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.

First day of exploring the tundra

Richard Smith writes:

I woke with the sun streaming in all the windows (there are no curtains) at 2.30am local time. It hadn’t even got dark! At 3.10 though a large flock of White-fronted Geese fly past my window and 20 minutes later a flock of Sandhill Cranes headed in the same direction while a pair of Snow Bunting chattered away!

I’m used to being self-sufficient so being tied to certain meal times will take a while to get used to, but it’s good to see the other members of the team before and after the day’s activities.

The whole expedition headed out today in small groups, mostly to cross the frozen river to get to the sea. I headed out with Richard Hesketh and the two Lizes (R2L2!) on foot. Walking east we walked past a number of Pacific Golden Plover territories and came across our first pair of Mongolian Plover, smart birds, about 2km from the village. I think I’ll keep an eye on this pair.

The Russians said they would leave a mark to show the safest place to cross the river. Sure enough, we found one of the team’s quad bikes and opposite on the far side, a pile of freshly erected drift wood and barrels and, linking the two, a path that meanders across the ice through the melting slush. It won’t be long before it will be impassable. We strung out with at least 5m between each of us and, with hearts in mouths, we gingerly crossed. That was an experience.

Not as big as the one just over the sand spit, and we could already hear it. We raced over the top and as far as the eye can see, Whales: whales breeching, popping up and slapping tails just yards from the shore, with constant fountains of water blossoming across the sea. That was the Whale Day.

Pod after pod gently cruised past at just over walking pace, rolling and scraping their way along the coastline, feeding on the bottom.

Besides the Whales (Grey) Red-necked Phalarope, Harlequin Duck, Turnstone , Brünnich’s Guillemots, Long-tailed Skuas and Whimbrel, to name but a few.

The  weather was starting to change from brilliant blue to grey and the cloud started to roll in, so we made a move back along the spit to the river crossing……….less snow, more water and the marker quad was gone! We had to get back, so walking on ice, with water up to our ankles we pushed on as swiftly as we could. It is melting fast out there.

Richard started his career at WWT Slimbridge before moving north to WWT Caerlaverock. Richard Smith 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 other Richard and Liz Mackley, he has been on an expedition to Iceland to research whooper swans. Most recently he has been leading a team of 12 jobseekers in conservation work for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. He spends much of his time outdoors, birding, kayaking and surfing.

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