Arctic Research Teams Race to Tag Semipalmated Sandpipers

Manomet researchers on Coats Island in Canada's Hudson Bay have tagged 19 Semipalmated Sandpipers with geolocators, more than half of the 36 they brought for the expedition.

 

Coats Island, the largest uninhabited island south of the Arctic Circle in the Western Hemisphere, is one of two locations where Manomet researchers are camped: the other is by the Canning River Delta on the northern coast of Alaska.

 

Both sites are part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network (ASDN), an international collaboration to determine the causes behind declining populations of shorebirds. The project is led by Manomet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kansas State University.

 

The Semipalmated Sandpiper is a small shorebird that the teams at Canning and Coats Island are monitoring and tagging with geolocators. The devices, if recovered next year, will provide the migration patterns of this species. That data is crucial to determining if and why the population is in decline.

 

The team at the Canning River Delta arrived at their site early in June after a 12-hour drive from Fairbanks, Alaska to Galbraith Lake and a subsequent 90-minute flight over miles of untouched tundra to their final destination. While the weather was unusually warm and calm on the team’s first day, it later reverted to standard sub-freezing temperatures, with winds over 20 miles an hour and plenty of snow.

 

The snow prevented the researchers from finding many nests for the first few days, but the weather soon warmed back up and the birds began to make nesting preparations.  Since then, the team has found about 10 to 15 nests a day and over 20 nests on a few especially productive days, for a total of more than 120 this season.

 

The team on Coats Island arrived at their final destination a little over a week ago on a Twin Otter, a large bush plane capable of fitting five passengers and all of the team’s gear. The plane took them from Iqaluit, on the southern tip of Baffin Island, over 435 miles of ice and ocean to their destination.

 

Now that they have settled down and started working, the team will have another week to continue searching for nests and tag Semipalmated Sandpipers with the remaining 17 geolocators.

 

You can follow updates and photos from the field, sent using satellite link, at the dedicated blog www.shorebirdscience.org.  The Boston Globe is also posting the trip reports at http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/green/greenblog.

 

- Gordon Bailey