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.

Not counting chickens before they hatch – the aviculturist in me takes over – 3 July 2011

3 July 2011
0900hrs The day began with sunshine.  Nikolay is searching the hills for one more suspected nest. Jochen is to look at another area where he watched a displaying male in previous weeks. We did not see or hear this bird on my only visit here with Nikolay but it has been seen since by Liza and Egor. Again this area may hold another nest.

1200hrs I headed out toward the marshes with Si, bumping into Sveta who arrived with the quad car (two seat quad bike/pickup) that has just arrived. She insisted we took it and we drove across to the marsh, we were soon settled in to allow a SBS to become accustomed to our presence. We spent a couple of hours with the bird but planned to go further afield to check out some familiar but not recently visited sites. The mosquitoes were active and after us, I resorted to repellent and eventually a head net but this was more for camouflage to get closer to the bird.

Nesting spoon billed-sandpiper, photo by Martin McGill

Nikolay arrived on the scene and sat with us for a while to catch up. He announced that he had found another nest and was very keen to collect as soon as possible. He returned in the quad car which has now arrived in Meini and went to inform Nige of the news. As this was going to change the structure of the day we walked back across the gravel plain to the settlement to talk with Nige and to form a plan for the rest of the day.

Nigel and Andrey in the field, photo by Martin McGill

1600hrs In less than half an hour we were preparing to move out, getting our kit together and heading for the hills, Nikolay was going to lead us to the new nest. We were surprised to see so many butterflies and moths on the wing as we followed a stream and ventured uphill. The flowers are really bursting out and this was really a very pleasant evening. As we closed in on we paused at the site with the predated nest where I picked up some eggshell of SBS. A reminder of the sadness but five minutes later we were cautiously smiling as Nikolay led us directly to the nest, it contained some eggs. This was great news. Nikolay informed us he thought they were close to hatching as the behaviour of the incubating bird indicated so. We went through another careful extraction and got the eggs back as soon and as carefully as we could. They were placed into a separate incubator after quickly checking them over we were encouraged with what we saw.

Nigel placing eggs in incubator, photo by Martin Mcgill

I find it hard to write any blog entries for this stage of our mission here, our work in the last ten days or so have personally re-immersed me back in the world of aviculture, I have spent over seven years of my life working in this area for WWT. The internet and blogging were not part of this world when I was deeply involved, I am more used to it from the reserve warden point of view but now I return to it this support role my rather pessimistic outlook resurfaces. I think this originates from my life as an aviculturist as you spend so much time waiting, hoping and above all caring. You dare not to speculate, don’t count your chickens before they have hatched.

Aviculturists in the “zone” when they have eggs or chicks to care for can seem almost moody and intense but will actually be very focussed and determined. You have to be that way for the sake of your charges, trying to give struggling life a chance sometimes ends in heartache through no fault of your own. It is a heavy burden to carry but not one you will hear any complaints about. I take my hat off to the people that are involved in these managed risk taking situations, Nurses and Doctors do this every day with human life. I salute those that go from one very intense and serious moment, take stock and make you laugh in another thus raising spirits all round. I think this quality is essential particularly in the kind of situation we are in here.

A party of six children knocked at our door with a fledgling White Wagtail with sign language we tried to work out what had happened. We went off with them to find Pavel who explained that dogs had got the others. He tried to find an alternative nest of the same age but with no luck, we knew of one but they had fledged. It was decided best to find a safe place near to where they found it and leave it for the parents to locate. No other choice and for the best, this scenario is common back home.

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