|Spoon-billed sandpiper wintering in Thailand. Photo by J. J. Harrison|
Wildlife that reproduce there have to work fast. Right about now, late May and early June, spoon-billed sandpiper males have arrived on their breeding grounds on coastal tundra along the Bering Sea from Russia’s Chukotsk peninsula south to the Kamchatka peninsula due west of Alaska.
Because of their spatulate bill, spoon-billed sandpipers are unique among shorebirds. So unique, they're in their own genus, Eurynorhynchus, which basically means "widened-beak."
The males arrive early and immediately begin courtship flights that circle favored habitat—coastal tundra, most often near large lagoons or bays—to define their territory and attract a mate. Once a male and female have paired they select a nest site among crowberry plants on sparsely vegetated gravel spits or other vegetated lowland tundra. Soon the female begins laying a clutch, generally four eggs, in a shallow depression very much like the killdeer, upland shorebirds of East Tennessee.
Once the eggs are laid, both adults incubate, usually on shifts lasting half a day each. By late June, days reach their longest. While not incubating, the parents-to-be feed along lake shores, shallow ponds and in wet tundra meadows. The brood hatches in 19 to 23 days, roughly three weeks. These are the idyllic hours of summer, but the days are already getting shorter.
After hatching, the young leave the nest within a day and immediately begin feeding themselves. The female soon departs and begins the roughly 7,000 mile migration south.
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After the chicks reach fledging age the male too begins his long-distance trip south. The chicks remain on the tundra to bulk up but soon follow their fathers, beginning their own migration south before the isolated location becomes too inhospitable for shorebirds of any kind.
Spoon-billed sandpipers migrate down the Pacific coast of Russia, Japan, North and South Korea and China to their main wintering grounds in Southeast Asia. Today, critically endangered because of habitat loss along their migration route, most spoonbills winter in coastal Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The juveniles that survive the long flights south, owe their learned survival skills to their fathers. He was there when his progeny needed him.
Happy Father's Day to my late father Russell who was always, always, always there for me.