Run as a co-operative venture with BirdLife International, this unique expedition follows in the footsteps of the Danish Explorer Commander Vitus Bering whose instructions from Tsar Peter the Great were to "sail north by north-east... chart the coast and collect information"
Our journey starts in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, the city which is named after two of Bering's ships, and we will also travel north by north-east, along what is still one of the remotest coastlines on earth.
Our voyage is dedicated to looking for birds and wildlife and we can expect to have some truly spectacular experiences, however, there is one bird which makes this trip very special and that is the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This species is classified as ‘critically endangered' and it is believed there are now less than 200 pairs which make the annual migration to Northern Kamchatka and Chukotka to breed.
Very few people have had the privilege of visiting this region to see this species and we hope to repeat the success of our previous expeditions when we not only saw birds at Meinypil'gyno, the only monitored breeding site, but also made ornithological history by finding a new population further south
For dates and rates, and the full itinerary please click the tabs under the heading above.
Pre/post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation and meals and all expedition shore excursions.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Arrive into Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy the capital and administrative centre of the Kamchatka Region and transfer to the port to board the Spirit of Enderby.
We plan to spend the morning Zodiac cruising on the Zhupanova River. Our main target here is the Steller’s Sea Eagle and there are usually at least three occupied nests close to the river.
The wildlife-rich Commander Islands were first discovered by the Commander Vitus Bering when his ship was wrecked here in 1741. We intend to explore the islands through a combination of landings and Zodiac cruises and our first stop will be the village of Nikolskoye, where there is an interesting museum.
Our proposed landing site is a patchwork of boggy tundra, ponds and shingle spits and an interesting range of waders can be found here including Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and Red-necked Phalarope.
Verkhoturova Island has some huge seabird colonies and by following a short trail to the cliff top we should be able to enjoy some fantastic views of Tufted Puffins, Brunnich’s Guillemots, Pelagic Cormorants and Black-legged Kittiwakes.
Later in the day, there will be either a Zodiac cruise or landing on the Govena Peninsula. Good numbers of Brown Bears can often be found here.
Tintikun Lagoon is one of the most scenic places in the Russian Far East and the lake is surrounded by jagged mountains, glaciers and forested slopes. A shallow river allows us to drive the Zodiacs onto the lake and we intend to make several landings.
We plan to spend two days with members of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Taskforce searching remote bays looking for unknown populations of this critically endangered species. In 2011 we made ornithological history by locating three territories at a location which had not been previously surveyed. We will be assisting the Taskforce again and hope to repeat our success elsewhere.
Another beautiful fiord possessed of a dramatic allure in the low sun of the Subarctic. A walrus haul-out guards the entrance and we make a landing to explore the hinterland, surrounded by imposing mountain landscapes and verdant tundra.
Meinypil’gyno is located on a 40 kilometre long shingle spit and is the most important site in the world for breeding Spoon-billed Sandpiper, as there are about ten pairs which are monitored by members of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Taskforce.
This coastline is rich in marine mammals and one creature we will be looking for, in particular, is the walrus, as there is a known haul-out. The animals do regularly move between locations, so finding them is always very much a matter of luck, although we have had success here in the past.
As we cruise into Anadyr Bay, there is an excellent chance of seeing more Belugas and after a final breakfast on board the Spirit of Enderby, it will be time to disembark. We will provide complimentary transfers to a downtown hotel and the airport.
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Click here for Species List
Sunday 24th June
At the Hotel.
Monday 25th June
Expedition participants met over dinner last night. After breakfast there were a couple of optional excursions led by Katya and Chris from the expedition team. Katya took those who were interested on a guided tour of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy which included a number of the visitor attractions of this icon town. Amongst the places visited was Lenin Square where there was a huge statue of the first leader during the Communist era.
The other option was a birding walk and this explored an area near the hotel where a range of good birds were found including Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Rustic Bunting and Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler. For many, however, the highlight was a particularly obliging Lanceolated Warbler which responded extremely well to a recording and then sat in the open for a couple of minutes.
By 2 pm everyone was aboard the Spirit of Enderby in time for a late lunch followed by a series of briefings. An introduction to the ship and expedition team was followed by a Zodiac briefing and the theoretical part of the safety drill. A little later, Expedition Leader Rodney explained that there would be a delay in our departure due to weather. This gave everyone time to unpack and orientate themselves around the ship. The keen birders went outside and noted various birds including Slaty-backed Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes and several Tufted Puffins.
Shortly after dinner had concluded, we sailed away from the wharf and across Avacha Bay, which is considered to be one of the largest natural harbours in the world. With the sun having set, the light was rapidly fading but the street lights around the bay gave us a sense of the size of this spectacular location and many then headed for bed in expectation of the days ahead.
Tuesday 26th June
The day began with blue skies, flat seas and little wind as we cruised northward towards the Zhupanova River. A range of birds was found including good numbers of Tufted Puffins and one which is not that common along this stretch of coastline, the Ancient Murrelet. By the time breakfast had concluded, the Spirit of Enderby was anchored off the mouth of the Zhupanova River and after a briefing from Rodney, we boarded five Zodiacs and set off for the river entrance. When we were part way there, a radio message came through from Adam that a Long-billed Murrelet had been spotted and all the Zodiac drivers quickly made a 'bee line' towards the indicated area. Entering the river mouth, there were good numbers of gulls loafing on the sand and whilst most of these were Slaty-backed Gulls, a lone Red-legged Kittiwake was spotted amongst them. Whilst we were expecting to see this species once we reached the Commander Islands, it was interesting to find one here with a dozen Long-billed Curlews also feeding nearby.
Once Rodney and Katya had spoken to the locals to confirm there were no restrictions on our activities, we set off up the river and some saw a single Aleutian Tern amongst the large numbers of Common Terns. Further upstream, a male Yellow-breasted Bunting was seen. The drivers carefully positioned the Zodiacs so that everyone could see this amidst the high vegetation close to the river bank. It was however, a reasonably obliging bird and after disappearing for a few moments, returned to the same perch after Chris played a recording of its song. Moving along the river we passed a group of Largha Seals hauled out on a sandbar and it was possible to see the distinctive spotting on this North Pacific endemic species which is also sometimes known as Spotted Seal.
Our main goal on this particular Zodiac cruise was to get some good looks at Steller's Sea Eagle. We had seen two in the distance when entering the river mouth, but the expedition team took us to two nests where we enjoyed some phenomenal views of this majestic raptor.
After cruising several miles upstream, the Zodiacs headed back towards the fishing village and most of those who had missed the earlier Aleutian Tern got lucky when another was found perched on a piece of wood. It seemed utterly oblivious to several Zodiacs making increasing close passes and some excellent photos of this tricky species were taken.
Landing at the river mouth, some went to investigate the village where we were invited to sample some of the salmon which had been caught, whilst others went for a short walk to the wet grassland behind the village where we soon found two Long-toed Stints. All too soon, it was time to return to the ship and as we cruised out to sea and towards the Commander Islands, the range of seabirds changed with good numbers of Laysan Albatrosses and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels seen. Five species of cetacean were also spotted: Fin, Humpback, Sperm, Baird's Beaked Whale and Dall's Porpoise.
For those seeking alternative activities, two lectures were provided during the afternoon with 'Resident Artist' Alison providing an introduction to art and Katya telling us about the Commander Islands.
Wednesday 27th June
Bering Island, Commander Islands
For the 'early birds' the day began well before breakfast with some great cetacean sightings including a Humpback Whale tail slapping and at least one Sperm Whale. As we closed in on Bering Island, the number of birds increased significantly with huge numbers of Tufted Puffins, as well as Common Guillemots, Black-legged and Red-legged Kittiwakes and several Pelagic Cormorants. The undoubted highlight, however, was a juvenile Short-tailed Albatross which made a close pass in front of the bow. It chose to fly past the ship in the middle of breakfast and whilst Adam quickly announced it on the PA system, some were unable to get outside fast enough.
After a short briefing, Rodney set off with Katya, Natalia and the Captain on a Zodiac to meet the local Border Guard who confirmed we could land provided everyone presented their passports to him. With this procedure quickly completed, we were free to explore. We were told that Nikol'skoye weather can be unpredictable, but we were lucky today as the clouds parted and the sun came out. Some of the group joined Katya on a visit to the small museum in the middle of the town where there was a range of exhibits. These included the skeleton of a Steller's Sea Cow which had become extinct within thirty years of the archipelago being discovered on the second of Bering's expeditions which had landed on the Commander Islands in 1741.
The birders walked along the shoreline and saw a good range of species including Glaucous-winged Gull, Red-legged Kittiwake and Lapland and Snow Buntings. Further along there were several summer plumaged Dunlin and then one of our target birds, a Mongolian Plover. Heading inshore we soon came to a large area of tundra where the speciality was Pechora Pipit. Initially this proved hard to find but we persevered and many were rewarded with some great views of this much wanted bird.
Some took the opportunity to visit the modest art gallery where there were a wide range of paintings and prints for sale by resident artist Sergei. Another optional stop was at the memorial statue to Vitus Bering. Although this great explorer had been the first to reach the Commander Islands, his ship was wrecked here in 1741. He survived the wreck but a month later succumbed to scurvy. By 1 pm everyone was back at the landing site although some were lucky enough to see a Rock Sandpiper which was found just as the final Zodiacs were arriving to collect their passengers. It had been a fantastic morning ashore and whilst an unfortunate few missed the Sandpiper, nevertheless we had enjoyed a great experience irrespective of interests.
Over lunch the Spirit of Enderby repositioned to North West Cape and at 3:30 pm five Zodiacs were lowered and we set off for the shore. The weather was still very pleasant with flat seas, however the low tide meant it was somewhat challenging to get the boats to the beach. Eventually everyone was ashore once again and we set off with local Ranger, Victor, for the seal colony. There were two viewpoints on the cliffs overlooking the colony and there were literally hundreds of animals. Whilst the majority were Northern Fur Seals, there were also good numbers of Harbour Seals and a few Steller Sea Lions. It was difficult to know where to look with mothers feeding tiny pups, bulls arguing with each other and the coming and going of others between the sea and sandy beach.
At one point, two Arctic Foxes were spotted on the beach and several of the seals took exception to these predators being to close as they made their way along the shore. A few moments later, what may have been one of the two animals we had seen appeared a matter of metres away from us, allowing us some amazing views and photographic opportunities!
Further along, Victor took some to another lookout point where there was the chance to see some Horned Puffins. North West Cape had really turned on a great show of wildlife for us! All too soon it was time to head back to the ship but Rodney had plans for the evening, so as soon as dinner had concluded, the Zodiacs were lowered for the third time and we set off for Arij Karmen. This island which is no more than a few hundred metres long was absolutely crammed with breeding seabirds. Once again it was difficult to know where to look with Tufted Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots, Red-legged and Black-legged Kittiwakes, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants amongst the species seen.
Heading a few hundred metres offshore, there was another suite of birds to see as two of the smaller species of auks, Parakeet Auklet and Crested Auklet were rafting up prior to coming ashore after dark. By 9:30 pm big numbers were gathering and there was a single flock of 'Parakeets' which contained at least one thousand birds - a truly spectacular sight! At 10 pm it was becoming increasingly gloomy so we returned to the ship, tired butextremely happy. Whilst it had been a long day, we had enjoyed some amazing wildlife experiences around Bering Island.
Thursday 28th June
Peschayna Bay, Zodiac cruising and Commander Bay
We woke up to another beautiful morning, anchored off a Nature Reserve of great interest to scientists from all over Russia at the north eastern end of Medny Island. Medny has always been famous for captivating scenery and abundant wildlife. We sensed it straight away with a huge flock of Northern Fulmars surrounding the ship. A Humpback and a Minke Whale were seen before we even got the Zodiacs in the water. It was a good start and we set out with great anticipation.
We landed next to the abandoned Border Guard station and village at Peschanaya Bay. The group spent a few hours wandering around exploring the base or birding on the hillsides. Many were reluctant to leave the peace of this magical place. Back on the ship a good number of cetaceans including Sperm Whales were seen as we cruised around the headland. During a Zodiac cruise later in the afternoon we saw Sea Otters and a large number of Harbour Seals in the kelp beds around the rocks. There were also many Horned Puffins nesting on the cliffs and Grey-crowned Rosy Finches feeding close to the waterfront.
We then bid farewell to Medny and set a course for Bering Island again. On the way we had an escort from a few Humpback Whales and Laysan Albatross which we watched from the decks. Our last landing on these beautiful islands was in Commander Bay, where Bering's expedition landed, wrecked and was forced to overwinter, suffering many hardships before re building their ship and sailing back to Kamchatka. They lost 31 crew and officers, including Bering himself, and some of them were buried on the island. There are several memorials to the expedition and those who died on the island in the winter of 1741. It is now a peaceful place with beautiful wild flowers, lovely scenery and a sense of space. We spent some time here reflecting on the history and destinies of Bering's crew.
To the great delight of all on board we spotted a couple of Minke Whales breaching continuously as we left the anchorage, with some getting good photographs. We crossed the zone of the shelf drop off at twilight when there was much marine activity with albatross, fulmars, puffins and porpoises spotted around the ship.
We bade farewell to the Commander Islands and set the course for Karaginsky Island.
Friday 29th June
We woke up to another splendid morning en route to Karaginsky Island. Even though it was very tempting to stay out on deck, we had a busy lecture programme in the morning so we could achieve more during our scheduled landing this afternoon.
First up was Katya's lecture about Sea Otters. She talked about various aspects of their biology and population dynamics, as well as about the most recent research, including the survey that Heritage Expeditions organised and funded just a month ago.
Later Evgeny and Elena presented their very informative talk about biology and conservation of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. They have been working with the species for over ten years and their knowledge is extensive. It was a very interesting, but also in many ways disturbing account of the species history, showing the rapid decline in numbers that only a huge conservation effort can remedy. They also showed video of breeding sandpipers and described a few points that we have to keep in mind while making our small contribution to the project during the voyage. There is a great level of interest amongst the group and the talk was well attended.
Immediately after lunch we set out for the landing on Karaginsky Island where we spent three hours ashore in glorious sunny weather. Birding highlights included a Red-spotted Bluethroat, Dusky Warbler, Red-throated and Pechora Pipits and a particular treat, Pallas's Reed Bunting, which happened to be a new tick for Adam. We also noted a good number of Long-tailed Skuas which were patrolling the tundra in search of prey. Overall it was a very successful birding day.
We came back to the ship tired and happy, but the programme had not yet finished for the day. After dinner we had a lecture from our guest speaker Dr Debbie Pain, who gave an excellent talk about the Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive breeding and head starting programs, run by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, UK. We learned about the research behind it, and the methods and logistical challenges the various teams had to manage. She showed a touching six minute film which followed the first year of the captive breeding operation, when the eggs and recently hatched chicks were transported to Anadyr on the Spirit of Enderby in 2011. It brought back some wonderful memories for those who were present on that trip and gave us the inspiration to carry on with the great effort required to help this amazing species.
Saturday 30th June
Verkhoturova Island and Govena Peninsula
We had an early morning start with a landing on Verkhoturova Island, which is famous not only for its bird colonies but also for their accessibility. After landing on the gravely beach we climbed a steep grassy slope and were blown away by the spectacle that opened to us. Puffins were just a few metres away, with kittiwakes and guillemots tightly packed on the cliffs just below us, while hundreds of Slaty-backed Gulls nested amongst the grass beside the track.
We carefully approached the colony, making sure not to disturb or damage any birds or nests. Everyone found a spot to just sit and enjoy time with the birds. It was very rewarding to be so close to so many birds and have the time to sit and enjoy them. Amongst the activity we also saw a few Common Eiders and Steller's Sea Eagles while a Red Fox checked us out from the beach. Some people were energetic enough to climb almost to the top of the hill, but most just sat and drank in the scene. Great flocks of Crested and Parakeet Auklets flew overhead as we reluctantly made our way back to the ship.
During lunch the ship steamed towards the Govena Peninsula and Cape Primetniy (Conspicuous), which the expedition team have nicknamed 'bear gully'. The area lived up to this name as even before we launched the Zodiacs, four bears were spotted on the shore. On the way to the coast we explored an old shipwreck, which now hosts a Slaty-backed Gull colony and took some good photos of the chicks before heading for the shore. As we drew near to land the scheduled bear appeared and obligingly posed for photographs very close to the Zodiacs. After everyone had made the most of this wonderful photo opportunity it strolled back inland. We spotted a second bear before heading back to the ship. Later the Spirit of Enderby was boarded by some of the reserve staff and border control officers. They were pretty friendly and after all the formalities were over, left us to enjoy our dinner.
Sunday 1st July
We awoke to another cloudless day with no wind. Tintikun Lagoon is a unique place, where the magic of the wild Koryak coast can really be felt. The lagoon has a narrow and shallow entrance so our landing involved a walk for about twenty minutes while the Zodiac drivers took the boats up the creek. After watching bears watching us on the hillside across the river, we landed at various stops where the elusive Siberian Accentor led us a merry dance. Also new for the trip were two wary Dusky Thrushes. The air was filled with the songs of Arctic and Dusky Warblers, whilst the lagoon afforded decent views of sea duck such as White-winged Scoter (deglandi).
On the way back we were fortunate enough to see another bear on the slopes racing across the hillside. As we made our way back some of the group accepted an invitation from the rangers to visit one of their huts. We were sorry to leave this beautiful place but eventually made our way back to the ship. Meghan opened the Sea Shop during our afternoon at sea whilst the birders notched up 25 Kittlitz's Murrelets! The splendid day was capped off by yet another delicious meal created by Bruce and Monique.
Monday 2nd July
This was a big day in our search for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. With Russian Ornithologists Evgeny and Elena on board, the really serious searching could now begin. We were divided into six teams and the ship was anchored off Tigil Lagoon all day to allow a comprehensive search of the area to cover as much ground as possible in search of this rare and elusive bird.
The day began very early when at 5.30 am a scout boat was dispatched into the early morning mist to prospect the search areas. The teams were each allocated an area to search, but landings were postponed until 11.30 am due to weather conditions. Despite this being what is considered ideal habitat, to our disappointment no 'Spoonies' were found. Some other birds were seen by the various groups including a Willow Grouse and a Pallas'sReed Bunting. Group number six had a productive day of creativity with Alison the resident artist and her able assistant Ken.
Tuesday 3rd July
Bukhtas Petra, Pavla and Natalia
Early in the morning we approached the fiord of Pavla Bay, one of the most beautiful locations along the Koryak coast. This voyage was truly blessed, as the sun was shining once again and there was just a slight breeze. A landscape of mountain ranges, peaks and gullies provided a majestic backdrop for our photographs. Many people went out on deck or to the bridge just to enjoy the scenery before breakfast and afterwards we prepared to make a landing. Three different options were available with Rodney leading a walk up from Pavla to Petra Bay, Evgeny and Elena leading our search group for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Bukhta Natalia and Steve looking after a group exploring the ruined huts of the fish processing factory and the Border Guard post.
The walkers enjoyed a very scenic hike amongst the mountains and fiords, culminating in distant views of the very rare and elusive Snow Sheep. A couple of Asian Rosy Finches were also seen by a lucky few. Everyone was a little tired upon their return, but didn't have long to relax as they set off for a landing at Buktha Natalia right after lunch and thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon exploring the tundra.
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper group worked as hard as ever, but again with no success, despite passing through more suitable habitat. Their spirits were raised however by the sighting of a nest of three young white Gyrfalcons. Even some from the walkers group 'twitched' these birds after returning to the boat and another group had a close encounter with a bear. Dusky Thrushes continued to elude, Red-flanked Bluetails entertained and Little Buntings performed for the wandering birders.
It was an incredible day which left many lasting impressions and even more photographs and we were all pretty tired when we returned to the ship.
Wednesday 4th July
Opuka Lagoon and Maliuvieem Lagoon
By morning we were anchored off the mouth of the Opuka Lagoon. Hopes were high as we were in ideal Spoon-billed Sandpiper habitat today and Grey Whales spouted off the entrance to the lagoon. Three teams were deployed to spend a long day walking the crowberry spits and moraine hills of this vast area, while the ship shifted to deploy a fourth team at Maliuvieem Lagoon, another spot considered ideal for the elusive 'Spoonies'. Conditions remained great throughout the day and many, many miles were covered. Those who did not wish to search for sandpipers spent some time Zodiac cruising and encountered a pod of Grey Whales which adopted the boats for a time, providing some exciting moments for those on board. The group then wandered around the remains of a Soviet era radar base.
At the end of the day, four groups of tired searchers gathered on the ship to compare notes. Disappointingly, no Spoon-billed Sandpipers were found, not a good sign with so much prime habitat covered. However, each group did come back with their own highlight. Evgeny and Derek's group had seen many thousands of sea ducks including a King Eider. Adam and Katya's group had seen a Terek Sandpiper and enjoyed several close bear encounters including the bear that Katya awoke from a nap in one of the abandoned buildings! Elena's group had seen three Emperor Geese and Chris' group had a seen a Great Knot. It had been a long and busy day out on the tundra and sleep was a high priority after dinner.
Thursday 5th July
Day break found us making our final approach to Meinypil'gyno village. Yet again weather conditions were near perfect as we watched a Crested Auklet buzzing the ship for several minutes before it finally decided to land. After breakfast Rodney went ashore to begin lengthy negotiations with Border Guards, the village, and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper team. While we waited we were entertained by Grey Whales spouting at the river mouth and Beluga Whales cruising along the shoreline while those with binoculars kept them trained on the vast expanse of crowberry spits and moraine hills that make up the last stronghold of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Finally everything was in place and after an early lunch we headed in to shore. We split into two groups. Katya, Kosta, Steve and Igor led a group to the north where one bird was watched sitting quietly on its nest. The other group headed south with Rodney, Adam, Nikolai and Nastya and after a 12 kilometre round trip walk were able to visit two nesting territories and observe three different birds. As we returned to the village via Zodiac we could reflect on how fortunate we were to have seen this incredibly rare and special bird at its nesting site and also to appreciate the vastness of this country where it breeds.
On return to the village we were greeted by the local Chukchi people who put on a display of traditional dancing and showed us inside their uranga huts. It was a genuine performance and much appreciated by the group. All too soon the sun was dipping below the horizon and it was time to return to the ship, making a slight detour so as not to disturb a bear that came down to the beach to feed on another dead bear. Following dinner, those who still had the energy to head out on deck were rewarded with a glorious Arctic sunset and a full moon illuminating the mountains of this legendary region.
Friday 6th July
Meinypil'gyno and Pika Bay
The day began with yet another glorious sunrise continuing the pattern of beautiful weather since the journey began from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. To the delight of early rising photographers, a Crested Auklet selected the bow for some morning sunbathing. Soon after the breakfast call was made we were thrilled to learn that four Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks had hatched overnight in the rearing programme at Meinipil'gyno. It was decided that this was a good omen for the day that awaited us.
Following breakfast we split into two groups. The first team went exploring the tundra to see if they could find a male 'Spoonie' that had been sighted near here just four days ago. They marched optimistically under blue skies towards the mountains in the hope of possibly finding one of the rarest birds in the world. The team was successful in finding a marked Red-necked Stint, a Red-necked Phalarope and some other wonderful birds but sadly no Spoon-billed Sandpipers. The group was disappointed that they could not return to the ship with a new sighting and photographs.
At the same time, the second team enjoyed the company of Grey Whales, many seals, marine birds and a group of gulls struggling to pull ashore a large salmon. After a couple of hours of whale watching, we visited the Meinipil'gyno settlement.
Once ashore, we were greeted with the usual warm friendship of the local Chukchi community and were guided around the town with a memorable visit to the local museum. The impressive collection there was a labour of love and founded by the late Salikh Zyabarov, who over several decades, had collected many artefacts of the Chukchi reindeer and fishing peoples of the area. Our informative guide, Ruzana Zyabarova, was the widow of the founder who proved to be equally dedicated. She is continuing his tradition and is also demonstrating her deep passion for the people of the region and the land on which they live.
We also learned of the overland 'caterpillar' vehicle recovered from the river some 18 years ago by Roman Belogorodcev, who completely refurbished and equipped it in order to move throughout this rugged countryside searching for 'Spoonies'. He also brought vital supplies to this community of 700 people all the way from Anadyr. His wife, Sveltana Belogroroceva, is the administrative head of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Centre at Meinipil'gyno that hosts scientists and volunteers trying to save this beautiful bird from the brink of extinction. Dr Debbie Pain of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in the UK was able to inform the locals that four more chicks had hatched in Slimbridge and the excitement of this event was shared by all.
Once everyone was back on board the ship we enjoyed a stunning cruise along the Chukotka coast to Pika Bay. During the afternoon the 'Artist in Residence' Alison presented the first ever art exhibition held on the Spirit of Enderby to celebrate all that we have seen through the medium of watercolour, pastels and pen and ink drawings. This was interrupted by the call of "whales and walrus" which prompted everyone to make for the deck, including Alison. Rodney quickly organised the launch of the Zodiacs and we were soon away for one of the most memorable Zodiac cruises of a lifetime.
All eyes, binoculars and photographic lenses were focused on the thousands of walrus hauled out on the beach beneath towering sunlit cliffs of this rugged coastline. As we cautiously approached this pink hued, tightly packed community, many of these magnificently tusked creatures came to greet us swimming, diving and performing around the boats in the brilliant evening sunshine. We all sat entranced by the squeals, grunts and welcome calls of the cavorting walrus - a remarkable sight few will ever forget.
In the midst of all this excitement the call came that a Black Guillemot had been spotted and off we went in search of this new bird. Was it really a 'Pigeon Guillemot' that was primarily black or a new sighting of the 'Black Guillemot'? Was it perhaps a hybrid? Obviously, for those with a passion for guillemots they will have to return to settle this controversy!
On the way back to the Spirit of Enderby we were treated to a series of breaching Grey Whales signalling their own unique 'goodbye' to the Zodiacs. Back on board everyone returned to the art exhibition in a celebratory mood. Where else could you see Spoon-billed Sandpiper, walrus by the thousands, seals, breaching whales along with a professional nature art exhibition all within one day? Unsurprisingly the bar was a popular venue as excited groups compared notes on the marvellous day.
Dinner was served as the setting sun painted the cliffs in glorious oranges, reds and yellows. After dinner the waning gibbous moon was reflected on the silken sea as everyone slowly made their way to their cabins to dream of pink tinged walrus.
Saturday 7th July
The day began with brilliant sunshine, but the clouds came in for the first time in about a week as we sailed towards Anadyr. It provided a good opportunity to pack bags, settle accounts and enjoy lectures on walrus and the Bering Sea without the distraction of spectacular scenery.
We also enjoyed a recap of what we have learned is one of the most remarkable voyages in 'The Footsteps of Bering' history. Dr Evgeny Syroechkovskhy and Dr Elena Lappo told us of the tremendous contribution that Heritage Expedition has been making to save the remarkable and elusive Spoon-billed Sandpiper. They had found it extremely valuable to have sampled regions never before explored for this species, though the fact that no new birds were found this season confirmed the need for radical conservation efforts.
On an extremely positive note, Dr Debbie Pain showed a video of the four hatching chicks at Meinypil'gyno which drew 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the audience. She reported on the successful transport of 19 eggs to Slimbridge, in the United Kingdom where four eggs hatched on arrival and all are doing well. Hopefully with the passage of time this programme will lead to an increase in the numbers of this species through the captive breeding programme and the subsequent release of fledged chicks back into the wild. This two pronged approach of rearing and releasing chicks in Meinypil'gyno, together with the programme at Slimbridge, may save this species. It is hoped the fledging rate will be successfully increased above the current 0.5 per nest.
Following this optimistic report, everyone returned to their packing until the call came that the bar was open. This was followed by a farewell dinner ably produced by chef Bruce and his assistant, Monique replete with shrimp, roast beef and more delicacies than one can imagine. Fully wined and dined, we continued to sail into the foggy night. As the evening progressed we realised that we were coming to the end of a truly remarkable voyage but also the beginning of many new and wonderful friendships. Indeed, the adventure seemed to become all the more poignant as the Spirit of Enderby struck an ice pack where a Bearded Seal awaited us along with three Jaegars. The ice had conspired with us to slow down the inevitable end of the journey, providing time for just a few more tales to be told and dreams to be shared by this impressive group of conservationists and world travellers.
Sunday 8th July
During the night the Spirit of Enderby slipped into Anadyr Bay and before breakfast we had reached our anchorage off the little town of Anadyr. Our incredible journey of over 1,500 nautical miles was over, but the experiences, sights and sounds would remain forever.
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