‘The incredible spoon-billed sandpiper is hurtling towards extinction perhaps faster than any other bird species, with probably fewer than 100 pairs remaining, and the population in freefall. Without urgent action, it will be gone within a decade’
– The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
The spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), is a tiny charismatic wader with a unique spatulate bill, has declined by more than 90% over the last 30 years, and experts are in a race to find out why before the species dwindles to extinction. It is estimated that less than 100 pairs are left on the planet.
I am just back from a back-breaking 4-day trip to mud flats of Yangkou, Rudong County in Jiangsu Province, PRC which is one of the most important staging areas for the spoon-billed sandpipers during their annual 8,000 km migration between Chuchotka, NE Rusia and Myanmar and Bangladesh.
While it was comparatively easy to locate the spoon-billed sandpipers in a scope, it was an entirely different matter to get close enough to take photos, and only in one out of five attempts was it possible to get reasonably close i.e. 40 meters or less. More often than not the tiny fast-moving sandpiper cleared away when low-flying gulls entered the area.
The best approach strategy was to walk very, very slowly to a distance of around 50 meter, and then go down on your knees and inch forward – not easy which a 10 kg photo outfit consisting of a D4 with a Nikon 600mm + 1.4 teleconverter, and Gitzo tripod. To add to the fun the water level could be up to 20 cm. I should add that the best idea of the trip was buying a pair of local chest waders for the princely sum of US$ 12.
Foto by Fanny Lai
On day 1 we spotted 8 individuals, and in the morning of day 2 we saw an incredible 24, and managed in one case to get as close as 19 meters, on the 3rd day we saw 21 spoon-billed sandpipers, and on day 4 at total of 12. My local expert guide Menxiu Tong estimated that there were probably around 50 spoon-billed sandpipers around in period 16th to 19th April, when 1 in 3 individuals were partly or fully in breeding plumage.
Over the 4 days I trekked more than 20 kilometres in order stalk the sandpipers, and getting up at 5.30 am to do the long walks to the western mudflats gave the best results. In the end all the efforts was paid off with a series of good images of the spoon-billed sandpiper in breeding plumage a satisfaction that is hard to describe.
Last but not least thank you to Menxiu Tong my able guide of www.facebook.com/chinawildtour who did a fantastic job to locate all the spoonies!
Two Spoon-billed Sandpipers with a Dunlin (Calidris alpina) (in the middle)