Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Eury cheers up sick Brazilian girl.

Heloísa (Lolo to her friends) is very unwell, and, although she lives in Brazil and has never heard of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper before, Rick's sister-in-law Catarina decided to take a copy of Eury the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and some other gifts to try and cheer her up. Lolo has been bravely fighting an auto-immune disease that is badly affecting her liver, keeping as cheerful as she can, for the past six years. Catarina further plans that, when Lolo is well enough, she will take her and her mum Nilza, to Disneyworld for a very special treat. 

This is Lolo with some other goodies we sent over; a spoony cuddly toy, Peter Rabbit book, a Wader Quest badge and sticker plus a spoony badge.
Lolo went back to hospital when Eury arrived in Brazil, but he was taken to meet her anyway. The story was read to her by Rick's niece Leila sitting on Lolo's hospital bed.

Leila reading the book to Lolo in hospital.

We hope that Eury has brightened up Lolo's days a little while she is battling this disease and suffering from the required treatment and we hope too that sooner, rather than later, she'll be feeling well enough to undertake the Disneyworld adventure.

Clearly one of the more tense moments in the story!
Thank you to Catarina Simpson for the photos and to Lolo's mother for permission to post them.

For information about acquiring your copy; click on the link Eury the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Monday, 13 March 2017

As if waders didn't have enough to deal with; without Avian Botulism!

Every year many thousands of birds die of Avian Botulism around the world and it may be affecting waders currently in some parts of the world. 

Recently we heard a report that residents, and the Chief, of Pantai Sungai Cemara Village, Jambi, Indonesia reported that there are many waders paralysed on the beach, several Great Knots were found floundering on the sand. This may have been caused by Avian Botulism although some reports suggest the birds were merely exhausted.

Great Knots in care in Indonesia: photo Iwan Londo

The same, or similar, was happening in Paracas in Peru where Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers appeared to be affected. Some of the birds were very debilitated but alert, seemingly without the energy to stand.  

Western Sandpiper

Whether or not these birds were infected by botulism remains to be seen but this time last year there was a botulism outbreak in New Zealand which affected the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre when many threatened birds were killed.


Avian botulism is a disease that causes paralysis and is caused by ingestion of a toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum which is widespread in soil. The illness is caused by the toxin not by the bacterium itself.
These outbreaks are associated with unusually warm temperatures (average over 21°c) with de-oxygenated water and a source of protein (often decaying invertebrates or vegetation). They are often associated with drought conditions and it is feared that these outbreaks will be exacerbated by climate change and become more common than they are now. 
The good news is that infected birds in care can be saved using antitoxins and birds in the wild, which are mildly affected, can recover by themselves if they have access to clean water, reasonable weather and of course don't get eaten by a predator. A bird that lives for 48 hours or more has a high chance of survival but captive birds should not be released immediately upon recovery as the toxins can occur in their faeces for several days after . An outbreak will clear naturally once the weather cools especially if there is heavy rainfall although this conditions are likely to lower survival chances of infected birds. 

Great Knot in care: Photo Iwan Londo.

One study has suggested that, in the case of waders, feeding habits may influence a species’ susceptibility to botulism. The toxins remain near the surface of the muddy substrate and therefore those species that feed at or near the surface are more prone to ingesting the toxin than others which probe deeply in the sediment. In a survey in Saskatchewan they found that shorter billed waders such as the small Calidris waders were most at risk as well as yellowlegs and American Avocets that scoop their food from the surface of the substrate whereas the more common and deep probing dowitchers were less affected.

American Avocet: Photo Elis Simpson

A further study in Europe compared Common Snipe and Wood Sandpiper and found that survival rates were higher in the snipes that probe deeply in the substrate than in the sandpipers that pick their food mainly from the surface or just under it.

Wood Sandpiper

It seems there is little that can be done to prevent Avian Botulism, it is widespread and endemic in the soil that birds feed in, and on. Birds do not build an immunity to the toxins and can be re-infected and there is no evidence that vaccines work except perhaps over a very short period.

Affected birds can be recognised as paralysis sets in. They are unable to use their legs and wings and cannot control their third eyelid. This loss of muscle function means that they have difficulty holding their heads up due to weakened neck muscles. In ducks and birds in water this can result in drowning. Dehydration, electrolyte (salt, calcium etc) imbalance, respiratory failure and predation are the main causes of death when a bird is affected.

Danger lurks behind every corner for waders, this horrible illness, which can inflict a slow and painful death on the birds unlucky enough to contract it, is just one of a multitude of pressures on our dwindling wader populations.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Meet Marvellous Milly Formby.

Imagine the thought process that must have gone on to get from watching a red traffic light, waiting for it to change, to deciding, on the spot, that you are going to combine your passion for wader conservation, with a desire to learn to fly. Then, before the lights had time to go green (no red and amber in Australia it seems) to then transform that bizarre combination into an extravaganza to eclipse all others in raising awareness about the problems the East-Asian Australasian Flyway (EAAF) is facing; not so much a process, more of a flash, dare I say, a flash of inspiration?* 

Milly Formby: photo Gordon Marshall
Milly Formby (for it was she that had this life changing revelation) decided she would fly the length of the EAAF to highlight the conservation nightmare that it has become, and that was before she had even learned to fly! What makes this all the more adventurous is that she isn't going to do it in a cosy aeroplane, she plans to do in a microlight aircraft!

The EAAF and its waders are in a perilous state, if you are unaware of the destruction of the intertidal zone in the key Yellow Sea region then please understand that the problem is likely, if not addressed in the very short term, to cause the annihilation of several wader species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis and Nordmann's Greenshank Tringa guttifer and regional populations of more widespread species such as Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica baueri.

Eastern Curlew, a species under pressure. Cairns Australia September 2013

What Milly is doing is nothing short of incredible and reflects the passion that she has for these birds. It is also a reflection of how inspiring waders can be, once you are caught by the bug, it is impossible to shake it off, we can confirm this from our own personal experience.

Milly learning to fly a microlight: photo Gordon Marshall
So, all of this is going to cost money, obviously, and Milly isn't some super rich attention seeking celeb, she is just like you and me and wants to do her bit to improve the world for our ailing wader populations. Wader Quest fully supports her initiative and we will help out where we can, and we urge you to do the same if you have any concern for our waders, to help to fund this effort through Milly's fundraising site. It doesn't mean you have to give a lot, it would actually be much more satisfying to know that many people gave a little than a few people gave a lot. So do your bit if you can for the waders of the EAAF and support Milly and the Wing Threads project**.

Facebook www.facebook.com/wingthreads / Twitter @wing_threads #wingthreads 

See Wader Quest the newsletter: Vol. 3 Issue 3 October 2016 pp1-2 The Inspiration of Waders.We are campaigning for 'an Inspiration of waders' to become the official collective noun for a mixed aggregation of waders dancing and pirouetting over our beloved estuaries (blog to follow soon). 

** See Wader Quest the newsletter: Vol. 3 Issue 3 October 2016 pp18-19 Wing Threads – Flight to the Tundra

Wader Quest the newsletter is a quarterly e-newsletter that we publish with news and views about waders and their conservation available to Friends and Sponsors of Wader Quest (Subscriptions for as little as £5.00 per year for individuals).