirdLife partner, she advises on approaches to alternative livelihoods for bird hunters, raising public awareness, and cooperative management of the Gulf of Mottama as it is designated a RAMSAR site. Based in Myanmar for over 12 years, she is a consultant to conservation and/or development projects. She joined the 2012 expedition to Meinypil’gyno.
Sayam runs the “Bangladesh Spoon Billed Sandpiper Conservation Project”, which conserves habitat, raises awareness and secures alternative incomes for former SBS hunters. He joined the 2012 expedition to their breeding grounds. Besides spoon-billed sandpiper, Sayam has also carried out significant studies on globally endangered masked finfoot in the Sundarbans, Baer’s pochard in the freshwater wetlands in NE Bangladesh and black-bellied tern in the northern river delta of Bangladesh.
Thomas Noah has had his dream job for over 20 years already—working in the Spreewald National Biosphere Reserve, which covers 470 km sq in the riverine wetland where he grew up. His duties as Park Ranger include visitor education, scientific surveys and habitat management. When the former East Germany opened up, with his newly-issued passport in hand, Tom’s first destination was Hong Kong to see the spoon-billed sandpiper and great knot. 2012 was his 7th expedition to the Russian Far East to survey for spoon-billed sandpipers and migrant waders. He is head of the German Spoon-billed Sandpiper Support Team.
Phil first visited Chukotka with Dr Evgeny Syroechovskiy as it became obvious that the spoon-billed sandpiper was heading towards extinction. Since then he has helped Evgeny and Christoph survey other parts of Eastern Russia as well as studying spoon-billed sandpipers in China and Myanmar. Phil works full-time as bird tour leader for Bird Holidays in Leeds. He joined the 2012 expedition. As he has funded himself, he says it has been difficult to visit as often as he would like.
Baz joined the 2012 expedition. In 2011 he was an integral part of a small team which discovered spoon-billed sandpipers at a new breeding site in Northern Kamchatka, and is passionate about this important project. He is a trained ecologist/conservationist having obtained an Hons degree in Ecology from the University of East Anglia and worked in the UK for Natural England and the County Trusts involved with Bird and Plant surveys. Baz now runs his own business in Norfolk involved with wetland restoration.
Richard joined the 2012 expedition, taking a break from his day job managing the reserve at WWT’s Caerlaverock Wetland Centre on the shores of the Solway Firth. He joined WWT in the 1970s and worked at Slimbridge with both the captive collection birds and on the reserve. Since moving to Caerlaverock in 1986 he has mainly been Reserve Manager. Richard has led more than 10 WWT expeditions to Iceland working on whooper swans. His previous Russian experience was on a Bewick’s swan expedition.
Liz joined the 2012 expedition. She started her career as a research assistant at WWT Caerlaverock in 1999 working on barnacle geese. She returned for another winter in 2004 and then joined 2012 expedition team mates Richard Hesketh and Richard Smith on a whooper swan expedition to Iceland in 2008. After finding a study by Birds Russia’s Dr Evgeny Syroechovskiy over 10 years ago, she was captivated by spoon-billed sandpipers and eager to work with them. She has relevant fieldwork experience in nest finding, monitoring productivity and handling and measuring eggs and birds.
Richard joined the 2012 expedition. He started his career at WWT Slimbridge before moving north to WWT Caerlaverock. Richard spent two years on the avicultural staff at Slimbridge and three years as a Reserve Warden at Caerlaverock, contributing to research on whooper swans and barnacle geese. Along with the other Richard and Liz Mackley, he has been on an expedition to Iceland to research whooper swans.
Jochen runs the Helgoland bird observatory and volunteered for the 2011 Chukotka expedition. His interests are bird ecology, rare birds, football and politics. He is on the editorial Board of the popular birdwatching magazing “Falke”, in which he has already published several articles on the 2011 expedition. He always dreamt of going to the breeding grounds of arctic waders, especially spoon-billed sandpiper, having previously been in the Russian arctic on Kolguev (2007) and Kamchatka (2009).
Martin is usually found looking after the acclaimed wildfowl reserve at WWT Slimbridge but in Chukotka in 2011 he dusted off his feathery fingers for a return to the world of aviculture, helping care for the first spoon-billed sandpipers to be hatched in captivity. One of Martin’s passions is wading birds and his skills as a birdwatcher were invaluable in searching out the handful of breeding pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers in the hundreds of miles of coastline along this stretch of the Russian Far East.