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.

Helicopter to Meinypil’gyno

Richard Smith writes:

3 hours sleep is all I got…

Nikolay greeted us and told us we were Team Ironman from now on due to last nights mammoth performance… we have gained a little respect.

I wandered out about 6ish and picked up my first Pacific golden plover and long-toed stint. Also out there: snipe, whimbrel, ruff, pectoral sandpiper, white-fronted geese and sandhill cranes

8am we got the signal. All systems go. The chopper was leaving at 9.45am.

But we got all the kit man-handled, down stair wells, through corridors and x-ray machines, via taxis and buses to the chopper on time!

Once in the air, I sat at the back and opened my little porthole window and let in the Siberian cold. The sky clear and blue, the tundra matt white, cross-hatched with caterpillar tracks (Russian tank converted to extreme people carrier). In the distance, rearing out of the ground, the vast mountains. They grew and grew and eventually we climbed over the top, almost touching the peaks while the chopper swayed under its giant rota.

Once over we could see our destination…. Meinypil’gyno nestled almost on the coastline, protected by a frozen river and a 60km long spit of land to the south that holds back the Bering Sea. To the north, the tundra and moraine foot hills. Beyond this, mountains that extend from the western horizon to the eastern one.

We came low and fast over the town (well fast for a large old lumbering work horse) and out over the sea……the open sea, unfrozen, covered in masses of black sea birds, but that is not what took my breath away. It was the whales, everywhere breeching grey whales, large groups of them as far as the eye can see, fountains of water reaching for the sky in a sort of synchronized water show. We banked back round again and in to land to be meet by a large crowd of interested local people and the members of the team that were all ready out there on the ground.

That was a special journey, it was real and we were heading out into a truly great wilderness, one belonging to the spoon-billed sandpiper!

LizB and Hesky were shown three houses and chose the easiest to sanitise for rearing purposes.

In the afternoon we headed to the outskirts of town for a wander, get our bearings and take in our incredible surroundings. Migration is in full flow with large flocks of Black and White-winged scoter, Cranes, Geese, Long-tailed ducks, Kittiwake and Pomarine Skuas.

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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