Nige and myself start packing from 0800, downloading video to take home, making last plans with Liz and Roland. We say goodbye to our ‘workmates’ and leave them to a difficult month ahead. Roland has every night shift with the birds from now until he comes home. He will need to keep packs of wild dogs at bay, watch for weather and have his own personal battle with mozzies. Liz will be supporting him and taking over for parts of the day working as team. They are in for a lonely and tough time, both are very much in our minds. They are ‘our’ team.
At 1100 we leave in a taxi, we head for Liza’s flat where we shower eat and pack up. I get to go birding for 1.5 hours and elect to head for saltmarsh, it was alive with waders, young waders including Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, Ruff, Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints, Red-necked Phalaropes and Long-billed Dowitcher…simply stunning. I also saw a lifer…a pair of Aleutian Terns. At 1500 we head for the airport, check in…board the plane…bump our way along a terrible sunken concrete runway for over 30 minutes, reach tarmac and head back the way we came. I am now confused, we get half way down and turn again. The runway is half closed for re-surfacing. Anyone who does not enjoy flying would start to freak out at this point. We were taking off from a short take off, the pilot throttled up.. let the brakes go and zoomed off , we lifted just before the runway ran out and tundra began.
We flew to Yakustk, landed for an hour, had to get off and then on again. Saw E Marsh Harrier and White winged Black Terns, flew on to Moscow. No reclining seats! It was a 10 hour 40 minute journey and we arrived early evening Moscow time. Our flight to Heathrow was delayed but went at 0610. Only twenty minutes sleep all night we had a snooze on the comfy BA flight. We arrived with huge smiles and bags under our eyes at 0800 on 20th July. Back on familiar soil….England is a wonderful place. Nige and I were really looking forward to seeing our families. Nige dropped me off at midday, we said goodbye with a knowing look, we had been through a lot together but had done the job. There was still so, so much to do but we could allow ourselves a little slap on the back. My last conversation with him was at 0330 in the morning of the 21st. We both are resting and trying to get back into UK time. I am back to work on 31st July. It took a week to start thinking straight again, the fuse had gone due to over tiredness.
I have heard from Liz and Roland via Facebook since, they are doing a great job with the Spoon-billed Sandpipers. I hope the guys can bring the young birds to Moscow in August. Most of the chicks had feathers and the oldest group were moving like adults when we left. They had grown long bills, feathered wings and their legs were growing well too. I look forward to hearing about them over the next month or so. It was hard to let go of these special birds but they are in great hands. I wish Liz and Roland the best of luck with the next phases of the project and hope Nige has rested.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers are incredible birds. I dearly hope it is not too late for them.