Spoon-billed Sandpiper News


update 28th August 2012

A full report (with photographs) has been supplied by Christoph and theSbS task force, giving an updated account of their work in 2012 (see SBS_TF_newsbulletin_no8_august2012.pdf)





Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Kamchatka, Phil Palmer

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper hit the conservation news big time this summer as 17 chicks hatched on a ship are in transit through Moscow to the UK. Scientists realised that with the species heading rapidly towards certain extinction, there is no time to waste in trying to prevent it. In conjunction with a captive-breeding population, efforts to remove the threats along its migration and wintering routes are well under way.

That story has been widely publicised elsewhere, so we report here on work undertaken in Russia and Myanmar. You will also be able to chat to Christoph Zockler head of the Spoon-billed Recovery Team and leader of our Spoon-billed Sandpiper Tour at this year's Bird Fair. The team will also update you on the progress of the 17 babies.


One of the many threats to the Spoon-billed Sandpipers survival is on its Asian wintering grounds. Now below 100 breeding pairs, the majority spend the winter months in Myanmar. The deprived economic situation there means that there is still good habitat and bird populations in this country. The perfect example of this was the discovery of a large population of Gurney's Pitta here.

The same economic forces mean that the poorer people are forced to hunt waders for food. Although they primarily target Whimbrel, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is killed by accident in nets erected to trap birds. This has been identified as the greatest threat to the remaining population. Fortunately it also seems to be the easiest to address, but your help is needed.

Taking part in expeditions to the Russian breeding grounds and wintering sites in China, Bird Holidays staff joined forces with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team to help in the only way they can.

Part of our tour portfolio now includes a visit to see and count Spoon-billed Sandpipers at one of the most reliable spots in the world. While seeing many other wonderful birds and cultural highlights.

 Since identifying the hunting problem, Christoph Zockler and his colleagues in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team have encouraged the hunters to protect and monitor the birds rather than killing them. They erected shelters and facilities for birders to visit and this is where you can join Bird Holidays by helping. Through our actions we can reduce the death of many birds.

As well as viewing the world's most enigmatic shorebird, we will meet the local people that work with the birds. This contributes massively to the education process while contributing economically to the scheme to help them.

Local people in Myanmar are very friendly and the hunters are very willing to cooperate with birders. This winter more than 15 'agreements' have been signed.



Spoon-billed Sandpiper, northern Kamchatka. Phil Palmer


Hope from the winter area

Recent news from Nan Thar, Myanmar one of the most important wintering areas, has raised new hope. Our local partner, Ren Nou Soe, who checks the mudflats (and hunters!) on the island proudly reported the discovery of two birds in breeding plumage on April 27th 2011. The birds were in a group of 12 Spoon-billed Sandpipers, feeding with other waders.

This is certainly the first observation of breeding plumaged birds in Myanmar as adult birds should have left by this time. The fact that ten birds were in the non-breeding plumage indicates that they were immature birds from last year! Suggesting that there was a good breeding success, somewhere unknown still unknown?

Young Spoon-billed Sandpipers remain on the wintering grounds for their first summer rather than returning to Russia. It is thought that this raises mortality among this age class as they remain in hunting areas for longer. Almost no young Spoon-billed Sandpipers have returned to Russia for several years now, despite successful breeding taking place.  

It is clear that compensating hunters is a vital part of any recovery plan as it would help these birds survive their first summer and hopefully return in the second summer to replenish an ageing breeding population.


Spoon-billed Sandpipers, China, Phil Palmer


The Hunting Scheme in the Bay of Martaban, Myanmar 


Between March and May 2010 a team of socio-economic experts and zoologists visited 14 villages in the target area in eastern Martaban. They identified 24 hunters and signed conservation agreements with 15 of them with more anticipated.

The ‘professional’ hunters signed conservation agreements that provided a contribution to their  livelihood dependent on income formerly derived by birds.

The agreements were negotiated with the knowledge of the whole community and most importantly it was agreed that the former hunter’s social status would be raised. For example, in two villages, the village leaders took the initiative to assign the former bird hunters the role of seheinhmu, which is the person in charge of ten households according to local administrative systems. This is an honour which shows trust in a person as well as bestowing them with responsibility.

By assigning the hunter the responsibility of seheinhmu, the village leader makes their behaviour more visible to the community as well as making them accountable to the community, increasing the likelihood that they will uphold the law and no longer hunt.

All of the above objectives were achieved up to and beyond expectations while laying the groundwork for future work with the communities.



CLICK HERE     to see our 2012 Myanmar tour page.




Artists and Bird Fair join forces to help

 David Sibley, the American artist visited Pak Thale, Thailand in order to observe Spoon-billed Sandpipers in February 2010. He generously offered to auction a painting to help raise funds  http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/01/donate-to-help-spoon-billed-sandpiper/

 In Sweden, 183,000 Swedish kronors (c £17,688) were collected in a lottery organised to win a sketch by Lars Jonsson. At the 2010 Rutland Bird Fair, £860 was raised through sales of T-shirts vodka glasses and SBS stamps from Vietnam, as well as the raffle of a SBS sculpture by Mark Andrews. The result also shows that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has a special place in the hearts of many birdwatchers all over the world.




Spoon-billed sandpiper Recovery Team news 2011

 Last year only 12 pairs were found at our regular monitoring site in Meinopilgyno in South Chukotka. The trend here is still downwards and this was two pairs down from the year before. The rate of decline is slowing and messages from flyway areas are encouraging. In Rudong, China, 24 (a new maximum for the site!) birds were observed on migration in October and 22 birds were recorded on Nan Thar, Myanmar the highest number for three years! This might just be shifts within stop over and wintering sites, but we need to be optimistic.

 Conservation of wild populations is the main priority and the majority of team's resources will be spent for conservation of the habitat, identification of unknown threats and the continued search for key unknown sites.

 Thankfully BirdLife International now support their work through their species guardians programme and this has led to increased resources directed towards saving the bird. The staff at Bird Holidays are very keen to help and this tour is the most direct way we have of providing help to the species. Phil has also personally funded his own place on two expeditions with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper group.




Breeding Season: Summary of results in Chukotka

(sponsored by Packard Foundation via BirdLife International)


a) Meinopylgino (South Chukotka)

In the 7th year of monitoring Pavel Tomkovich and Nikolay Yakushev were again on the breeding grounds all summer in 2011.

Twenty eggs were taken from nests in Chukotka and from these 17 chicks had hatched en-route to Anadyr. They will be transferred to Moscow, where they will remain in quarantine before being transferred to Slimbridge in the UK sometime in September.

You can read about their hatching at

 http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=2798 and http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=2770


Table 1. Breeding population trend of SBS in the core breeding area of Meinopilgyno, southern Chukotka

















Additional broods








Additional territories
















*incomplete survey


b) undisclosed site in North Chukotka

An international team effort of Swedish, Danish and Czech ornithologists supporting the Russians, found 1-3 pairs in North Chukotka. Three males were displaying but only one pair bred. There seems to be a lack of females which is a worrying sign of a crashing population. One ringed bird could well be a bird that was marked as adult in 2000. This would support thoughts that the species population is comprised  primarily of old birds.


c) Belyaka Spit, Chukotsky Peninsula

One pair breeding, hatched just one chick. The nest was actively defended and guarded by expedition members and local Chukchi people.

Although good news that the site is not totally abandoned, as suspected after last year’s results, just one (or maybe two) pair compared with 60 in the late 1980s is still alarming news.

It is also unclear why only one chick hatched.


Wintering in Myanmar


 Nan Thar Island, Myanmar, Arakhan region

This small island still hosted 14 wintering SBS in early 2011, down from 35 noted in 2008.

Funds were made available by the Lighthouse Foundation in Germany to establish minimal infrastructure for visiting tourists (birders sun shelter & toilet) and freshwater wells for the local people. However, these were destroyed by tropical cyclone Giri in October 2010. There was no loss of life, but the infrastructure and buildings had to be rebuilt. Fortunately, the Lighthouse Foundation happily compensated for the costs created by the cyclone.

With available funds, a small local conservation group has been established that continues raising awareness and monitoring.

A survey at the end of December revealed 22 Spoon-billed Sandpipers here!

the destroyed birders shelter (left) and the new one built in 2011 (right)



A website (in German) containing more wonderful images was set up by Tom Noah who participated in the same Kamchatka expedition as Phil. It can be viewed here http://www.loeffelstrandlaeufer.blogspot.com/


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