Brasilia and Beyond to the Northeast Coast

Manomet’s Habitats for Shorebirds staff accompanied by the WHSRN Director, together with staff from our partner organization, SAVE Brasil, were invited to meet with representatives from the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment in the capital city, Brasilia.  During the meeting we highlighted Brazil’s key role for supporting shorebird populations of the Atlantic Flyway and discussed opportunities for collaboration between the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative and the Brazilian Migratory Shorebird Conservation Plan.

Members of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment meeting with us about the significance of Brazil for long-distance migratory shorebirds.

Members of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment meeting with us about the significance of Brazil for long-distance migratory shorebirds.


The Brazilian government officials reiterated Brazil’s commitment to the conservation of migratory species and their willingness to collaborate with flyway-scale approaches to conserving shared species.  We ended the meeting by giving the officials Manomet hats, which they wore with pride in the photo above.  We then left Brasilia and headed to our second workshop on the northeast coast in the state of Ceará.


Banco dos Cajuais workshop participants

Workshop participants gathered for this photo near the proposed Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site, Banco dos Cajuais.



Our second shorebird workshop is being held close to the town of Icapui, Brazil, about 300 miles south of the Equator.  We are conducting a workshop to bring professional managers and biologists together from Brazil, Suriname, and French Guiana, with the intent to build a collective understanding of regional shorebird conservation needs, and develop the strategies needed to alleviate threats to our Atlantic Flyway shorebird populations.


Workshop participants were very engaged with the workshop presentations, and we learned a great deal from each other about the challenges and strategies on managing for shorebirds in northern Brazil.

Workshop participants were very engaged with the workshop presentations, and we learned a great deal from each other about the challenges and strategies on managing for shorebirds in northern Brazil.


We had good informative views of 16 species of shorebirds in Banco dos Cajuais, including a flock of Red Knots with a few individuals banded in Canada, Brazil, and the United States.  Students and professionals joined in a friendly, competitive afternoon of species identification and counting, assisted by handy laminated ID cards designed by Manomet and printed by SAVE Brasil.


Red Knots and Short-Billed Dowitchers

Red Knots and Short-billed Dowitchers follow the quickly receding tide at Banco dos Cajuais, a proposed WHSRN site in Northeastern Brazil. Red Knots seek similar habitat all along the Atlantic, from Bahia Lomas in far southern Chile, to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, USA. Intertidal flats like this, covered by water for some part of each day, are critical for maintaining knot populations in this flyway.


Banco dos Cajuais is an extensive area of tidal mudflats, salt flats, mangroves and coastal scrub which holds important numbers of wintering and migrating Red Knot and Short-billed Dowitcher. Once designated, Banco dos Cajuais will be the third WHSRN site in Brazil, the others being Lagoa do Peixe (site of the first workshop) and Reentrâncias Maranhenses (the state-protected area manager from here is one of the participants in the current workshop). WHSRN designation will help support the creation of a marine protected area in eastern Ceará state, including the Banco dos Cajuais.


Cooperative human tripod: Students learning to identify shorebirds at our workshop at Icapui.  Who says learning can’t be fun.

Cooperative human tripod: Students learning to identify shorebirds at our workshop at Icapui. Who says learning can’t be fun.


Ruddy Turnstones, Short-billed Dowitcher (center right)  Black-bellied Plover

Framed by two Ruddy Turnstones, a Short-billed Dowitcher (center right) and a Black-bellied Plover cruise the shore, waiting for the tide to drop from the impressive sandbank flats at Banco dos Cajuais.



Meet Virginia: The Lasting Impact of Manomet’s Shorebird Workshops

I often wonder about the impacts our Shorebird Habitat Management Workshops might have on workshop participants, how our time together might influence their work over the long term and the future conservation of shorebird populations. We recently completed teaching a collaborative workshop on shorebird habitat management in Lagoa do Peixe in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil and we caught a hint of just the kind of influence our workshops can have on individuals.

In 1983, Brian Harrington, Senior Scientist with Manomet collaborated with Paulo Antas of CEMAVE (Centro Nacional de Pesquisa para a Conservação das Aves Silvestres), and Martin Sander of the Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos to host a first-of-its-kind international shorebird workshop in South America held at Lagoa do Peixe.


A snap shot from a shorebird workshop Manomet ran in Lago do Peixe, Brazil in 1987.

A snapshot from a shorebird workshop Manomet ran in Lago do Peixe, Brazil in 1987


At the time, Maria Virginia Petry was a freshman in her first semester at college with a strong interest in biology. Ornithology, biochemistry, and entomology were all potential focus options but switching majors was on the table as well. She had begun working with a professor, Martin Sander, and was assisting him with multiple and varied research projects including studies of mosquito biology, forest birds, and Antarctic birds when she heard about the shorebird workshop.


As Virginia recalls, this workshop brought together biologists from every country in South America, was only offered to professional biologists, and was definitely somewhere she wanted to be. As an undergraduate, this also meant she was not on the invite list. Determined to participate in the workshop, Virginia offered to help with logistics during the classroom components held at the University – and was thus able to attend the lectures. When it came time to head to the field, she was told she could not attend as she was not an official workshop participant.  As the field vehicle transporting the workshop participants broke down and another vehicle from the University prepared to rescue the stranded biologists at Lagoa do Peixe (a 3-4 hour drive), with no one to stop her, Virginia hopped in the car.


The rest is history. With a clear passion for biology, Virginia learned to identify and monitor shorebirds during the workshop. She stayed after the workshop ended to assist Brian and others complete a shorebird survey along the central coast of Rio Grande do Sul. She has continued monitoring the shorebirds and other coastal wildlife on this same stretch of beach on and off over the years ever since.


Maria Virginia Petry at the 2016 shorebird workshop

Maria Virginia Petry at the 2016 workshop


Today, Virginia is an accomplished research scientist and professor at the Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. She manages and coordinates a research laboratory of marine animals and birds, assists the management of the National Trust for Research and Technology of Antarctic Research, and is on the steering committee for the recently completed Shorebird Conservation Action Plan in Brazil. In fact, a previous manager of Lagoa do Peixe National Park was a student of Virginia’s.


When I asked her how attending the workshop influenced her career trajectory, she said that it inspired her to continue in the study of biology – and ornithology specifically.  It helped her develop a passion for coastal birds in particular and to understand the value of long term monitoring.


33 years later, Virginia attended our 2016 workshop at Lagoa do Peixe. She said she came to learn more about technological advances in migratory bird monitoring and to hear more about the status of the shorebird populations that connect us across the hemisphere. But for us, the workshop leaders, meeting and talking with Virginia was like peeking into the future. A small glimpse of the potential impact you can have when you combine personal passion with critical information, and of course, introduce people to the magic of shorebirds. I have high hopes for the future outcomes and long term impacts of our continued shorebird workshops to fostering collaborative conservation and igniting passion for shorebirds for future generations.


Making connections across borders, languages, and many miles to build a collective capacity for shorebird conservation

Lagoa do Peixe National Park sits 500 miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn on the Atlantic Coast of Southern Brazil.  The Park, one of the early Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites (WHSRN) to be dedicated, was recognized in 1990 as an area of International Importance.  That status was given mostly for the large numbers of Hudsonian Godwit and Red Knot using the vast coastal system as a staging location during migration.


American Golden Plover, Brazil

An American Golden Plover struts its stuff with a large flock of Common Terns. We were delighted to see this species in many areas of the Park, including the intertidal zones of the barrier beach system.



Manomet’s Habitats for Shorebirds project staff and collaborators have been conducting a shorebird workshop here for the last several days.  Our partner, SAVE-Brasil, along with the personnel from the Park have been working hard to pull this gathering of professional shorebird biologists, coastal land managers, university professors, and graduate students together in this wildlife-rich landscape.


Experts add depth to shorebird conservation discussions

Experts on regional issues throughout the room added depth to all of our discussions on shorebird habitat management and conservation.


Our goal for this workshop is to help create an atmosphere of collaboration, understanding, and broadened appreciation for shorebirds. We hope that the participants will come away with the tools needed to implement active management and protective measures that will help stabilize and increase imperiled populations.  We gave presentations on shorebird ecology, migration and reproduction threats, management strategies, and conservation mechanisms.


Lagoa do Peixe National Park, like all protected areas, has management-related challenges to maintaining optimum conditions for shorebirds.   We had many valuable discussions with all of the experts in the room on approaches to habitat management that could alleviate threats to shorebirds in some areas of the park, while exploring ways to maintain favorable conditions that exist for species like Buff-breasted Sandpipers that now rely on some level of cattle grazing for ideal habitat conditions.


Scanning for sandpipers in Brazil

In the last of the evening light, Monica Iglecia, Jim Lyons (both wearing Manomet caps) and other workshop participants scan for Buff-breasted Sandpipers coming in to roost in a short-grass pasture, grazed by cattle and water buffalo. Our mode of transportation is a retired army truck, converted for group tours.


Rob Clay, Director of the WHSRN Executive Office, joined us at this workshop, which gave him an opportunity to connect with managers of the Lagoa do Peixe, engage with contacts from Laguna de Rocha, a WHSRN sister site in Uruguay, and collaborate with us on developing approaches to management needs of both sites.


Southern Caracara

An encounter with a Southern Caracara standing in the tide zone is a vivid reminder to us that we are not looking at a New England Beach.


The southern coast of Brazil, and the coast of Uruguay are known to support the majority of the world’s Buff-breasted Sandpipers or “Buffy’s.”  Juliana Almeida, our host and partner from the nonprofit SAVE-Brasil, conducted her dissertation work here in and around the park.  Juliana banded a Buffy on its breeding site on the north coast of Alaska and then found the same bird on her study site in Brazil several months later.  This was equivalent to winning the megabucks lottery for a shorebird biologist.


Semipalmated Sandpiper, Lagoa do Peixe

Semipalmated Sandpiper, one of 66 that we found on our day of scouting the mouth of Lagoa do Peixe.


A big surprise to us was finding 66 Semipalmated Sandpipers at the mouth of the tidal lagoon.  We checked to see if any were carrying bands or geolocators from Manomet’s population connectivity study across the arctic, but didn’t find any.  With the Semipalmated Sandpipers was a rather lost Least Sandpiper, well south of its normal winter range along the north coast of South America.


American Oystercatcher with chick in Lagoa do Peixe.

An expectant American Oystercatcher chick on the left, waits for mom to disable a feisty crab in the mouth of the lagoon before digging in for breakfast treat.


The mouth of the lagoon on incoming tide was very active with many long-distance migrant shorebirds.  We had a flock of more than 200 Hudsonian Godwit standing in shallow water with about 75 Red Knots.  A flock of nearly 500 American Oystercatchers at roost was a real treat, and reminded us of all of the good work by the species U.S. Atlantic working group led by our own Shiloh Schulte.  The species is at the end of its breeding season here, and we had a close encounter with an adult, shepherding two large chicks that walked boldly by us as we completed a census of the lagoon mouth.


Shorebird Workshop Group

The group posing after an evening field trip to learn estimating and identification techniques for all resident and migrant shorebirds.


The shorebird workshop group, pictured above, represents participants from the United States, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. Despite the challenges of conversing between three different languages, we all came away enriched by the experience, and rewarded with a much deeper understanding of the regional issues and challenges of maintaining and managing important shorebird habitat that supports birds shared by all nations and peoples of the Atlantic Flyway.