Saturday 2 December 2017

Wing Threads - Flight to the Tundra

Our season on Skomer is now over. We have spent the autumn monitoring the Grey Seal pups and cleaning and fixing the buildings etc. But have you ever wondered what we do in winter?... After writing up some reports and preparing for the next year we get to take a holiday and, as none of us are the type to go and lay on a beach or go shopping, we usually go and do some more work to conserve wildlife somewhere else, just for a change!

Bee and I have spent two of the last three winters doing ornithological work in Australia. As you can imagine we have met some extremely interesting people along the way. Not least of these was Amellia 'Earhart' Formby, otherwise known as Millie, who in 2022 will be flying a microlight from Australia to Siberia to raise awareness of the plight of the millions of migratory birds that use the East Asian - Australasian flyway (EAAF). These little (actually one of them is the largest shorebird in the world!) 'shorebirds', or waders as we call them, face a major threat along their migration route, namely reclemation of the intertidal areas, which they use like petrol stations, on their epic journey through South East Asia and the Yellow Sea.

Millie (right) and yours truely ringing waders in Australia in 2016
This may seem a far cry from the shearwaters, Puffins, Oystercatchers and seals of Skomer but there are a few familiar species involved. The Knots, Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks and Whimbrel are the same species that we see in Britain. Species that you may be less familiar with include Red-necked Stints, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Great Knot as well as the endangered Far Eastern Curlew (the largest shorebird in the world) and the near threatened Curlew Sandpiper. Although not a regular visitor to Australia the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper also relies on the same stop over sites in East Asia which are under so much threat.

A huge variety of shorebirds use the extremely important EAAF
This is the route that Millie will be taking in her microlight from Australia to Siberia. It roughly follows the route of the millions of waders that would usually think nothing of the 12,500km journey between their wintering and breeding grounds.

160821 Wing Threads flightpath.001.jpg

For the birds this is an annual return migration approaching (for some) 30,000km. The journey becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, when the 'petrol stations' close and they can't fuel up along the way. For the Spoon-billed Sandpiper this may well be just one last nail in the coffin and it may well drive yet more species towards extinction.

Degraded habitat around the Yellow Sea
The aim of Millies project is to collaborate with people from science, aviation, the arts and adventure to conduct a research project and produce a documentary film to raise the public profile of threats facing shorebirds, promote eco-stewardship and contribute to global scientific research. You can find out more about the project and the birds by visiting her website Wing Threads - Flight to the Tundra. You can watch some of the videos that she has already produced. You can also help financially by contributing on her crowd funding site or just follow her along the way in a few years time when she begins her journey.