While exploring one of our favorite motus found in Tahanea, we were photographing some of the local residents (only animals found around here, no people!)… and I noticed some of the Sandpipers (known as Titi to locals) had bands around their ankles. I assumed the bands meant that someone had been doing some research on this population recently (I do host a graduate degree!). This comes at no surprise as the Tuamotu Sandpiper is an endangered and endemic bird to the area- it is greatly threatened or non existent on any island where humans live, along with rats and other introduced mammals that pose threats to their ground nests. Their population is dwindling and the more you get to know this bird, you know how special it is.
I figured someone out there in the ether may be interested in seeing our pictures of the banded birds, so I did one google search, sent one email- and found the exact person who put those bands on herself! A graduate student in British Columbia, Marie-Hélène Burle has been studying the Tuamotu Sandpiper since 2008 and has not been able to return due to lack of funding. She was excited to get some images to say the least!
“Tuamotu Sandpipers are sedentary, arboricole and nectarivorous shorebirds (!!) without any close living relatives. Having evolved without predator, they are tame, inquisitive and an amazing study organism. They are also endangered: Pacific Islands have a heavy history of extinctions, in part due to the introduction of mammalian predators. Being the last representative of a tribe otherwise extinct with adaptations unique in its order, this species is the bearer of a relatively high evolutionary heritage.” From Marie-Hélène Burle
After a few back and forths, Marie realized we were headed to the next best place for Titi research- our favorite atoll, Raroia. She explained that there was thought to be a population of Titi there but science hasn’t been able to prove it because there had never been pictures taken of them, and it was too costly to get there! Chris and I love a mission, so off we were- 2 weeks before the start of hurricane season, searching for a small shorebird in the corner of the atoll.
And then there it was! After a short walk in the blazing midday sun, small, inquisitive bird jumped out in front of us. Titi! Titi! It was on. We ended up doing three separate transects in the area, collecting as much data for Marie as possible. And of course the photos to prove it too!
Again, Marie was thrilled to hear from us, especially this time with the confirmation that there is indeed an existing population of the endangered Titi on Raroia. There’s talks of publications in scientific journals… and hopefully steps towards conservation efforts to help protect this special bird. We’ll see what happens, but either way we are happy to continue to work with Marie next year when we return to the Tuamotus!