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Thu Jan 10, 2013, 07:28 PM

Last of Their Kind (Intimate Glimpses of One of the Most Endangered Birds on Earth)


http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2577


Text and photos by Gerrit Vyn


Surely, it was a hallucination. A figment of my weary, sodden brain after seven days of slogging across the soggy tundra in search of one of the world’s rarest birds. It was mid-thaw in Chukotka, and the going was tough. Stomping through stubborn snowfields. Wading through melt-water ponds. Scrutinizing the broad gravel spits for signs of life. My eyes were bleary and my body exhausted. And now this stinging, sleety rain.

I was trudging back to the village, head down, thinking only of the warm meal that awaited me, when I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. A little bird stood alone along the edge of a thawing pond, just 15 feet away, puffed up against the cold. Russet-brown and tiny, about as tall as an apple, it winced every time an icy rain pellet hit its head. I stepped back to give it some space, frantically wiping the lenses of my foggy binoculars, and brought the bird into focus. With its broad, spatulate bill, it was unmistakable.



Though I’d traveled across 18 time zones to reach this remote spot in extreme far eastern Russia, at that moment I knew it was well worth the effort. I was standing before a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of perhaps only 200 remaining in the world.

I had come on an assignment from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to record the first high-definition video footage ever taken of Spoon-billed Sandpipers on their breeding grounds, as well as to take photographs and high-quality sound recordings for the Lab’s Macaulay Library. I spent nearly every day of June and July 2011 on the Siberian tundra searching for spoon-bills and documenting every phase of their breeding cycle I witnessed. I was with a 10-person expedition crew, made up of ornithologists and conservationists, there to monitor and work to save this critically endangered species.

FULL story at link.

16 replies, 2040 views

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Arrow 16 replies Author Time Post
Reply Last of Their Kind (Intimate Glimpses of One of the Most Endangered Birds on Earth) (Original post)
Omaha Steve Jan 2013 OP
MynameisBlarney Jan 2013 #1
Solly Mack Jan 2013 #2
Manifestor_of_Light Jan 2013 #3
Wednesdays Jan 2013 #8
janx Jan 2013 #4
msedano Jan 2013 #5
Dustlawyer Jan 2013 #11
Curmudgeoness Jan 2013 #14
Plucketeer Jan 2013 #12
DreamGypsy Jan 2013 #6
graywarrior Jan 2013 #7
ellenfl Jan 2013 #9
postulater Jan 2013 #10
1-Old-Man Jan 2013 #13
polly7 Jan 2013 #15
Omaha Steve Jan 2013 #16

Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 07:41 PM

1. What a pretty bird.

And if those ain't the cutest baby boids EVAR, I'll eat my hat.

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 07:43 PM

2. K&R

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:00 PM

3. I hope someday they could remake a passenger pigeon out of DNA.

Or a dodo bird?

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Response to Manifestor_of_Light (Reply #3)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:33 PM

8. The dodo might be doable, but the pigeon would be a challenge

Because even after conservation efforts to save the pigeon were in force they continued to die off. The last few in captivity refused to mate. The theory is that passenger pigeons would mate only if they were among huge numbers of their species.

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:10 PM

4. K&R

Love Cornell Lab!

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:16 PM

5. 200 remain

Thinking of the last one of the last 200 makes me incredibly sad. The novel, Last of the Curlews, about the final one of its species, evokes similar sadness.

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Response to msedano (Reply #5)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 09:12 PM

11. Saw a cartoon movie of The Last of the Curlews as a young boy.

It made me cry and started me off as a conservationist.

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Response to Dustlawyer (Reply #11)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 09:52 PM

14. I thought I remembered a cartoon movie

from my young days, but I thought it was called The Last Albatross. I cannot find it anywhere, and I have searched the internet. Maybe it wasn't an albatross.

I also became an environmentalist because of that movie, among other things. It was the saddest thing I can imagine.

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Response to msedano (Reply #5)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 09:41 PM

12. Something to keep in mind tho....

I currently share my home with four parrots - each a different species. Two of these species are threatened in their natural habitat. One is fading because they were (and proably still are) captured for the pet trade. The other is fairly rare in captivity (tho ours was bred here in the USA) and their natural habitat is all but COMPLETELY gone - and disappearing fast. Examples of these two species ARE being bred in captivity and that gives these two hope of some sort for the future. But for what KIND of future??? The one's eroding habitat will NEVER be restored to where it could support reintroduction if such a plan were devised. While the birds can survive in captivity - the nuggets of knowledge that parents taught offspring about survival in their natural habitat are lost to time completely. These parrots I have - all bred in captivity - they have a zero chance of surviving if they were turned loose in the wilds.

I hate to think of the extinction of these birds, and polar bears, and rhinos and so on and so forth. But is that any more rational than lamenting the passing of the massive arrays of species that came and went even before we climbed down out of trees? Evolution, extinction and the dawning of species we may never live to see - this is how this planet works, and has worked for billions of years. We humans think that because we can perceive of the world around us - WE are responsible for it - its "curators" if you will. Heck, I've got a 50 year old car I restored some years ago. I'll bet it's not preserved til 2100 AD. We can not stop everything just as we like it. We just can't.

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:20 PM

6. What a beautiful story.

There are links to other videos on Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraging, courtship, and breeding here. Worth watching.

The intricacies and subtleties of species behavior ... as individuals develop, survive, court, breed, care for the next generation, flourish, and ...die... is always astounding.

Thanks to researchers and conservationist like Gert Vyn whose works are constant reminders of the wonders we share in the world and how much we have to lose. And, thanks to Omaha Steve for the post.



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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:26 PM

7. That made my night!

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:42 PM

9. awesome. birds are totally cool. i hope these don't die out. eom

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 08:51 PM

10. My new favorite bird.

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 09:51 PM

13. Why, in such a remote area, are there only 200 left? Is this a natural extinction taking place?

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Thu Jan 10, 2013, 09:53 PM

15. Wow. Those are amazingly tough and independent little chicks.

And adorable.

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Response to Omaha Steve (Original post)

Fri Jan 11, 2013, 09:17 AM

16. I didn't think this post would get this much attention


I'm pleasantly surprised.

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