Published: 8 Feb 2014 15:00
An ornithologist from Fermanagh has travelled half-way around the world in search of one of the rarest birds on Earth.
A spoon-billed sandpiper, one of the rarest birds in the world. Photograph by Gavin Thomas of the RSPB and Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.
Brad Robson, from Monea, wanted to see a spoon-billed sandpiper “while it still exists”.
Tragically the little bird, no bigger than a sparrow, is heading the way of the dodo.
According to the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust): “The incredible spoon-billed sandpiper is hurtling towards extinction perhaps faster than any other bird species. Probably fewer than 100 pairs remain and the population is in free fall. Without urgent action, it will be gone within a decade.”
Brad is manager of the RSPB’s reserves on Lough Erne and spends much of his working life protecting surviving populations of once common wading birds like the curlew, lapwing and redshank.
The spoon-billed sandpiper is also a wading bird but is in much graver danger than any of our local species.
“They really are just hanging on by their toe nails,” says Brad.
Like the swallow, the spoon-billed sandpiper migrates over huge distances. It breeds on the Arctic tundra of north-east Siberia before flying 8,000 kilometres south, through Russia, Japan, Korea and China, to spend the winter in Bangladesh, Muyanmar and Thailand.
It was to Thailand that Brad and a group of fellow ornithologists headed last month in the hope of spotting one.
“We had been planning a trip to China for a number of years to see them there but it didn’t work out. Thailand is the easiest place to see them,” he explains.