All Abuzz in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

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Tawny-throated Dotterel in full breeding plumage up close and on the Patagonian Steppe. Photos by Brad Winn.

November in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego is a buzzing blend of breeding and nonbreeding shorebirds. For South American shorebirds like Least Seedsnipe (Thinocorus rumicivorus), Rufous-chested Dotterel (Charadrius modestus), and Magellanic Oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus), the breeding season is in full swing. Birds are looking sharp in peak breeding plumage and there is an abundance of territorial behavior. Least Seedsnipe sing and perform flight displays in attempts to court a mate, or they sit atop fence posts to keep a watchful eye. Male Rufous-chested Dotterels aggressively chase each other in and out of disputed territories. Magellanic Oystercatchers elaborately distract us away from nearby nests with tail-flagging displays (Miller and Baker 1980). And Magellanic Plover (Pluvianellus socialis), the small, gray, dove-like shorebird with an estimated population of 1,500 birds (Wetlands International 2019), searches for invertebrates and delicately feeds them to nearby chicks tucked just out of the wind. This is a particularly special sight because only a few shorebird species feed their young, namely oystercatchers and the Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola) of Indian Ocean coasts.

 

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Least Seedsnipe on a fencepost (Brad Winn).

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Magellanic Oystercatchers displaying (Brad Winn).

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Male Rufous-chested Dotterel approaches and jumps off cliff to avoid another male (Brad Winn).

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Magellanic Plover family (Brad Winn).

 

 

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Magellanic Plover adult feeding a chick (Brad Winn).

For the shorebirds that have made the long-distance haul to spend the North American winter in the South American summer, their behavior and plumage stands in stark contrast to breeding Austral migrants. White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis and C.bairdii), Red Knots (C. canutus rufa), and Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) are dressed in their dull, nonbreeding plumage. These species are roosting and flying together in mixed-species flocks, behaviors seen during the nonbreeding season.

 

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A White-rumped Sandpiper leaves the roost (Monica Iglecia).

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A Baird’s Sandpiper forages on an Estancia (Monica Iglecia).

The Manomet team has followed the long-distance migrating shorebirds that breed in the North American Arctic, to their nonbreeding home in the treeless, windswept, bays, beaches, and uplands at the southern end of the South American continent. We are here to deliver two “Shorebird, Conservation, and Management Workshops” in collaboration with our partners. By delivering educational and immersive workshops we create important opportunities to ensure that the key habitats that shorebirds depend upon are effectively protected and managed. Over the course of each workshop, we share knowledge, build appreciation, and identify and discuss management techniques that can be implemented at important shorebird sites throughout the hemisphere.

 

Rob Clay Brad Winn Carmen Espoz Jim Lyons Diego Luna Monica Iglecia

Rob Clay, Brad Winn, Carmen Espoz, Jim Lyons, Diego Luna Quevedo, and Monica Iglecia.

The Rio Gallegos Estuary, Argentina

Manomet began working with partners to conserve the Rio Gallegos Estuary in Argentina in 2004. This work was punctuated with a highlight in 2005 when it designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of International Importance for hosting 10% of the world’s population of Magellanic Plover plus more than 20,000 other shorebirds. Another highlight came in 2011 when Manomet helped support the building of the Center of Environmental Interpretation (el Centro de Interpretación Ambiental del Estuario del Río Gallegos). We were thrilled to continue our collaboration in Rio Gallegos in late 2018 by partnering with conservation leaders at Asociación Ambiente Sur to deliver a workshop in this very building.

 

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The entrance sign at el Centro de Interpretación Ambiental del Estuario del Río Gallegos (Monica Iglecia).

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Environmental displays inside el Centro de Interpretación Ambiental del Estuario del Río Gallegos (Monica Iglecia).

The Rio Gallegos workshop was attended by twenty-four participants from the provinces of Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands. Attendees represented environmental and tourism departments of local and nearby municipalities including the Municipal Environmental Agency of Rio Gallegos and the Municipality of Rio Grande as well as staff of Asociación Ambiente Sur, biologists from the Laguna Nimez Reserve, and students from the National University of Austral Patagonia (Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia Austral), to name a few. Through their professional positions, workshop participants represented over 15,000 acres of shorebird habitat in these provinces. Facilitated discussions centered on local threats to shorebirds included disturbance and predation caused by free-ranging dogs with and without owners, the rising threat and health risk of mismanaged waste, and the impacts of legal and illegal fishing. These discussions are critical to identifying collective next steps for regional conservation action.

 

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The workshop group during a visit to the Rio Gallegos estuary (Brad Winn).

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Fabian Tejerizo speaks with a dog walker about the importance of keeping dogs leashed (Monica Iglecia).

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Open expanses of sarcocornia sp in the Rio Gallegos estuary (Monica Iglecia).

 “For us, it was key to host the workshop here as our work has been strengthened, on one hand by the knowledge acquired and on the other hand by the feedback that we have received from the Manomet team about our work on shorebird conservation in the Rio Gallegos Estuary. The workshop also strengthened our collaboration with the municipal area staff, which is especially important during the high season when shorebirds are in the estuary. And lastly, the presence of the Manomet team even beyond the workshop itself has been important, as we have strengthened the relationship between our organization, Manomet, and the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network.” – Germán Montero, Executive Director, Asociación Ambiente Sur

Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

From Rio Gallegos, our team caught a ferry south across the Strait of Magellan to visit the island of Tierra del Fuego. Here, we met with local stakeholders and one of the managers for the WHSRN site the Atlantic Coast of Tierra del Fuego Reserve (Reserva Costa Atlántica de Tierra del Fuego) in the Argentinian city of Rio Grande. This site of Hemispheric Importance was designated in 1992 to protect long-distance migratory shorebirds including Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and White-rumped Sandpiper, as well as locally breeding Rufous-chested Dotterel and Two-banded Plover (Charadrius falklandicus). The reserve is also an important wintering area for the one species of shorebird to breed in Antarctica – the Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis albus).

Discussions with local stakeholders focused on how offshore mining of aggregates has increased coastal erosion, leading to the loss of important shorebird habitat, and potentially also driving changes in the benthic fauna (i.e. the food source for many shorebirds). And within the city of Rio Grande, free-ranging dogs frequently disturb roosting and foraging shorebirds (and feral dogs are increasingly becoming a problem in rural areas). During our visit we were able to visit the reserve’s Interpretation Center in Rio Grande (Centro de Interpretación de la Reserva Costa Atlántica) and see the next generation of shorebird conservationists (a local school group) enjoying the interactive displays and the opportunity to appreciate nature on their doorstep.

 

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Tabaré Barreto being interviewed about the importance of Rio Grande for shorebirds (Monica Iglecia).

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Piles of cleaned and sorted aggregates in Rio Grande (Monica Iglecia).

Bahía Lomas, Chile

We next headed north and west to Punta Arenas, Chile for the second workshop of the trip.

 

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Waiting to board the ferry to Tierra del Fuego via the Strait of Magellan (Monica Iglecia).

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King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego (Brad Winn).

Bahía Lomas is remote – the bay is situated on the Atlantic side of the Strait of Magellan and the north end of Tierra del Fuego. For this reason, we held the workshop in the city of Punta Arenas, Chile where Centro Bahía Lomas, our nonprofit partner dedicated to the conservation of Bahía Lomas through research, education, and public outreach, is headquartered.  Bahía Lomas was designated as a WHSRN site of Hemispheric Importance in 2009, primarily for its unparalleled importance to the rufa Red Knot. This Atlantic Flyway subspecies of Red Knot has experienced a population decline of more than 75% decline since the 1980s and has been listed as Threatened in Chile and Federally Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2013). Bahía Lomas provides important habitat for other shorebird species as well, it is the second most important known nonbreeding site (second to the wetlands of Chiloé Island, Chile) for Hudsonian Godwit. 10,000-12,000 Hudsonian Godwit have been recorded using the bay during the nonbreeding season.

Manomet has worked with partners in Bahía Lomas for more than a decade to understand and protect this important resource. Since the WHSRN designation, some of the conservation efforts in Bahía Lomas have included dedicated monitoring of shorebird populations, the opening of the Bahía Lomas Center in 2012, the development of a site-based management plan, and an official request to declare the bay as a National Nature Sanctuary. The workshop in November 2018 is a continuation of this partnership in the region.

 

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The sign for Centro Bahía Lomas in Punta Arenas (Monica Iglecia).

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Roosting Red Knots and Hudsonian Godwits on the edge of Bahía Lomas (Carmen Espoz).

 Working with Centro Bahía Lomas and the University of Santo Tomas we delivered a three day workshop attended by nineteen participants from the University of Magallanes, nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Rehabilitation of Oiled Birds (Centro de Rehabilitación Leñadura), regional councils and parks such as the Strait of Magellan Park (Parque del Estrecho de Magallanes), and national agencies including the Ministry of the Environment (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente) whose responsibilities collectively care for and work with more than 140,000 acres of habitat.

 

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The workshop group in Punta Arenas (Monica Iglecia).

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Group discussions in Punta Arenas (Monica Iglecia).

 In multiple discussion sessions, participants shared personal experiences working in conservation as well as lessons learned over time. The diverse group of conservation practitioners discussed strategies to address threats like oil spills and an increasing need to balance public connections to the bay while also minimizing human disturbance and associated human impacts. Participants also identified gaps in knowledge and the additional partners needed to help meet conservation objectives in Bahía Lomas. The results of these discussions will contribute to the update of the Bahia Lomas Management Plan.

During an all-day field visit to Bahía Lomas, requiring multiple hours by bus and ferry, participants experienced the immensity and fragility of this bay and its importance to Nearctic and Austral migrant shorebirds first hand. Walking along the beach at high tide, we encountered a roosting flock of thousands of Hudsonian Godwits, Red Knots, and White-rumped Sandpipers. Just a few hundred meters away, dozens of Magellanic Oystercatchers kept an eye on our slowly approaching group. Yet, even in this remote bay, the offshore presence of in-use and defunct oil platforms and large cargo ships were stark reminders of the human presence in the region.

“I think that the workshop was a great opportunity to participate in the shorebird workshop provided by experts here in the Magellan region, especially because to participate in these kinds of training activities we usually have to travel outside the region. In my case, I work in environmental education, this workshop allowed me to be more prepared to host future workshops and deliver presentations to others, and also to include new important topics related to shorebirds in my outreach activities” – Jessica Paredes, Education Manager, Centro Bahía Lomas.

Strengthened and New Alliances for Conservation

Our workshops in southern South America focused on strengthening existing partnerships, facilitating new alliances, and building local capacity for continued monitoring and management efforts. These efforts directly contribute to the protection of these crucial habitats whose health is linked to the sustainability of shorebird species that are shared across the North and South American continents as well as species only found in South America. The relationships developed and fortified during these workshops have long-lasting impacts that ripple out through our participants and partners, helping empower a culture of shorebird conservation and ensuring that all remains abuzz in Patagonia and beyond.

 

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Our workshop ended with the opening celebration of the Festival of Birds in Rio Gallegos.

Visiting Tabare and the Atlantic Coast of Tierra del Fuego

 Arne Lesterhuis, Gustavo Criado, Agustín Ramos, Jim Lyons, Tabaré Barreto, and Rob Clay at the Centro de Interpretacíon de la Reserva Costa Atlántica (Monica Iglecia).

 Acknowledgements

Generous support for these workshops and work was provided by the BAND Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (via United States Fish and Wildlife Service), Patagonia, Inc., and individual donors.

Want to read more about the workshop?

Paula Leighton of El Mercurio wrote a news story about Bahía Lomas after participating in our workshop.

Our visit to Rio Grande and the importance of the region was featured in a news article.

Want to read more about the important shorebird sites discussed here?

Reserva Costa Atlántica de Tierra del Fuego Celebrates 25 Years as a WHSRN Site

Birds Threatened by Oil Spill in the Strait of Magellan

Red Knot Population in Tierra del Fuego Crashes to a New Low

Bahía Lomas Seeks Status as National Nature Sanctuary

Literature Cited

E.H. Miller and A.J. Baker. 1980. Displays of the Magellanic Oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus). The Wilson Bulletin Vol. 92:2 (149-288).

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Threatened Status for the Rufa Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa); Proposed Rule. Federal Register Vol. 78:189.

Wetlands International. 2019. “Waterbird Population Estimates”. Retrieved from wpe.wetlands.org on Monday 11 Mar 2019.

 

Information Exchange and Monitoring in Manitoba

“Ephemeral does not equal unimportant” shared Christian Artuso, Manitoba Program Manager of Bird Studies Canada, with the cadre of workshop participants sitting at Nature Conservancy Canada’s property in Southwestern Manitoba. Christian is referring to the flood and drought cycle of the midcontinent’s prairie landscape. In some years, the shallow lakes and small pothole wetlands are full to the brim. Water fills every low lying area across the seemingly flat region. Sometimes, the flood cycle can last years. In other periods, persistent drought shrinks the availability of wet habitat to a few core areas. But every year, shorebirds move through this region, many during spring or fall migration to rest and refuel en-route to nesting areas well to the north in boreal bogs and on the Arctic Tundra or to wintering grounds to the south in Mexico and South America.  A few species, like Marbled Godwit and Wilson’s Phalarope, spend the nesting season on the Manitoba prairies, raising their young among the slow rolling undulations of wetlands, grasslands, and agriculture.

In Spring 2018, Manomet’s Habitat Management Division helped to facilitate exchanges across important shorebird sites and among conservation practitioners in the Central Flyway through two workshops. In early May, we held a workshop in Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas.  In late May, we worked with Nature Conservancy Canada, Bird Studies Canada, Manitoba Important Bird Areas, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and West Souris River Conservation District to host a Shorebird Conservation, Management, and Monitoring workshop in southwest Manitoba.

brianManomet’s Senior Scientist Emeritus Brian Harrington surveys a wetland in Manitoba. Photo by Brad Winn.

The workshop in Manitoba marked the start of a citizen science-based, collaborative shorebird monitoring effort within Manitoba using the International Shorebird Survey framework. The workshop also inspired multiple informational exchanges beyond the boundaries of the province. Ann McKellar, Wildlife Biologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada based in Saskatchewan, helped organize and plan the workshop. She shared her work monitoring shorebirds at Chaplin and Reed Lakes in Saskatchewan, Manitoba’s Western neighbor. Robert Penner, Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager with The Nature Conservancy of Kansas and Chair of the WHSRN- United States Committee, and also our main partner in delivering the shorebird workshop in Kansas, joined us in Manitoba to provide an overview of conservation efforts benefitting shorebirds reliant on the wetlands and grasslands using the midcontinent region to the South.

avocetAmerican Avocet. Photo by Christian Artuso.

east meadows marshEast Meadows Marsh, Manitoba. Photo by Monica Iglecia

The prairie landscape is deceptively rich in biological diversity. Rather than large congregations of shorebirds that can be found in coastal estuaries and bays, the prairies hold groups of shorebird scattered across multiple locations in the region. As we drove, each small wetland we passed seemed to hold a small but diverse grouping of species including but not limited Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits, and Willets. Grasslands hosted species like Upland Sandpipers seen standing on fence posts of walking through the grass. A dry, recently tilled field, yielded a delightful surprise of resting American Golden Plovers with blazing black bellies and gold and white speckled backs.

amgpAmerican Golden-Plovers in a dry field in Southwestern Manitoba. Photo by Christian Artuso.

upland sandpiperUpland Sandpiper. Photo by Brad Winn.

The morning before the workshop, Christian and I ventured over to the water’s edge on the NCC property of Jiggens Bluff and found eight Red Knots in bright breeding plumage, preening and foraging in the shallow water. One Knot had a light green flag affixed to its leg. The green color indicated the country where the bird was originally banded – the United States. We were unable to get close enough to read the combination of letters and numbers on the flag which would help us track down even more details about this individual bird’s history, but it is very likely that this Red Knot was banded in coastal Texas. During the workshop a day later, as we scanned a small wetland through our scopes, Gillian Richards, a workshop attendee shared that she had seen a Hudsonian Godwit with a red flag on its leg. Red flags indicate that the bird was banded in Chile, representing yet another direct connection to an even more distant location – and one where our team had recently delivered two workshops and seen large flocks of nonbreeding Hudsonian Godwits on their wintering grounds on Chiloé Island, Chile.

As we left the long days of May in Manitoba and with my long day of travel ahead, I thought back to those Red Knots and their journey. To my knowledge, those birds were at Jiggens Bluff for just a few days but that brief time to rest and refuel at a property owned and conserved by Nature Conservancy Canada ensured that their time in Manitoba would contribute to a successful next leg of their trip and their nesting efforts.

participants jiggensWorkshop participants at Jiggens Bluff, Manitoba. Photo by Christian Artuso.

This workshop helped to engage a group of dedicated people in Manitoba in shorebird conservation and monitoring. Using International Shorebird Survey protocol, the data collected here will contribute directly to the local understanding of how shorebirds use the Manitoban prairies and our collective understanding of long-term shorebird population trends. These data are collected across North and South America and are a significant resource for informing decision making at the U.S. and Canadian state/provincial and federal levels. Working together, we can monitor and help conserve shorebirds.

But for those knots at Jiggens Bluff, it was North to the Arctic, to lay four eggs and raise their young, and then to begin their great migration once again.

Want to know more about the workshop? Check out the Manitoba Important Bird Areas Program blog post here: https://importantbirdareasmb.ca/2018/05/31/manitoba-shorebird-conservation-management-and-monitoring-workshop-day-1/

And https://importantbirdareasmb.ca/2018/06/07/manitoba-shorebird-conservation-management-and-monitoring-workshop-day-2/

And learn more about what was found during the International Shorebird Survey efforts in Manitoba here: https://importantbirdareasmb.ca/2018/09/21/international-shorebird-survey-round-3/

A Migratory Superfood

superfood 1Wild, lowbush blueberries in New Brunswick, Canada. Photo by Monica Iglecia

Blueberries are a human superfood. Those little blue orbs represent summer, are high in antioxidants, go well in pies and smoothies, and are downright delicious. It turns out that blueberries are another type of superfood – each July and August in Atlantic Canada, they help fuel a shorebird’s 6,000 km (3,700 miles) nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

superfood 2_whimWhimbrel. Photo by Brad Winn

Whimbrel are a beautiful, large, brown shorebird species with a striking downward-curved bill. Whimbrel are long-distance migrants –nesting in subarctic areas like bogs, tundra, and heathlands in Alaska, the Mackenzie River Delta, and the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and spending their winter in the mangroves and coastal wetlands of the Caribbean and South America.  Whimbrel is also understood to be a species in decline. It is a species of high conservation concern in the United States and Canada in part, due to local observations of dramatic population declines.  Although estimates of population size are difficult to ascertain, current estimates for the entire North American race of Whimbrel range from 66,000 (Morrison 2006) and 80,000 birds (Andres 2012). For comparison, that’s a close equivalent to the number of students attending Ohio State University and the University of Toronto, respectively.

Manomet’s Shorebird Recovery Program is dedicated to identifying trouble spots during a shorebirds life cycle and working collaboratively with regional partners to address issues locally and reduce threats at the most important sites. By working with biologists and land managers throughout the Western Hemisphere, we strive to improve enough local conditions for the birds that, when taken together across an entire migratory route, can add up to flyway-scale benefits for shorebird populations. Through our Habitats for Shorebirds workshops, we are able to piece together the larger conservation picture for shorebirds and pinpoint where improved environmental conditions are needed.

Brad Winn and I first learned of the ‘blueberry and whimbrel’ issue in 2014 when we taught a Habitats for Shorebirds workshop in the Bay of Fundy and had a chance to understand the situation from Canadian Wildlife Service biologist, Julie Paquet. Since then, Manomet’s Habitats for Shorebirds team has been sharing information about our experiences in shorebird conservation and providing advisement on techniques that have worked in other regions where agriculture provides habitat for shorebirds. This August, I had the opportunity to see it all in person.

Over the last few years, the scientific community has learned quite a bit about Whimbrel migration and their use of the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick, Canada. Research conducted by The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), the Canadian Wildlife Service, and Mount Allison University has highlighted an elliptical shaped migration connecting 1) breeding areas in the Mackenzie River Delta with 2) stopover sites in eastern Canada, to 3) the wintering areas in northern South America, then 4) the return flight across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to the Laguna Madre of Mexico and Texas back to the breeding areas on their northbound migration. Our current understanding is that the Whimbrel using the Acadian Peninsula breed along the Mackenzie River Delta on the border of Alaska and the Northwest Territories. CCB and Mount Allison University biologists estimate that the number of Whimbrel using the Acadian Peninsula range from 1,200 in 2014 to 344 in 2016 (Nagy-MacArthur 2016). Those may seem like small numbers, but they are biologically significant when we think about the entire North American population being equivalent to the number of students in one university.

superfood3_mapMap of migratory paths of individual Whimbrel. Whimbrel were fitted with satellite transmitters by the Center for Conservation Biology and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Map used with permission.

The incredible journey of the Whimbrel is only possible because there are a series of sites with reliable food resources to fuel the trip along the way. The Acadian Peninsula is one of those sites. Historically, this area provided a mix of coastal beaches and salt marshes as well as heathlands. These habitat types provide foods like invertebrates and native crowberries that supported Whimbrel migration. In fact, another common name for crowberry is curlewberry. Which is particularly fitting because Whimbrel are a type of curlew. This area was also a major staging area for another shorebird, the Eskimo Curlew, a species that was hunted heavily and has not been seen since the 1980s.

Today, a large amount of land in the Acadian Peninsula has been excavated for peat moss (the kind you use in your garden) or converted to farmland to accommodate the skyrocketing popularity of blueberries. Individual Whimbrel stop in the region for approximately three weeks in July and August where they will rest and eat (invertebrates like caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles as well as blueberries) while they gain sufficient weight to make their trip across the ocean. During that time, blueberry fields are nearly ready to harvest and farmers and farm staff actively work to keep Whimbrel out of their blueberry fields. They do this through the use of loud canon air guns, shiny pie pans as deterrents, playing distress calls over loudspeakers, and in some cases, directly shooting birds.  The problem with hazing is that, like other forms of disturbance, it can reduce the bird’s fitness and subsequently their ability to successfully migrate.

superfood 4_deterrents1 superfood 5_deterrents2Air canons and pie pans used as wildlife deterrents in blueberry fields. Photos by Monica Iglecia

Farmers consider Whimbrel to be a pest because, well, they eat blueberries, but also because they are a conspicuous sight when they are using a field. That makes them easier to blame than other species that might be causing more damage but are difficult to see or are using the field at night. And, it is true, Whimbrel do eat blueberries but they eat a small amount when compared to the total value of the region’s crop (a $39 million dollar, 78 million pound industry in the Province of New Brunswick). In the larger scheme of things, there are a relatively small number of Whimbrel using the area and the conservation value those blueberries provide by fueling southbound migration is important.  In 2015, assuming all 518 Whimbrel in the Acadian Peninsula ate only blueberries (which is an oversimplification) biologist Avery Nagy-MacArthur estimates these birds ate between $1,321 to $2,518 worth of product.

superfood6_whim takeoffWhimbrel leaving a blueberry field. Photo by Julie Paquet

So, here is the conservation conundrum: how do we work with farmers to support wildlife like Whimbrel? Is there a future where blueberry farmers might let Whimbrel gorge on these superfood morsels and even enjoy seeing their arrival each year?

Shorebird conservation in this region will rely heavily on outreach to the local community and the farmers. Julie Guillemot of The University of Moncton, Shippagan Campus and Lisa Fauteux with the non-profit Verts Rivages are leading the charge in both social science and outreach efforts through their group Amis du Courlis (Whimbrel Friends). In 2016 they surveyed 40 blueberry farm employees or owners. They found that blueberry farmers in the Acadian Peninsula vary in size and growing objectives. The region is home to producers with small farms, farmers that grow blueberries as a side business, and some of the largest blueberry producers in the world. Half of the producers surveyed farm less than one hundred acres and two of the producers farm over 1,000 acres each.

Most survey respondents were able to recognize Whimbrel from other birds but did not know the species name or its migratory life history. Two-thirds of respondents reported that Whimbrel used their fields and that Whimbrel were often observed with gulls. The survey identified opportunities for dispelling certain Whimbrel myths with blueberry farmers and the public. For example, nearly half of the survey respondents provided their estimate of the amount of blueberries that Whimbrel ate. Their estimates ranged from 320 grams to 3 pounds per day and between 1% and 20% of their total crop production. Avery Nagy-MacArthur used behavioral observations and energy needs to estimate that Whimbrel eat significantly less than what the farmers predicted, one Whimbrel can eat between 5 to 10 pounds of blueberries over the course of their entire stay in the area. Thus, in 2017, outreach efforts were focused on sharing information about how and why Whimbrel use the Acadian Peninsula as well as the actual impact of this bird species on their crop.

During my visit, we conducted the first citizen-science based Whimbrel count in the Acadian Peninsula. The counting teams were made up of university students, visitors from Quebec, local nature groups, and biologists. It is through events like these and through news articles and radio spots, through environmental education programs, and farmer surveys, that trust, relationships, and the awareness necessary to support Whimbrel will be founded.  By communicating the results of the biological research, Amis du Courlis is helping inform decision making and conservation actions on the ground. For some people that hear the radio segments, it is the first time they learn about the very birds they see every year. For some farmers, access to the estimates of the crop value lost to migrating Whimbrel might be enough information to stop the bird harassment.

superfood7_participantsSome of the participants of the Acadian Peninsula’s first citizen-science based Whimbrel count. Photo by Lisa Fateux

Perhaps future efforts could include commitments from farmers and the blueberry-buying industry not to harass or shoot Whimbrel. Perhaps there is merit to celebrate both migration and the blueberry harvest through a Whimbrel and Blueberry Festival. Hopefully, through this multi-pronged approach being led locally in the Acadian Peninsula, coupled with conservation efforts occurring throughout the Whimbrel’s life cycle, we can collectively keep Whimbrel from going the way of the Eskimo Curlew.

superfood 8_whim 2A young, thin, Whimbrel fresh from the nesting grounds flies overhead in a blueberry field. Photo by Monica Iglecia