Russia

In Search of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Exploring the remote Russian Far East including the province of Chukotka, the only breeding ground of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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 unique and that is the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Having declined markedly, current estimates suggest there may be less than 150 pairs left with all of these believed to breed in remote Chukotka.

On this unique trip, we plan to visit Meinypil’gyno which is the only regularly monitored breeding site and working in collaboration with the world experts on this species, hope to be able to view this incredible bird on its nesting grounds.

There is, however, much more to this amazing expedition cruise which starts on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula. The first stop is invariably at the Zhupanova River where there is an excellent chance of finding Steller’s Sea-eagles, before the ship sails for the Commander Islands. Geographically part 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.

Another place we hope to visit is Verkhoturova Island where the sheer range and number of alcids 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.

Exploring the spectacular mountain coastline of remote south Chukotka will give us an opportunity to look for 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. Largha Seal, Ringed Seal, Pacific Walrus, Dall’s Porpoise and Orca are all possible as we cruise north visiting amazingly scenic locations with jagged mountain ridges covered in snow.

For many birders who join this trip, however, the highlight is a 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 with Emperor Geese and White-billed Diver amongst the possibilities and as we transit in the zodiacs between the ship and the shore there are great chances of both Grey Whales and Belugas.

The trip concludes in the remote Alaskan town of Nome but with easy flight access home from there and out to Kamchatka, this is a truly special expedition cruise.

Tour Dates & Prices

Tue 28th June 2022

Sun 10th July 2022

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Tour Cost: 13 Days from £6750 excluding flights and local payment

Deposit: £1700Single Supp: £tbaLand Only: £6750Group Size: 15Leaders: TBA
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The price quoted here is per person for the most basic cabin. Please click on the 'tour info' for prices for different cabins types.

What's Included?

Pre and post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions. Limosa/WildWings checklist of birds and mammals.

Cost Excludes

All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

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Notes

The voyage will be accompanied by a Limosa/WildWings tour leader subject to a minimum number of bookings. If this total is not achieved, there are always expert bird and wildlife guides employed by Heritage Expeditions aboard the vessel who are there to assist everyone.

The Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For international flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Tour Highlights

  • A visit to Meinypil'gyno, the only regularly monitored breeding site for Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the world
  • A zodiac cruise on the Zhupanova River for Steller's Sea-eagle on the nest as weel as Aleutian Tern and Far Eastern Curlew
  • Two days in the remote Commander Islands looking for Harlequin Duck, Red-faced Cormorant, Horned Puffin, Parakeet Auklet, Short-tailed Albatross, Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch and Pechora Pipit
  • Visit to the incredible island of Verkhoturova with vast numbers of auks
  • Explore the extremely remote and scenic Chukotka coastline for a spectacular selection of Siberian landbirds including Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Accentor, Dusky Thrush and Pine Grosbeak
  • Look for a great range of mammals with Brown Bear, Sea Otter, Largha Seal, Ringed Seal, Pacific Walrus, Dall’s Porpoise, Orca, Grey Whale and Beluga all likely and chances for both Blue and Fin Whales

Outline Itinerary

  • Board Heritage Adventurer at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on Kamchatka Peninsula

  • Zhupanova River, Kamchaktka

  • Commander Islands

  • Karaginskiy Island

  • Verkhoturova Island and Govena Peninsula

  • Exploring the remote Chukotka coastline

  • Meinypil’gyno

  • Preobrazheniya Bay

  • Yttygran Island & Bukhta Penkingney

  • Provideniya

  • Disembark in Nome, Alaska

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Spoon-billed Sandpiper 6982-2 Chris Collins.jpg
Spoon-billed Sandpiper, undisclosed site, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

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 part of this expedition, there are plenty of other amazing experiences to enjoy as the ship heads north from Kamchatka.

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 incredible 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 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 Govern Peninsula with jagged mountain ridges covered in snow.

Our itinerary is deliberately flexible but we plan to spend some of our time visiting areas where Spoon-billed Sandpipers could potentially occur but there will be 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 some 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 is 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 occur 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 next stop is likely to be at Preobrazheniya Bay for a zodiac cruise of some spectacular bird cliffs offering opportunities to see Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as both Horned and Tufted Puffins and chances for Brown Bear and potentially even Wolverine.

The next day we plan to visit one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic – Yttygran Island’s Whale Bone Alley. This ancient site is decorated with Bowhead Whale skulls and bones dating back to the 14th Century. Birding opportunities here are a bit limited but it is a good place to find Northern Pika and possibly Arctic Ground Squirrel.

Our final destination will be at the provincial town of Provideniya. There will be an opportunity to explore this fascinating former Soviet military port and administrative centre and after clearing Russian Customs and Immigration, we will set sail for Nome across the Bering Strait. This is considered one of the world’s most nutrient-rich stretches of water, with Beluga, Bowhead and Grey Whales, Walrus and numerous seabirds all known to come here for the rich feeding.

After crossing the International Date Line, our expedition will conclude in Nome (Alaska) from where there are relatively easy options for returning home via Anchorage.

Tufted Puffin CPC RFE Picture10.jpg
Tufted Puffin, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

Day 1: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Kamchatka

Our expedition begins in the remote city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on the eastern side of the Kamchatka Peninsula here you will board Heritage Adventurer in the late afternoon.

The city is located on the northern shores of one of the best natural harbours in the world and as we sail towards the entrance, this will be the first opportunity to look for some of the seabirds which make this expedition so special with the possibilities including Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots, Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin.

Day 2: Zhupanova River, Kamchatka

During the night, the ship will make the 100 mile journey northwards to the mouth of the Zhupanova River where we plan to have a zodiac cruise up this mighty river. Passing a major salmon fishery at the river-mouth, we will head upstream and our main goal is to enjoy some close encounters with Steller’s Sea-eagles. There are typically two or three pairs nesting close to the riverbank and the opportunities for photography can be excellent.

Other highlights could include Far Eastern Curlew, Kamchatka Gull (the local and very distinctive form of Common/Mew Gull) and Aleutian Tern and it is also worth checking the trees, as small numbers of the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting breed here.

Brown Bears are also seen on a reasonably regular basis, although as they are hunted in this part of Russia, sadly most individuals quickly disappear into the undergrowth when they realise humans are around.

Returning to the ship, we will leave the mainland and set a course for the Commander Islands. Close to the shore, we need to be looking for Long-billed Murrelet, as small numbers of this patchily distributed species are sometimes found here, however, as the water deepens, we are likely to start seeing Laysan Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel as well as a range of other auks.

If the visibility is good, this crossing can be excellent for cetaceans with both Blue and Fin Whales recorded on a number of previous occasions. We also stand an excellent chance of seeing the ‘turbo-charged’ Dall’s Porpoise.

Days 3 to 4: Commander Islands

There are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medney, and during our two days of exploration we hope to visit both of them.

This usually starts at the small settlement of Nikol’skoye, as the islands are in a ‘border zone’, so we usually have to check-in with the local authorities before going elsewhere.

Nikol’skoye is, however, an excellent birding location and along the shoreline we will look for Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover and Glaucous-winged Gull with Harlequin Ducks, Pelagic Cormorants and Sea Otters likely to be out in the bay.

There are numerous other options for landings and zodiac cruises in the archipelago and what we do will largely be determined by a combination of the wind, sea state and tide but we hope to include a zodiac cruise at the tiny islet of Ariy Karmen which is excellent for close views of numerous auks with Brunnich’s Guillemot, Parakeet Auklet and Tufted Puffin all possible.

Cruising along the southern coast of Bering Island can be fantastic for cetaceans due to a steeply shelving shelf edge and Sperm, Humpback, Northern Minke and Baird’s Beaked-Whales, as well as Orca (Killer Whale) are all possible, with the highly endangered North Pacific Right Whale also occasionally recorded too.

Other options for landings include North West Cape on Bering Island, where there is a large haul-out of Steller’s Sea-Lions and Northern Fur Seals, whilst on Medney Island, Peschanaya Bay is a great place to find Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, as well as the endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox which is unique to Medney.

Day 5: Karaginsky Island, Kamchatka

We will awake to views of the open ocean as we continue our crossing towards Karaginskiy Island and as we approach the continental shelf edge there are likely to be more chances for cetaceans with Sperm Whale, Humpback Whale and Orca amongst the possibilities.

Depending on the sea conditions, we hope to reach Karaginsky Island by early afternoon. The island is a 'Ramsar Site' and we can expect to find a range of new species with Red-necked Phalaropes on the pools and Dusky Thrush, Bluethroat, Dusky Warblers and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers in the vegetation.

Day 6: Verkhoturova Island and Govern Peninsula, Chukotka

We should arrive at this island in the early morning and assuming conditions are suitable, we will zodiac cruise one of the most accessible seabird colonies along this part of the coastline. There should be thousands of Crested Auklets out on the water, as well as Tufted and Horned Puffins, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Parakeet Auklets and we may be able to land, climb a steep grassy slope and then enjoy close views of Tufted Puffins. The photography opportunities are invariably excellent.

Returning to the ship, we will sail across to the Govern Peninsula where we will zodiac cruise what is usually an excellent shoreline for Brown Bears. There should be plenty of sea duck as well and it has become apparent on recent visits that the Stejneger’s Scoter flocks sometimes include a few White-winged Scoters even though this species is theoretically found no closer than Alaska.

Other possibilities include King Eider and Harlequin Duck and we may also be able to visit a small colony of Slaty-backed Gulls.

Days 7-9: Chukotka coastline

We plan to spend three days cruising north along the spectacular Chukotka coastline stopping each day to explore this remote region. The itinerary will deliberately be kept flexible to take account of weather conditions and what we have already seen but there are many amazing locations we could visit and, for those who are interested, there is likely to be some time dedicated to surveying habitat for Spoon-billed Sandpipers and other waders.

We will probably visit a mixture of tundra, coastal marshes and freshwater lagoons and the species we could find include White-billed Diver, Tundra Bean Goose, Emperor Goose, King Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Sandhill Crane, Rough-legged Buzzard, Gyrfalcon, Red-necked and Temminck's Stints, Arctic Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Little Bunting
and Common Rosefinch.

We also need to be alert for a strange Rosy Finch that has been encountered on a number of occasions which seems to be intermediate between Grey-crowned and Asian, even though neither species is believed to occur in this region.

We are likely to see more Brown Bears and there are also chances for Snow Sheep and Black-capped Marmot.

Day 10: Meinypil’gyno, Chukotka

The remote community of Meinypil’gyno is located on a vast shingle spit and is currently considered one of the most important sites in the world for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. There are generally 15-20 pairs that members of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Taskforce locate and monitor and if there is a suitable nest nearby, they will guide us to this. Viewing is likely to be at 100 metres or more to minimise disturbance of the birds, their nest, eggs and young but, nevertheless, this is a very special experience.

There is plenty of other wildlife in the area including Emperor Geese, White-billed Divers and Sandhill Cranes and if conditions are suitable, we will also spend some time on a zodiac cruise looking for Grey Whales and Belugas as this area is often good for both species. As the salmon are likely to be running, dozens of Largha Seals often congregate close to the river mouth as they compete with the villagers to catch the fish.

Day 11: Presbrazhenya Bay

We aim to visit Presbrazhenya Bay today which has some amazing bird cliffs and, assuming the sea conditions are suitable, we will use the ship's fleet of zodiacs to explore. There are excellent chances of close encounters with Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as both Horned and Tufted Puffins. Brown Bear is occasionally seen here too and even Wolverine was observed on a previous visit.

There may also be a chance to land and explore the rich tundra landscape for wildlife and flora.

Day 12: Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

For our first landing of the day, we expect to visit one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic – Yttygran Island’s Whale Bone Alley. This ancient site is decorated with Bowhead Whale skulls and bones dating back to the 14th Century.

Birding opportunities here are a bit limited but it is a good place to find Northern Pika and possibly Arctic Ground Squirrel. Nearby there is sometimes a Walrus haulout although the animals are not always present.

We will then cruise a short distance to Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. The natural pools are only a relatively short walk from the coastline, but well worth the effort. For those wanting to look for birds, the possibilities here include Red-necked Stint, Arctic Redpoll and Sandhill Crane.

Day 13: Provideniya, Russia

Today there will be an opportunity to explore this fascinating former Soviet military port and administrative centre. After clearing Russian Customs and Immigration, we will set sail for Nome crossing the Bering Strait which is one of the world’s most nutrient-rich stretches of water and there should be opportunities to look for whales and numerous seabirds.

At some point during the afternoon, the Expedition Team will provide a recap and disembarkation briefing before a farewell dinner to celebrate our journey as we sail back across the International Date Line.

Day 14: Nome, Alaska

After breakfast and clearing US Immigration and Customs formalities, it will be time to say our farewells. There will be a complimentary transfer to take you to the airport or a designated central location.

Please note that circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This could include poor weather and/or opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed.

Brown Bear RFE CPC RB5A2193.JPG
Brown Bear, Chukotka, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

THE SHIP

Heritage Expeditions have been running trips to the Russian Far East since 2007. For most of this period, these expeditions have operated on converted Russian research vessels, in particular the Spirit of Enderby (or to give it it's Russian name Professor Khromov), however, as from mid-2022 most trips will be on Heritage Adventurer. This purpose built expedition ship (which was previously known as Hanseatic and Resolute) combines the highest passenger ship ice-class rating (1A Super) with extremely comfortable cabins and passenger facilities.

Originally designed to accommodate 184 guests, Heritage Adventurer will carrry a maximum of 140 expeditioners ensuring spacious, stylish and comfortable voyages. There will be a fleet of 14 zodiacs to ensure all guests are able to maximise on their expedition adventure.

CABINS OPTIONS AND PRICES

The prices listed below are for the departure on Heritage Adventurer on 10 July 2022. For other departures, please contact us:

Main Deck Triple - £6,750 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Triple Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Triple - £7,150 excluding landing fees

Superior Triple Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 4 Superior - £8,550 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 4 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 5 Superior - £8,900 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Main Deck Single - £10,350 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Single Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Worsley Suite - £10,750 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Worsley Suites are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable chaise-style lounge suite, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Single - £11,050 excluding landing fees

Superior Single Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Heritage Suite - £15,350 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Heritage Suites are an expansive 44m2 and feature large double panoramic windows, king bed, large living area with a sofa, coffee table and chairs and grand marble bathroom with a double basin, bathtub and shower, large writing desk, floor to ceiling cabinetry for storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Please note: the above prices are per person and exclude landing fees of US$500 per person which are paid in cash on the ship.

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