Headstarting is a collaborative effort between WWT, BirdsRussia and the RSPB, and occurs as part of the International Arctic Expedition mounted each year by BirdsRussia under the leadership of Dr. Evgeny Syroechkovskiy.

Rising water levels causing concerns – 12 June 2011

Sunday 12th June

Martin reports:
A bright sunny day. Today we headed out onto the spit with the quad bike.

Simon and I took a radio and did a range check. It was connecting to about 2.5kms.

We rode the 15kms to the end of the spit stopping off to check marshy ground adjacent to the lake.

The water levels were still rising. The warmer weather has meant melting snow and ice from the mountains and from the frozen lake are causing levels to rise rapidly. The river mouth is still blocked. The sea pushes gravel across to plug it and it backs up.

We spent the whole day here in this area as up to three pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers (SBS) had been present a few days before.

Carefully sifting through the waders, we identified many species but saw only one SBS – a ringed bird but due to the distance and heat haze it was not possible to see if it was a colour ring.

Many flocks of turnstone were present – c180 – along with all the wader species, they were harvesting the bounty provided by the rising water. If we sat in one place for an hour or so it flooded us out.

The only birds nesting were ringed plovers, which sensibly seemed to choose high areas.

The Arctic ground squirrels were also flooded out. We saw a few trapped on what were now islands with no burrows to scamper down. They were going to have to swim for it.

Out on the lake, flocks of black brant, Pacific eiders, scaup, vega and glaucous gulls could be seen in the heat haze.

We noted c35 Red-necked Stint, hugely variable in the amount of reddish around the head, a western sandpiper, c40 dunlin, a grey-tailed tattler, 60 red-necked phalarope, 12 emperor geese including two with orange stained heads, a few parties of Pacific phite-fronted goose and two yellow wagtails.

At WWT Slimbridge I often search through flocks of little stints and dunlin with the hope of seeing a Western sandpiper or red-necked stint. Both species have been recorded a handful of times in the UK.

Birding here, it is a reversal.  I initially heard and then saw a single adult breeding plumaged little stint among them. A very interesting exercise for a wader enthusiast.

To top this personal highlight I saw a stunning female grey (red) phalarope. Another reversal, the phalaropes have a role-change: males are dull and females bright. The males incubate the eggs and rear the young.

We call it grey phalarope in the UK as most seen are in non-breeding plumage. You will see why they are called red phalaropes elsewhere.

A very good day but concern over the water levels.

We headed in at 1830hrs for a bit of dinner, fish and mash for most. To make the most of the nice day, Simon and I headed out again afterwards to search an area near the hills.

Nige walked out and joined us on the plain. We enjoyed a sunset and could see our breath in the air as it cooled rapidly, a cue to head back in.

red phalarope, Photo by Martin McGill

Highlights- little stint and red (grey) phalarope

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