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.

A little help from a British rarity

Final preparations are underway to head from the UK to Russia for the 2015 spoon-billed sandpiper breeding season. But before I go, it’s time to check in for a little help from the UK’s largest amphibian collection at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Including this lovely female natterjack toad.

Roland and Jay at Slimbridge with a natterjack toad and wax moth larvae (c) Ed Waldron WWT

Jay and Roland at Slimbridge with a natterjack toad and wax moth larvae (c) Ed Waldron WWT

So what’s the connection between a spoonie and a natterjack toad? Well both of them eat insects, which means Slimbridge’s amphibian keeper Jay Redbond is just as keen as I am on finding ways to have enough insect larvae to hand at just the right time for our little friends’ development.

So it’s a good chance to compare notes. We both use wax moth eggs. It’s a common moth in the UK. Ask a beekeeper and watch him/her grimace, because wax moths love to infest neglected bee hives. They can badly damage stored combs and equipment that isn’t carefully cleaned.

Both Jay and I grow cultures of wax moth eggs. The rate of development depends on the temperature. So if you keep them in a fridge they won’t develop. But put them next to a radiator and, the next thing you know, you’ve got tiny caterpillars starting to form at just the right time you need them.

For me, the wax moth eggs are just a back up food for the chicks we plan to headstart this year. We also harvest plenty of insects locally at Chukotka – and the water and air are usually buzzing with them – but if the weather conditions dive or something else unexpected happens, I know I can supply food to order for the chicks to have a good chance of fledging.

For Jay meanwhile, his natterjack toad friend relies on the food Jay provides day in day out. If you’re in the area of Gloucestershire, England, do stop by at Slimbridge and meet all the amphibians he cares for. Natterjack toads have a special place in WWT’s heart. It only lives in a handful of sandy places in Britain, one of which is our Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, Scotland, where this British rarity is thriving thanks to our wardens’ hard work to manage the right habitat for them.


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