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.

An amazing day!

Today was just one of those days. Cold, drizzly and a long chilled hike to Ankavye, an area that has become my local patch. Ankavye is a hard area to work as the colder weather here makes things happen a week later than in Meinypil’gyno.

Together with various team members, we had already located some highly mobile Spoon-billed Sandpipers that had always managed to foil surveyors during the egg-laying stage. Though I was not hopeful of success today, I did have my eye on a pair of birds that I was sure would eventually nest here. Their behaviour each day had led me to believe that the nest would be located by the lake shore, but despite three nests having been found near the village days ago, my birds showed no serious intention to lay eggs.

On the 16th, Karin, Baz and I had narrowed our search to a patch of willows. This site was unsuitable for a nest, a judgement confirmed by a brief check. But Pavel and I found ourselves once again in the same place today. We soon heard a singing male, and Pavel followed the calls to a favoured feeding pond while I headed back to the willows, as I was so convinced the nest would be close by.

As predicted, a bird was there. It walked slowly away in a manner that recalled a guilty child caught being naughty. This had to be it—this bird must have eggs.

So Pavel and I retreated to watch, and quickly the bird headed back and sat down without hesitation. We knew that these birds like to trick people so we waited to see if it was a ‘false’ nest. She sat quite awkwardly, but even so, it looked good to us.

Using 2-way radios, Pavel directed me to the spot and there it was: two speckled Spoony eggs. And my first Spoon-billed Sandpiper nest.

We took GPS coordinates and quickly left. But during the day we had seen a fox, a bear, 2 ravens, a White-tailed Eagle, three species of skua and loads of Vega Gulls— all of which specialise in egg collecting too. So the decision was made to take them for incubation ASAP.

I returned with the incubation team 4 hours later to find a third egg. The female had laid another in this short period of time! Together with the three eggs Nikolay found today, this clutch would bring the total number of eggs in the incubator to 14, beginning to near our target of 20. Dummy eggs were placed in the nest as the real ones were made safe, and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper returned, oblivious to our trickery. We passed another bear and a very inquisitive Arctic Hare on the way home, but I was now becoming surprisingly possessive, like an expectant father.

There was no way anyone was going to stop these eggs from hatching and as much as I care about all creatures, the ravens and foxes will have to look elsewhere for lunch – sorry!

Arctic Hare c Phil Palmer

Arctic Hare c Phil Palmer



  1. NigelH Reply

    Great work folks. You and the birds seem to be a good team!

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