North-east Russia - searching for nesting Spoon-billed Sandpiper - 22 June - 12 July 2012

Published by David Milton (david.milton AT

Participants: Sandra Harding, David Milton


This trip was my 50th birthday treat. We had not seen breeding shorebirds in their habitat so to remember my birthday we would be in a very special place. One of the only ways to get to this remote region is by ship. We joined a Heritage Expeditions voyage from Petropavlosk to Anadyr.

In order to get visas we needed a letter of invitation and an itinerary (air travel itinerary and cruise itinerary). Heritage Expeditions provided the letter of invitation and organized regional permits needed to visit certain areas. We booked our flights with Cathay Pacific from Brisbane to Hong Kong then to Domodedovo Arpt, Moscow and Transaero Airlines from Domodedovo to Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy Arpt. Heritage Expeditions using their Russian based partner (Julia Mishina, Travel Pacific) booked our flights from Anadyr to Moscow on Yakutia Airlines.

Arriving in Petropavlosk Kamchatskiy we were taken on a bus with other members of our group to our hotel and were given a lively and informed talk by a local tour group operator who settled us in to the hotel. There was sufficient vegetation around the hotel area to make it good birding within walking distance. Chris Collins, a guide from Heritage took birders out for a few hours in the morning before we boarded the ship about lunch time and got underway at about 5:30pm.

Total Birds Seen during the expedition: 146 species seen on Expedition of which we saw 110 species with 30 new.

Cruise Itinerary

25 June embark the vessel
26 June Zhupanova River
27-28 June Commander Islands
29 June Karaginskiy Island
30 June Verkhoturova Island and Govena Peninsula
1 July Tintikun Lagoon
2 July Tigil Lagoon, Chukotka Coast
3 July Bukhtas Petra, Pavla and Natalia, Chukotka Coast
4 July Opuka Lagoon and Maliuvieem Lagoon
5 July Meinypil’gyno
6 July Meinypil’gyno and Pika Bay
7 July At sea
8 July Port of Anadyr: disembark the vessel; Overnight stay at Chukotka Hotel;


Besides the Heritage expedition costs which included an additional $500 in landing fees, the main costs were the flights and the two stop-overs in Moscow and a day in Anadyr. There were a few people on the ship whose costs were subsidized including artists and specialist biologists. If a group of birders could get together as a group, I would think that it would be possible to get a discount.


The beautiful scenery and solitude of visiting such a remote area of the world was a major part of the trip. People with amazing cameras worked overtime to capture the range of places. While the lakes and tundra of the Chukotka coast were the breeding area of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, the area to the south had many flowers and seals and sea lions. The remains of timber and red rusted buildings and old machinery from abandoned settlements provided interesting features in the landscape. The village of Meinypil’gyno is a remote settlement on this coast and was strikingly stark. We were there in summer, hard to imagine what winter would be like. We were given tea and salmon carviar in an uranga hut while we waited for a performance of dancing and singing. It was a relief to get out of the cold.

We had particularly hoped to see the Rock Sandpiper particularly as it would have been a new species of wader. We missed out, although some people saw this on Bering Island after our zodiac had already left for the ship. On my birthday, I watched two Red-necked Phalaropes in close proximity feeding in a lake where their breeding colours stood out against the green and blue of the landscape. My list for that day was 30 birds. We tracked down the Rock Ptarmigan on Medny Island. As they were busy foraging, it was possible to get quite close and we had excellent views.

The trip was for birders and for people who were just interested in the scenery and wildlife in general. About half the passengers were birders, the rest were interested in the scenery. To photograph the Spoon-billed Sandpiper on a nest was a very high priority of some of the group. We were just keen to contribute to searching for new Spoon-billed Sandpiper nesting areas. Three days of the expedition were devoted to searching new suitable habitat for nests of Spoon-billed Sandpipers. On board were Evgeny and Elena from the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery team. They determined the best areas for us to search each day. It was interesting that in one area which should have been very good, had few waders as Slaty-backed Gulls were roosting on this peninsular having been attracted by the increase in salmon fishing in the estuary. There seems to be a never ending list of threats to waders. There were no new Spoon-billed Sandpiper nests found on this expedition.

We did see a Spoon-billed sitting on a nest and this was very exciting. There were nests in Meinypil’gyno that were being kept under surveillance to hopefully ensure their success. Our group was strictly supervised so that we did not disturb the sitting bird and we were happy with that. The other group had their bird disturbed by the Spoon-billed Sandpiper team local guide to allow that group to get better photographs which upset some in our group. It is a shame that such rare birds are put under this stress just so people could get a photograph.

After we landed at the end of the expedition, we had a day in Anadyr where we looked for Siberian Accentor in some wet grassy areas and shrubby hills surrounding the town. It was good to just look for birds on our own and while we did not see the Accentor we did have several good views of a range of species which rounded off the trip. This included Dusky Thrush, Dusky Warbler, Northern Wheatear and Little Bunting and it was also good to see Wood Sandpiper in this habitat. We were not as familiar with the bush birds compared to the Europeans on the expedition as many are of these birds are widely distributed across the Palearctic.


We wore our warmest Brisbane clothes and looked exceedingly bulky. This was because the weather was quite reasonable – fine clear days, and with sunshine you could be warm without an extra coat. It was however necessary to always carry clothes and we were often taking off and putting back on layers. The wet weather pants and raincoat were very useful in keeping out the wind and water when on the zodiacs. Having bought expensive thermal underwear we rarely needed them.

Birding from the bow of the ship gave reasonable views of seabirds. The puffins would dive below the surface as the vessel approached. Some were probably in moult and could not fly. We saw a few Laysan’s Albatross and Fork-tailed Storm-petrels, which were new. We spent a reasonable amount of time looking at the seabirds and gulls but it was difficult to get good views of some as the rare species were never close enough. We did tick off the three Loons (Common, Pacific and Red-throated) but these were hard to identify, especially in flight. Some people used their cameras, with large lenses to take photos rather than use their binos to conclusively separate them.

Species Lists

Arctic Loon Gavia arctica
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata
Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica
Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis
Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus
Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma furcata
Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
Red-faced Cormorant Phalacrocorax urile
Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Emperor Goose Chen canagica
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
American Wigeon Anas americana
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
Common Eider Somateria mollissima
Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri
Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus
Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis
Black Scoter Melanitta nigra
White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
Steller's Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Lesser Sandplover Charadrius mongolus
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius
Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus
Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus
Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus
Mew Gull Larus canus
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus
Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri
Sabine's Gull Xema sabini
Red-legged Kittiwake Rissa brevirostris
Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
Aleutian Tern Sterna aleutica
Common Murre Uria aalge
Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia
Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix
Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia
Kittlitz's Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris
Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus
Parakeet Auklet Aethia psittacula
Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella
Least Auklet Aethia pusilla
Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata
Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus
Sky Lark Alauda arvensis
House Martin Delichon urbicum
Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
American Pipit Anthus rubescens
Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus
Gray Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus
Dusky Thrush Turdus naumanni
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata
Middendorff's Warbler Locustella ochotensis
Willow Tit Poecile montana
Common Raven Corvus corax
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus
Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola
Pallas' Bunting Emberiza pallasi
Oriental Greenfinch Carduelis sinica
Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea
Hoary Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Leucosticte tephrocotis