In Search of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Amazing wildlife in the Russian Far East: Seabirds, Siberian landbird specialities and cetaceans

At a Glance

FOCUS:

Bird & Wildlife Cruise:  birds, whales & dolphins and remote islands.

WHERE:

Kamchatka – Commander Islands – Chukotka – Anadyr

SAMPLE WILDLIFE:

Numerous auks including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested, Parakeet and Whiskered Auklets, Ancient, Kittlitz's and Long-billed Murrelets, as well as Red-legged Kittiwake, Aleutian Tern, Laysan and Short-tailed Albatross, Red-faced Cormorant and Short-tailed Shearwater.

Landbird possibilities include Steller's Sea-eagle, Dusky Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Accentor, Pechora Pipit, Kamchatka Leaf-warbler, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Pine Grosbeak.

Some fantastic marine mammals are also possible including Blue, Fin, Humpback, Sperm and Northern Minke Whales, Orca, Baird's Beaked Whale as well as Sea Otter, Steller's Sea-lion, Northern Fur Seal and Largha Seal. Ashore Brown Bear and Arctic Ground Squirrel.

Dates and Prices:

Dates: June 2022

Leader: Ship’s expedition team

Prices: TBC


Travel to Russia is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "amber list". Hopefully this will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.

 
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper (new breeding site)
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper (new breeding site)
  • Brown Bears, Chukotka
  • Spoon-billed Sandpipers (new breeding site)
  • Brown Bears, Chukotka
  • Brown Bear, Chukotka
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Meinypil'gyno, Chukotka
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Meinypil'gyno, Chukotk
  • Brown Bears, Chukotka
  • Largha (Spotted) Seals, Kamchatka
  • Beluga, Chukotka
  • Pine Grosbeak, Chukotka
  • Sandhill Cranes, Chukotka
  • Tufted Puffins, Russian Far East
  • Red-necked Stint, Chukotka
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Meinypil'gyno
  • Steller's Sea-eagle, Kamchatka
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Meinypil'gyno
  • Mongolian (Lesser Sand) Plover, Commander Islands
  • Black-billed Capercaillie, Kamchatka
  • Rock Sandpiper, Commander Islands
  • Red-legged Kittiwake, Commander Islands
  • Horned Puffins, Commander Islands

Tour overview

The Russian Far East is home to some incredible wildlife, with a spectacular selection of seabirds and Siberian landbirds, however, there is one special wader that makes the area truly unique and that is the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Sadly, this bird has declined markedly in recent years and current estimates suggest that there may be less than 150 pairs left with all of these believed to breed in remote Chukotka.

Since 2011, Heritage Expeditions have been working in collaboration with the world experts on this species and offering a trip that combines a visit to the monitored breeding grounds at Meinypil’gyno with a couple of days of ‘citizen science’ surveys to search for new breeding sites.

This partnership means those joining this special trip have been able to see ‘spoonies’ on the breeding grounds on all previous trips and, on two occasions, we have located new breeding sites. It is difficult to understate the thrill that comes from finding one of these incredible birds out on the tundra at a new location and this work has been invaluable to the conservation of the species.

Whilst Spoon-billed Sandpipers are an important and integral part of this expedition, there are plenty of other amazing experiences to enjoy as the ship heads north from the remote Kamchatka Peninsula. The first stop is invariably the Zhupanova River where there is an excellent chance of finding Steller’s Sea-eagles on their nests, before the ship sails for the Commander Islands. There are two main islands in this group, Bering and Medney, which geographically are the western end of the Aleutian chain. There are multiple options for landings and zodiac cruises and the species we hope to find include Red-faced Cormorant, Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Glaucous-winged Gull, Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, plus a great range of north Pacific auks.

Next up are Karaginsky and Verkhoturova Islands and the sheer range and number of alcids which can be seen at the latter is incredibly with tens of thousands of birds invariably present and the likelihood of close views of Tufted and Horned Puffins as well as Crested and Parakeet Auklets and Brunnich’s Guillemot.

As we explore the spectacular mountain coastline of remote south Chukotka, we will hope to find birds such as Dusky Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Accentor and Pine Grosbeak, as well as having excellent chances for multiple sightings of Brown Bear. We also hope to find Largha Seal, Ringed Seal, Pacific Walrus, Dall’s Porpoise and Orca as we cruise north visiting amazingly scenic locations such as Tintikun Lagoon and the Goven Peninsula with jagged mountain ridges covered in snow.

Our itinerary is deliberately flexible but we plan to spend at least a couple of days visiting areas where Spoon-billed Sandpipers could potentially occur but there will plenty of other wildlife to look for at the same time with Sandhill Crane, Gyrfalcon and Dusky Warbler amongst the possibilities ashore, whilst out on the water there could be King and Steller’s Eiders, Harlequin Ducks and more auks such as Kittlitz’s Murrelet and Least Auklet.

For many people who join this trip, however, the highlight is the visit to Meinypil’gyno where working in close collaboration with the researchers who come to this remote community every summer, we will hope to be able to visit a nest of Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Obviously the welfare of the birds, their nests, eggs and young are paramount so nothing is ever guaranteed and views are likely to be at 100 metres or more but, nevertheless, this is a unique and very special experience.

If time allows, we will also look for some of the other species that live in this area. Emperor Geese and White-billed Diver are both possible but we will aim to spend some time in the zodiacs looking for both Grey Whales and Belugas as both are sometimes found not far from the village.

Continuing onwards, our final stop is likely to be not far from Cape Navarin where there is often a substantial haul-out of Pacific Walrus and more chances for Grey Whale.

The trip then concludes in Anadyr where the options for returning home are direct flights to Moscow or a charter flight across the Bering Strait to the Alaskan town of Nome.

Itinerary

Day 1: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Day 2: Zhupanova River, Kamchatka

Days 3-4: Commander Islands

Day 5: Karaginsky Island, Kamchatka

Day 6: Verkhoturova Island, Kamchatka & Govern Peninsula

Day 7-10 : Koryak and Chuktoka coasts

Day 11-12: Meinypil'gyno

Days 13: Cape Navarin

Day 14: Anadyr


NB: As applies to all expedition cruises, the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions. All landings are subject to government permissions.

Potential Seabirds (selected species only)

Emperor Goose, Tundra Bean Goose, Steller's Eider, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Stejneger's Scoter, Black Scoter, Red-legged Kittiwake, 'Kamchatka' Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Slay-backed Gull, Aleutian Tern, Brunnich's Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Spectacled Guillemot, Long-billed Murrelet, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Whiskered Auklet, Crested Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Pacific Diver, White-billed Diver, Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, Short-tailed Albatross, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Mottled Petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Red-faced Cormorant and Pelagic Cormorant.

Potential Landbirds (selected species only)

Black-billed Capercaillie, Rock Ptarmigan, Willow Ptarmigan, Sandhill Crane, Mongolian (Lesser Sand Plover), Far Eastern Curlew, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Rock Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Steller's Sea-eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Northern Hawk-Owl, Gyrfalcon, Spotted Nutcracker, Eastern House Martin, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler, Dusky Thrush, Bluethroat, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Accentor, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pechora Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Pine Grosbeak, Little Bunting and Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Potential Cetaceans and other Marine Mammals (selected species only)

Sperm Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Northern Minke Whale, North Pacific Right Whale, Baird's Beaked-Whale, Orca, Dall's Porpoise, Largha Seal, Northern Fur Seal and Steller's Sea-lion.