In search of Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Original gouache painting copyright David Sibley.

Join me on a WINGS/Heritage Expeditions cruise 21 June to 4 July 2013 to search for nesting Spoon-billed Sandpipers in Siberia.

I’ve always been fascinated by Siberia. Growing up in the lower 48 states I dreamed of seeing birds like Steller’s Sea-Eagle, Siberian Rubythroat, even Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warbler, and the crowning jewel of the Siberian specialties was Spoon-billed Sandpiper. My fascination increased as the population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper declined, and in Feb 2010 I made a trip to Thailand where I could see a few individuals on the wintering grounds. That trip was very successful, and I learned a lot about identification and behavior of the species.

I really wanted to see them on the breeding grounds, but at that time there was simply no practical way of getting to the right locations. Since 2011, however, Heritage Expeditions along with BirdLife International has offered a cruise designed specifically to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper in summer, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to go along in 2013, which is the last year they plan to run this trip.

This is more than a cruise, it’s truly an expedition. We’ll travel along one of the least-visited coastlines in the world, with plenty of time to enjoy the unique natural history and local culture, but also with an urgent research and conservation mission – to search for previously undiscovered nesting areas of the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Route of the Tour, map courtesy of Heritage Expeditions.

We wll be assisting the Spoon-billed Sandpiper recovery efforts by using the ship to gain access to some areas of coastline that have been identified as potential habitat for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but are so remote they have never been surveyed. In 2011 this effort was succesful, and a new breeding site was confirmed. The area searched in 2012 did not hold any Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Whether the 2013 cruise finds new nesting pairs or not, the search will add a level of excitement and scientific purpose to this trip that is unique. Near the end of the cruise we will spend two days at the only monitored nesting area for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, where we will meet researchers and have an opportunity to see the species.

Here are a few photos from past trips, click here for a more extensive gallery of photos

Spoon-billed Sandpiper; photo copyright C Collins, courtesy of Heritage Expeditions
Kamchatka Coast; photo copyright J E Ross, courtesy of Heritage Expeditions
Steller's Sea-Eagle; photo copyright G Breton, courtesy of Heritage Expeditions

Spoon-billed Sandpiper is so rare, and their summer range so remote, that this trip offers the only realistic opportunity to see them on the breeding grounds. Add to that the fact that 2013 is the last year that Heritage Expeditions and BirdLife International plan to offer this cruise, and the fact that Spoon-billed Sandpiper is now thought to number under 100 breeding pairs, and it is not an exaggeration to call this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The full itinerary, tour info, and registration is at the WINGS website – click here

More Information

Derek Lovitch led the same trip in 2012, and you can see his photos and read the whole travelogue here:
part 1 –
part 2 –
part 3 –
part 4 –

Heritage expeditions info

My post about identification of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in winter

My post about Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraging behavior, with video

3 thoughts on “In search of Spoon-billed Sandpiper”

  1. Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky

    Hi David! I am planning a trip to Pak Thale, Thailand in about a year. I wanted to know if it is winter there when it is summer here in the U.S. If so, when is the absolute best time to go to see wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Thanks,

  2. Hi Aidan, I wrote about my experiences in Thailand here and that should give you a lot of info about what to expect and where to look. Oddly, there is only one high tide each day in the Gulf there, and the timing shifts slightly through the winter. The birds are there from October to April at least, but January and February are said to have the most convenient tides. The weather when I was there in February was hot and humid, with a fairly strong breeze each afternoon (at low tide when most birds were gone from the salt pannes.

    Good luck, and let me know if there are other questions I can answer.
    Best, David

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