The fascinating thing about this report is that it suggests that some
birds [the males] spend more time in transit than at the breeding
Tourists fly 13 000km for hot time in Siberia
September 21 2006 at 01:26PM
As Capetonians know from recent court cases, Russian women travel a
long way to bring their sexual allure to the Mother City.
But few know that local males travel 13 000km to Siberia in far
northern Russia every year to seek sex, then fly home again almost
And, not surprisingly, they arrive back decidedly thin and well...
shagged out, so to speak.
However, these particular males are birds - Curlew Sandpipers, to be
precise - and the females also undertake the marathon migration.
The full story of the amazing annual journeys and other habits of this
delightful little species has just been synthesised in a new book
co-edited by two UCT bird scientists, Les Underhill and James Harrison.
The third editor is Russian ornithologist Pavel Tomkovich of Moscow
University's Zoological Museum.
He struck up a friendship with Underhill during the Soviet era, after
finding another member of a wading bird species, a Sanderling ringed by
Underhill, breeding in the Taimyr Peninsula in the Siberian tundra.
Underhill has visited this region several times, and in 1991 became
the first South African to see a Curlew Sandpiper on its nest.
Their book, The Annual Cycle of the Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris
ferruginea, was published during Russian President Vladimir Putin's
recent South African visit.
"It's a brilliant piece of South African-Russian scientific
collaboration," says Underhill, the director of the Avian Demography
Unit at UCT and vice-president of the International Ornithological
Curlew Sandpipers, which migrate to such places as Langebaan lagoon
and Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, breed in the Taimyr Peninsula,
inside the Arctic Circle, during June.
Chicks fledge 15 days after hatching, gather in small flocks and leave
the peninsula in the first 10 days of August.
The first arrivals reach the Western Cape late in September, after
taking an average of 42 days for the 13 000km journey.
Ornithologists do not yet know what routes they fly, but they do know
that they weigh about 85g on departure and just 52g on arrival.
"All that a Curlew Sandpiper male does is fly to Siberia, find a mate,
and as soon as his female is incubating the eggs, he's off back to
South Africa or Australia," says Underhill.
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