Podcast: Stephen Brown Reports Live from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

The 2016 arctic field season is officially underway! In the podcast below, Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation, speaks from his camp in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Brown and his crew are conducting a two-year survey of the refuge—the largest survey of breeding shorebirds ever attempted.





Hello, this is Stephen Brown, reporting from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Welcome to the 2016 season of the shorebird recovery program science program.

We are delighted to have you with us and we are delighted to be here—back in the arctic conducting the work to support the shorebirds.

It’s the evening of May 15, late at night. So it is already tomorrow back home where I live in Vermont and where many of you are on the East Coast. We have many different crews surveying this year, so the science blog is going to be a very exciting website. There are now three helicopter crews underway, surveying part of the vast Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

None of that would have been possible without the amazing support from our Manomet donors, along with our grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We are grateful for your support.

And a quick overview of what you can expect this season:

We are just starting out, a very busy start getting ready. You probably read a post from Brad who is just back from Georgia and his work on Red Knots. So it was a full court press to get everyone ready and trained and geared and here.

Very soon there will be a post from Metta, who has been conducting the camp organization and planning and logistics—all of the things it takes to get us here, some of the pictures of us in transit and what it was like as we arrived.

Later on this summer, you will be hearing from Alan Kneidel from one of the crews in the central part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. And he will also be recording later on in the summer from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where he is participating in a new project with geolocators this summer.

You will also hear later on from Lindall and Andy, who are our crew here at Boot Lake in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. They are conducting our intensive surveys which we will explain later on in a post.

So it will be a busy season and we hope you look forward to hearing all of these posts and updates and seeing our pictures.

The birds arrived early with a warm spring and the weather couldn’t be more different than what we had last year. Last year, we surveyed almost every day in driving rain, mostly sideways.

And this time we were greeted with a beautiful clear sky and a beautiful sunny day. And, because there is always a new wrinkle in the arctic, very high winds.

We set up camp yesterday with sustained winds in the 25-28 range and gusts at 30. So if you imagine putting up a tent that’s seven feet high and 12 by 12, in gusts of 30 miles an hour, you can get an idea of the challenges we had.

But we are delighted that we are getting a break from the rain this year and maybe a slightly easier survey. It’s always more helpful when the wind is quiet and today is it down to a normal 15 or so, which is very calm for here and much easier to hear what the birds are doing.

So stay tuned for all these updates and we hope you enjoy hearing our live updates from the field. This is Stephen Brown reporting live from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Welcome to the 2016 Shorebird Field Season!

Greetings to all of you who follow our shorebird science adventures!  We are very excited about the upcoming field season, which will have even more expeditions than ever before—and some exciting new projects to feature!

We will be posting soon from our first expedition to Brazil.  Brad Winn and Monica Iglecia are leading a trip to teach two shorebird management workshops with new partners in Brazil.  They are already there preparing and will be reporting back soon on their experiences meeting new partners and teaching field identification techniques and applied shorebird habitat management.  Rob Clay is there as well, working with Brad and Monica and helping build partnerships to implement the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, a new effort to support shorebird conservation along the entire flyway with partnerships spanning the hemisphere.

In mid-May we will be returning to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to finish the second year of our two-year effort there to survey the entire Refuge, which has never been done before.  The Refuge is the size of Maine, so this is a big undertaking!  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, and we will use those to measure how many of the birds nesting in a given area our rapid surveys detect.


Yukon Delta Landscape

An aerial view of the vast wetlands on the Yukon Delta, where shorebirds nest in high densities. This important ecosystem have never been systematically surveyed for breeding 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.

Finally, in September, Rob Clay will be launching a new project to survey shorebird habitats in the Paraguay River.  Although informal observations and anecdotal reports have long suggested that the wetlands associated with the Paraguay River provide important habitat for North American breeding shorebirds, primarily during their southbound migration, no systematic survey has ever been conducted.  Recent telemetry studies of species such as Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper have begun to highlight just how important these interior wetlands might be.  We will be conducting field surveys by air, by boat, and from the ground to identify the most critical habitats along the southern 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!


-Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation

Reflections from the 2015 Field Season

As we wrap up and reflect on our season of shorebird science in the arctic, we want to thank all of the extraordinary people who helped make this another successful field season.  We had two major expeditions this year, so we have two sets of people to thank, including the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge survey team and the Coats Island Semipalmated Sandpiper geolocator project team.  We especially want to thank Liza LePage, who manages the blog posting and brought you all of our stories all season!

(If you haven’t read every post from this season, you can access all of the Yukon posts here and the Coats Island posts here.  Once you reach the bottom of each page, you can select to see older posts of each expedition.)



An Arctic Tern hovering in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brad Winn.



It took a large team of partners to plan and implement one of the largest surveys of its kind in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.  We are very grateful to the excellent staff at the Refuge, including Brian McCaffery and Kristine Sowl, who advised us all along the way and worked with us both in the office and in the field.  The design team, including Jim Lyons, Brad Andres, and Jim Johnson, sorted out the complex habitats of the Refuge and planned the survey plots to be visited.



One of the field data sheets from the Yukon Delta. The sheets show all of the birds seen in a 400 by 400 meter plot. Photo by Brad Winn.



Sarah Saalfeld and Jim Johnson put in countless hours sorting out  preparations and logistics, especially the plot maps that guided all our work.  Metta McGarvey worked on everything from budgeting to field logistics to every manner of field support. We couldn’t have done this without her.  Our two survey teams worked tirelessly in the field, including Rick Lanctot, Susan Savage, Jim Lyons, and Diane Granfors in the south working out of Bethel, and Brad Winn, Bob Gill, Metta McGarvey, and me working in the north out of St. Mary’s.


Western Sandpiper

A male Western Sandpiper calling. Photo by Brad Winn.


Our excellent helicopter pilots from Pollux Aviation (Shannon Glenn) and Hermens Helicopters (Stan Hermens) took us safely across the huge survey area in all weather conditions, and were critical team members.  Isaac Bedingfield of God’s Country Aviation delivered fuel to remote locations enabling the Bethel helicopter crew to access far-flung survey sites. River Gates worked with us both on logistics for the trip beforehand, and on data entry when we returned.



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.


The coastal survey boat crew, including Mark Agimuk, Kristine Sowl, Jessica Stocking, Brian Robinson, and Alan Kneidel, worked extremely hard to access some of the most remote plots that had to be visited by boat and fixed-wing aircraft, and made it possible to survey the entire Refuge by adding these inaccessible areas.


Semipalmated Sandpiper

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


Our Coats Island Semipalmated Sandpiper geolocator project  was led by  Shiloh Schulte. Despite dismal weather, Shiloh and his team were able to tag 29 Semipalmated Sandpipers. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the following people.



Shiloh Schulte stands at the edge of the sea ice on Coats Island, Nunavut, Canada. In recent years the sea ice is thinner and has moved out earlier than ever before.


Paul Smith of Environment Canada provided invaluable guidance during the project.  Working with Paul in the field is an outstanding experience – he is extraordinarily capable, always optimistic, and willing to share useful information and advice on any topic, from camp food prep to the practical implications of large scale changes in Arctic weather patterns (more bears in camp!).  He made it possible for Shiloh to get into camp easily and focus on the work at hand, instead of the massive amount of logistics and preparation that goes into any Arctic field season.


An Arctic Fox kit explores the world just outside its den. Arctic Foxes are the main predator of shorebird nests. They survive the harsh arctic winters by finding and caching eggs and other food during the brief but productive summer months

An Arctic Fox kit explores the world just outside its den. Arctic Foxes are the main predator of shorebird nests. They survive the harsh arctic winters by finding and caching eggs and other food during the brief but productive summer months. Photo by Shiloh Schulte.


Shiloh also wants to thank Scott Flemming from Trent University – even though Scott is in the middle of his own PhD research, he did not miss a beat when asked to extend his crew to help with the Semipalmated Sandpiper tagging project.  The crew also included Rianne Mariash, Malkolm Boothroyd, and Shawna-Lee Masson, who were a fantastic group of people and a joy to work alongside, with unfailing good humor and rock solid work ethic and nerves.  Finally, Ron Porter was extremely helpful in getting the geolocators mounted, calibrated, and ready for the field, and his advice on how to deploy the tags was hugely appreciated.


Malkolm Boothroyd, a technician for Trent University, releases a tagged Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Malkolm Boothroyd, a technician for Trent University, releases a tagged Semipalmated Sandpiper. Photo by Shiloh Schulte.


We will be working through the fall and winter, sorting out all the data from our arctic expeditions and, along with all our partners, working to learn as much as we can about what limits shorebird populations, and how they can be conserved.  None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, and the generous donors to Manomet.  One key donor supported most of the matching requirement for our grant from NFWF, and the project simply couldn’t have been done without this key support.  Thank you to all our partners and supporters, and we will look forward to everything we can learn together, and to planning next year’s work in the arctic!