The program “Pass to life”, on rising the productivity of spoon-billed sandpiper, started in Chukotka in the village of Mainypylgino in 2012. Its initial objectives were to collect bird eggs; to incubate them artificially; to raise the chicks and then to release the chicks into nature.
The number of spoon-billed sandpipers dropped dramatically in the 20th century – 90% just for the last 30 years.
This species disappears very fast and if the humans don’t take any steps to protect it, then the spoon-billed sandpiper is to vanish in 10-15 years.
This international project “Pass to life” runs with the great support of the British Royal Birds Preservation Society and Chukotka government.
The participants of the project have been coming to the radio “Radio Purga” after the finish of their filed season in Mainypylgino and share their stories.
Here is the abstract from the radio broadcasting on August 17, 2018.
Radio-room! Interviews, talks, meetings. From 15:00 to 16:00. On “Radio Purga”.
Svetlana Golubeva (SG): Good day, dear friends! Our radio-salon is on-air. My name is Svetlana Golubeva.
Two guests are in our studio. We have a good tradition for many years now when the special people show up here on the radio in the middle of August. These people work in Chukotka for many years on their big and significant program, which deals with little and no less significant bird – spoon-billed sandpiper.
Let me introduce the Mainypylgino team. The leader of the team Nikolay Yakushev! Hi, Nikolay!
Nikolay Yakushev (NY): Good afternoon!
SG: And the program director … if I may say “on chicks incubating” Ivan Shepelyov. Hi, Ivan!
Ivan Shepelyov (IS): Hi!
SG: My congratulations to you with the end of the field season, so-called “Sandpiper battle”. You are the veterans of this movement. I must admit, that I am very glad that we have such a nice tradition in August and you always come to our studio.
NY: Thanks! We are always glad to come to the radio.
SG: Tell us about this season. How was it?
NY: First of all, our curator changed. Roland Digby from Great Britain left and Ivan currently is our director of birds breeding. Also, it was the very responsible season, because we had to demonstrate whether we could do it by our Russian team or not. We could. This is first. Secondly, we had a late season. This was the latest season on my memory – sandpipers flew three days later.
SG: Is it significant?
NY: Yes, this is very vital for the North. It means, that everything was 3-4 days later. There were too much snow and water. It was cold. We had many cyclones. The season, in general, was cold – not the coldest one, but still. So, everything was regular. There are many so-called underwater rocks. This year we lost two chicks accidentally. They were growing well demonstrating the positive dynamic of raising, as it was in [the Russian movie] “Welcome home or No way for outsiders”, growth every …
SG: Every day brings 100 grams [shot]…
NY: Sometime 150 [grams]. So, two of our chicks died. There was absolutely nothing, foreshadowing. We dissected the birds and saw that they were healthy ones. We might presume that at the very moment there was a maxim difference between the body and the heart growth. They might die of stress and the heart insufficiency. We noticed one bird, which was going to die. You know you won’t monitor the birds all day long.
NY: They were not comfortable when humans were next to them. They worried and ran.
SG: Were they already in the cage?
NY: No, they were in the house. The house was absolutely alien habitat for them … corners … they didn't meet it anywhere. That's why we tried to minimize. The faster we moved them to nature …
SG: And they didn’t get used to it and didn’t know it …
NY: Yes, they calmed down and had fewer communication screams. In nature, in the aviary, which was not natural still, they had grass and open sky at least. It was easier for them and it was absolutely clear. There was a problem with eggs also. They might lose moisture. One year the eggs were losing moisture fast. While this year, all eggs were losing the moist with difficulty.
IS: We have a special program, in England, which makes curves. We look at those curves and see how they lose moisture – fast or slow. Thus, we can adjust to the conditions and make the moisture more or less, etc.
SG: What does it mean to lose moisture?
IS: It is a very typical phenomenon. There is a developing inside the egg. The egg is using the white to build its body, and, yolk, as well. By the end, when the chick appears, there is no liquid inside. The chick itself is wet, but there is no liquid around it.
NY: If the liquid is hardly used, then the egg develops wrong. But if the liquid is losing correct, it is, still, doesn’t mean that the egg develops as it should. Once, we had a beautiful egg, which developed on the schedule and was losing the liquid right and in the end, it had a dead fetus. Probably it was some genetic anomaly. But it is connected with the thickness of the shell, and with the weight, honestly. With channels and the way the channels are situated in the egg; the position of the chick...
IS: If something is wrong with the position, then the chick cannot make a hole and make its first inhale. Because the chick is in the “Z” shape there. In order to leave the egg, the chick needs just to stretch. If his head is under the left wing it is good, but if the head is under the right wing, then the baby cannot make this hole. And there is nothing we can do.
NY: It will die immediately at the very moment. The egg has tiny skin under it, if we break it then the infection can go inside. The baby has an umbilical-cord, as the humans do, and it is connected with the yolk. If you destroy the skin, we might touch the umbilical-cord, it is very thin.
IS: It is like a thread … micron. You can see it through the light. If you destroy it, then the infection goes through this cord. The cord goes to the yolk, as I said, and later it [yolk] is sucked inside the body of the chick. If you decide to break the shell – there is nothing good. The baby has to hatch itself. We are busy not 24 hours per day, but 20 hours. We devote these for hours to sleep.
SG: And somebody else works during these for hours.
SG: Total control.
NY: Ivan … when it all starts …it is not that you just put the incubator on the table and plug it.
SG: I would do it exactly like this [laugh].
NY: There is a calibration, our incubator has four thermometers inside. We have to calibrate them in order to learn if they show the temperature correct.
IS: There are two mercury thermometers, which we trust. And we calibrate the rest of them, spirit and digital, according to the mercury ones. Sometimes, we have to calibrate it twice because we hesitate whether we did it right or not. It is better to calibrate it from the beginning to sleep well further.
NY: There is no faith in our incubators. Firstly, they can show the wrong temperature. Secondly, it has the different temperature on … in depth, height and width levels. If you overheat the egg, then it is becoming critical. If it is 38 degrees, it means, more likely, death.
IS: It is better to be lower.
NY: Lower, but not much. It should be not for a long time and sufficient for the development. Besides, when you open the incubator door to turn the eggs, the cold air comes in, the incubator turns on heating mode, overheats itself, well … plus, we also set up the moisture.
IS: Yes, the moisture is a separate topic, we need to set it up in such way…we put a special small tank on the bottom of the incubator and then we pour water with some disinfectant so that the water will be disinfected. Still, we have to calculate and pure enough water to sleep without worries the whole night.
SG: To have it enough for …
NY: To have it enough for the night. Every half an hour Ivan checks all the incubators and writes down the temperatures and the moisture parameters into the special journals. We have these journals since 2012 or maybe from 2013.
SG: For how long does this period last, the period when you don’t possess your time?
NY: Well, on the 1st step in June, when we set all the parameters it is ok. You can miss some check times. For instance, you went out and missed some checks. Nothing horrible. This year, Ivan and I went to pick the first layer and nobody insured us.
IS: Yes, there was nobody at home with the 1st layer. Then our English volunteer always was at place …in case electricity went off. The collecting of egg usually lasts for several hours. From the begging of June and until the end we can neglect. And then, this year we took the 1st layer on June 16 … June 16 and … the releasing was on July 31, so this was the time. 24 hours a day.
NY: We took the eggs to weigh them and then, closer to hatching time, we looked at it and saw …oh, there was a star-like thing on the shell, cracks. It meant, that the baby almost hatched. Since that moment we put all these brothers and sisters to another incubator and it might hatch any moment … day and night. So, somebody didn’t sleep at all. When chicks are hatching, well, it has hatched, in 18 hours, we put it in the separate incubator where the baby dries and it can be without food. That yolk still gives it enough nutrition. Then we put it into the so-called cages …boxes.
IS: So, now we have to feed them every 3 hours. We change their mats twice a day. This year Nikolay went to catch daphnia. And the further it goes the more we need.
NY: First, we didn’t use them at all. We went to the pond and occasionally caught some. Then we thought, ok, let's give them to our sandpipers. It was the 1st year of our raising. We saw that the birds ate them with pleasure. And then, with each season, we included daphnia more and more.
SG: Is daphnia a kind of a beetle?
NY: No, daphnia is a kind of crustaceans, which live in the water … very tiny ones. One can see it. It is tiny and there is plenty of it. It is the favourite food for spoon-billed sandpiper. Every time then we entered the cage in our white gowns and brought daphnia on the large plates to the birds, the birds didn’t wait for us to leave – they began eating them immediately.
IS: Unfortunately, they cannot give daphnia in England.
IS: They believe that the food should be more sterile and we understand them. Daphnia may have some parasites, like worms. In our case, our birds will try them in any case. And in England …How many do they have? 20-30?
SG: It seems to me that we have to explain to our listeners what we are talking about. The project on artificial incubation started from the English colleagues. Correct me if I am wrong.
NY: Yes, it was a mutual decision - the specialist of the Russian Wetlands Society and the specialist on the English Wetlands Society. This is the famous organization, which deals with the wetland birds breeding, like ducks, cranes. They have enormous experience, especially in rare birds breeding. And they offered: “Let's make the reserve”. Because back that time we were sure that spoon-billed sandpiper would die out in ten years. So it was in 2010 and it should vanish by 2020. And, in general, that model, which was offered for our program, it worked, so the model worked. In the beginning, we had a stable number of the population in Mainypylgino. Then we had some growth with one pair last year and the year before. This year we had growth with three pairs – it is very essential. One pair was breeding at the same spot, which we monitor. The other one was nearby, but we cannot compare.