Welcome to a New Arctic Field Season!

By Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation

 

Spring is an exciting time for all bird lovers. For shorebird biologists, it can bring an extra layer of excitement—the opportunity to travel to the arctic to witness the magic of breeding shorebirds. This season, Shiloh Schulte, Brad Winn and I will be returning to the Arctic for two exciting expeditions.  As always, we will be sharing our stories with you on our shorebird science blog.

 

In mid-May, Brad Winn and I will be returning to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to finish the second year of our two-year effort to survey the entire Refuge. This survey has never been done before, but the area is thought to support one of the largest and most diverse populations of breeding shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere. The Refuge is the size of Maine, so this is a big undertaking!

 

An aerial view of the Yukon River edge. See that small brown dot in the upper left? That’s a moose.

Photo by Brad Winn.

 

In addition to the rapid surveys by helicopter across the entire area, we are also putting out two field camps to monitor numerous plots intensively. We will use those to measure how many of the birds nesting in a given area our rapid surveys detect.

 

At the end of this season, we will be able to infer the total shorebird population that the Refuge supports—providing us with a deeper understanding of shorebird population trends. Stressors like climate change; mineral extraction; and oil, gas, and wind development are projected to impact the Arctic in the future. By establishing an accurate baseline, it will be possible to track the effectiveness of conservation efforts as well as the effect of these external pressures on shorebird populations.

 

In early June, Shiloh Schulte will be returning to Coats Island in Hudson Bay, along with partners from Environment Canada.  Last year the team put out 30 new geolocators to try to get a better understanding of what sites and migration routes are important for Semipalmated Sandpipers that nest in the eastern arctic.  This population is in steep decline, so gathering information to guide conservation efforts is critical. 

 

A Semipalmated Sandpiper calling from the ground. Photo by Brad Winn.

 

We have been tagging Semipalmated Sandpipers on Coats Island for the last three years and have uncovered some surprising migration patterns.  One bird skipped the heavily used stopover site in the Bay of Fundy and instead flew directly from James Bay to the Orinoco River Delta in Venezuela, a distance of 3,300 miles, in an epic six day nonstop flight.  Several birds from Alaska used wintering sites on the west coasts of Central and South America that were not know to be used by the species until now.  Overall the results have given us important windows into both the biology and the conservation of Semipalmated Sandpipers.  

 

Itching for some shorebird stories today? You are in luck. This year we have expanded our blog to include some non-arctic field expeditions. Our Habitats for Shorebirds team have blogged about their shorebird habitat workshops they hosted in Brazil in March.  In September Rob Clay will contribute to the blog as he launches a new project to survey shorebird habitats in the Paraguay River. 

 

None of this work would be possible without the support of our loyal donors who help us in so many ways.  Thank you to all of you who help support our work, and follow us on this blog!  It will be an exciting season!