Rob Clay

Director, WHSRN Executive Office

In a typical June, staff from Manomet’s Shorebird Recovery Program are coordinating multiple teams of field workers to carry out critical research on breeding shorebirds in the Arctic under challenging and sometimes even dangerous conditions.

Unfortunately, the dangerous COVID-19 pandemic has prevented research in the Arctic this year—the risk of traveling to remote areas with limited medical facilities and the risk of bringing COVID-19 to Indigenous communities was too great. Many of the species targeted by the research, such as American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica) and Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa), make the most of the small window of Arctic summer to breed. Still, they spend more of the year at “wintering sites” in southern South America during the austral summer. In effect, Arctic-breeding shorebirds live in a perpetual summer.

These “wintering sites” for the Arctic-breeding shorebirds provide a year-round home for so many of their Patagonian-breeding brethren. Whilst the Arctic breeders enjoy the benefits of the long Arctic summer days, their southern counterparts eke out a living in the harsh Patagonian winter.

Perhaps the most charismatic and enigmatic of all Patagonian-breeding shorebirds is the Magellanic Plover (Pluvianellus socialis). Rather turnstone-like in shape, its soft grey-and-white plumage contrasts with pinkish-red eyes and legs. Restricted as a breeding species to the southern tip of South America, pairs breed around inland lagoons, where, uniquely among shorebirds, they feed their young by regurgitation. During the austral winter (i.e. now) most Magellanic Plovers move to the coast, where they may congregate in estuaries such as that of the Río Gallegos in southern Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Counts of up to 190 birds represent over 10% of the global population of the species. Due to this, the Río Gallegos Estuary became the first site within the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) to be designated for a South American-breeding shorebird species.