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.

Egg collection “dummy run”

Liz Brown writes:

As we approach the time when the first spoon-billed sandpipers will begin to nest, it is becoming increasingly important to test all the equipment that we will use with their eggs.  This led the WWT team to conduct a field test of the three different portable incubators we have brought with us.

Available for the expedition are three vehicles, two of which are standard ATV/quad bikes and one very plush machine that looks like an extreme golf buggy.  The four of us set off in teams of two, Richard Smith and Liz Mackley in the buggy and Richard Hesketh and myself on one of the quads.  As we familiarised ourselves with the vehicles, we trialled various methods of carrying incubators, always conscious of minimising any vibrations or jolts, which could lead to damage of the fragile developing embryos within the eggs.

After several hours of swapping between every conceivable combination of staff, vehicles and incubators we reached the conclusion that the buggy is the winner for safest, easiest and most efficient vehicle.  We were disappointed with the performance of one of the portable incubators which was unable to retain or regain heat in the cold conditions on the tundra.  However, we have two other options for portable incubators that performed admirably in these conditions.

Towards the end of this exercise I could feel my hands beginning to stiffen as the cold damp fog forced its way through my ski gloves.  I think when the time comes to collect the real live SBS eggs I will need to make sure my hands are functioning and warm before transferring eggs from the portable incubators into our incubation facility!

Dummy Run (c) Richard Hesketh

Dummy Run (c) Richard Hesketh

  1. Martin McGill Reply

    It is nerve racking when you bring the eggs in, don’t let your fingers cramp now Liz Brown. Thinking of you all guys, best wishes from a damp, cool UK.

  2. Ken Tucker (AKA Turnip) Reply

    Exciting yet scary stuff. Such precious passengers – the fate of a whole species. No pressure then! It’s reassuring to know that you’re doing everything you can to anticipate and circumvent problems and to do the best job you can. You’re the best team for the job. 🙂

  3. Nigel Jarrett Reply

    Last year Martin and I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed the egg pick up until we had pop-eye sized muscles in our finger tips! I twice went for a 2am walk to the sea and back with an incubator clamped to my chest and a battery on my back as training for a quad breakdown. Seems a mental thing to do, but the stakes were so high!

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