The Search for Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Kotzebue 2018

1 Baz_Scampion_UK SBSA 2A Spoon-billed Sandpiper on its breeding grounds in S. Chukotka in the Russian arctic. Photo credit: Baz Scampion.

This year we have two teams in the arctic, one returning to the Arctic Refuge led by Shiloh Schulte, and our team doing helicopter surveys in NW Alaska to search for the rare Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

With a population estimated at only 120-200 breeding pairs remaining in the Russian arctic, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the most highly endangered species on the planet. Habitat modeling and a few rare sightings from the 1980s suggest it could possibly breed in NW Alaska too, so we are working with an international team of colleagues from Birds Russia, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Park Service, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to begin the search in coastal areas north and south of Kotzebue, Alaska.

2 Kotz Map Survey AreaThis year we are based out of the native village of Kotzebue, Alaska in the NW Arctic Borough, with survey sites stretching several hundred miles north and south along the coast. Kotzebue is the blue dot in the center at the end of the long peninsula. Photo credit: Sara Saafield / ARC GIS image

Our project is a small part of a large international network of organizations working to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper that we will tell you about in our next post.

After meeting up in Kotzebue we finalized our survey plans and reviewed safety procedures with our helicopter pilot. Our 8-member crew did a trial run to collect data and test equipment by documenting avian species along the 9-mile road that circles Kotzebue. The photos below show some of the birds we’ve seen this first day, and we look forward to letting you know what we find as we begin the coastal surveys this week!

3 Pomarine JS

4 Pomarine black JSWe’ve seen many species of birds from the boardwalk and 9-mile ring road around Kotzebue. These photos show an adult Pomarine Jaeger and the unusual black morph Pomarine Jaeger circling near the boardwalk. Photos credit: Jonathan Slaght, Wildlife Conservation Society.

5 RNPH Copu JSWe have seen hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes around Kotzebue, mostly in the water-treatment sewage ponds. Here a second female Red-necked Phalarope appears to react to this copulating pair. With phalaropes, the males incubate the eggs while the females sometimes lay a second clutch with a second mate. Photo credit: Jonathan Slaght, Wildlife Conservation Society

6 Pacific BWThe breeding range of the Pacific Golden Plover (adult male shown in the cotton grass) overlaps with the American Golden Plover in this region. It has been an extremely early and unusually warm spring in Kotzebue this year. Photo credit: Brad Winn, Manomet

7 Semi JS

8 Semi BWWestern and Semi-palmated Sandpiper also overlap in NW Alaska, though around Kotzebue thus far we have only seen Semis. Top: Jonathan Slaght, Wildlife Conservation Society. Bottom: Brad Winn, Manomet



10 Yell Wagtail BWA number of passerines also come to the far north to breed. The American Tree Sparrow (top) and Yellow Wagtail sing to attract their mates and defend their territories. Photos credit: Brad Winn, Manomet

Intro to the 2018 Field Season

Welcome to another exciting field season with the Shorebird Recovery Program!

This year we are again posting from two different field sites in Alaska as we work to understand what limits Shorebird populations, and which sites are most important for their long migrations.

Shiloh Schulte is working with the crew going back to the Canning River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He and the team there put geolocators on several species last year and will be holding their breath to see which birds came back to nest again this year, and then using all their tundra stealth to recapture them so we can collect their geolocators and learn vital secrets about where they have spent the past year. They will also be putting out new tags that can report their specific location by satellite. This collaborative project is led by Rick Lanctot from USFWS, together with Chris Latty of the Arctic Refuge, and continues our work started as the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network. Shiloh will post soon to introduce this year’s team working at the Arctic Refuge and share the beginning of their story. So far it has been so cold and snowy on the distant north slope that the team has been waiting in Fairbanks for the weather to improve and the birds to arrive!

Meanwhile, another new project is just getting started in several National Parks and Wildlife Refuges in northwest Alaska. The National Park Service wanted to know if any Spoon-billed sandpipers, one of the world’s most endangered shorebirds normally only found across the Bering Strait in Russia, might be using similar habitats in Alaska. We will be doing surveys as part of the ongoing international collaboration called the Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring to both search for this rare species, and also document what other shorebirds are using these areas. We are again working with Rick Lanctot as well as colleagues at the National Park Service on this project and will be based in Kotzebue Alaska. Brad Winn and Metta McGarvey are returning to work on this new project, and all three of us will be updating you on how the project is unfolding, and the interesting encounters we have in this region.

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Flying over the Alaska Range while heading north through rugged mountains laced with glaciers.

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Once north of the mountains, the vast wetlands of the coastal tundra stretch beyond view.


Supporting Shorebirds at Their Summer Home in the Southern Hemisphere

Monica Iglecia, Maina Handmaker, Rob Clay, and Brad Winn

**Scroll down for Spanish version/desplazarse hacia abajo para español**

The base of their long, slender bills appeared even pinker in the soft orange light of sunset. A sun that set so late we were often still searching for shorebirds at half past nine at night. In the coastal wetlands of Chiloé Island  Chile, we were sitting on a rocky beach at 41.9 degrees south, the latitude almost exactly inverse to Plymouth, Massachusetts. But while the shores of Cape Cod Bay were locked in ice, we were locked in wonder – watching in silence as a flock of Hudsonian Godwits gathered to roost for the night.

This group of godwits breeds during the Boreal summer in Alaska, more than 10,000 miles to the north. Chiloé Island is the nonbreeding destination for most of the Hudsonian Godwits wintering on the Pacific coast. The cove where we watched these birds is part of The Eastern Wetlands of Chiloé, a site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network that collectively protects almost 4,700 acres of crucial resting and feeding grounds for these epic travelers.

In January 2018, Manomet’s Habitat Management Division and WHSRN Executive Office staff traveled to Chile to teach two Shorebird Ecology, Conservation, and Management Workshops, one in Santiago and the other on Chiloé Island. These first workshops of 2018 built on the successes of recent workshops in South America — in Bahía Samborombón and Bahía Blancain Argentina in 2017, and Lagoa do Peixe and Banco dos Cajuaisin Brazil in 2016. These workshops connect participants with a wide network of partners in shorebird conservation across the Americas, strengthening the local understanding of shorebird ecology, building conservation constituencies, and inspiring long-term efforts to implement beneficial management actions.

Santiago workshop participantsSantiago workshop participants in front of the University of Santo Tomas

The first workshop was in Chile’s capital city of Santiago. This workshop was hosted in collaboration with the University of Santo Tomas, and the Centro Bahía Lomas. The 23 participants represented 15 different organizations, including the Ministry of the Environment and a variety of non-profit organizations. Together, the group influences or directly manages more than 1,000 acres of shorebird habitat. Manomet staff led sessions on shorebird identification, migration strategies, tracking technologies, population monitoring, and good governance practices. Local guest speakers presented on a range of projects, from a national citizen science effort that produced the Atlas to the Shorebirds of Chile, to long-term monitoring projects such as Carmen Espoz’s Red Knot research at the Bahía Lomas WHSRN site in Tierra del Fuego. This site near Punta Arenas is the most critical wintering ground in South America for the endangered rufa subspecies of Red Knot.

“We were happy to have collaborated on this important initiative,” said Espoz after the workshop. “I am thankful for the opportunity the workshop gave me to present the progress we have made in the management of the WHSRN site at Bahía Lomas…I hope we can offer this workshop in November, in Punta Arenas!”

 the workshop was really“The workshop was really enriching. “Not only did it let me meet new people, but share experiences to be able to reproduce them in our own workplaces… We learned new tools to help the conservation of migratory shorebirds, but more importantly, tools to disseminate this information to the community – so that each of us, with our own grain of sand, can help protect these birds.” – ,” Santiago Participant Francisca Rojas, a biologist at the Coastal Marine Research Station – a research and teaching laboratory at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile that has an associated marine protected area. Photo: Maina Handmaker

Sebastian Herzog, Chile Country Officer for National Audubon Society’s International Alliances Program, spoke about the impacts of climate change on bird populations, recognizing that the Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy characterizes climate change as a “Very High” threat to shorebirds in Chile. Participants identified the most pressing threats at their own sites, and divided into groups to develop strategies to address three widespread challenges: loose dogs, vehicle traffic on beaches, and pollution and contamination. The groups broke down these threats into specific objectives and concrete actions as they discussed information they needed to gather, partners and alliances they hoped to cultivate, and thought through tangible next steps to take. The energy and expertise exchanged during these group discussions was a highlight of the workshop.

The Santiago workshop ended with a morning at the Estuary of the Maipo River WHSRN site just south of one of Chile’s busiest ports. The group practiced identifying species and estimating flock sizes against a backdrop of industrial development, spotting Sanderlings, Black-necked Stilts, American Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrel, and three species of Calidris sandpipers including a Chilean rarity, the Least Sandpiper. The site was a perfect example of many of the threats discussed in the workshop, but also proved that a protected urban wetland can create an oasis for migratory shorebirds.

Santiago participants practiceSantiago participants practice flock estimation and species identification with Monica Iglecia at the WHSRN site Desembocadura y Estuario de Rio Maipo.

Chiloe Workshop participantsChiloé Workshop Participants at the WHSRN subsite Caulín

Crossing the Chacao ChannelCrossing the Chacao Channel from mainland Chile to Chiloé Island with views of Andean volcanoes. Photo: Monica Iglecia

The second workshop was held 700 miles south in Ancud, on the northern coast of Chiloé Island. Before ferrying across the Chacao Channel to the island, we visited the Wetlands of Maullín WHSRN site with Claudio Delgado, the director of our local partner organization Conservación Marina. A pod of Peale’s Dolphins breached just off shore as we watched a group of Baird’s Sandpipers blend perfectly into the beach. The tide climbed higher over the mudflats, and we watched hundreds of Whimbrel come in to roost as our small panga carried us back down the river.

In 2010, WHSRN, Manomet, and National Audubon helped launch the Migratory Shorebird Conservation Plan of Chiloé with a coalition of local, national, and international partners. Just a few months prior to this workshop, Diego Luna Quevedo delivered a Good Governance workshop to help further the goals of the Conservation Plan. The Chiloé workshop was another key part of implementing Phase Four of this Conservation plan, supported by the Packard Foundation and run by Manomet, Audubon, and local partners CECPAN and Conservación Marina

The 17 participants in the Chiloé workshop represented 11 different organizations. They were staff of local NGOs and provincial governments, municipal leaders, tourism authorities, biologists, and private landowners, together representing over 5,000 acres of shorebird habitat in the archipelago. Luis Espinoza, a professor who has been studying Hudsonian Godwits on Chiloé for more than three decades, revealed results of his recent research.  Espinoza presented maps of godwit satellite tracks – not only unveiling their migration routes and stopover sites between Chiloé and Alaska, but also their movements to find the most important foraging and roosting areas on the island. This data sharing motivated a workshop participant to explore the process of expanding the WHSRN site to include an additional important place identified by Espinoza’s research.

 We were delighted“We were delighted to participate in the workshop in Chiloé. It allowed us to learn, reinforce, and share ideas with those involved in shorebirds, conservation, and ordinance – themes we have been working on for years in Curaco de Vélez.” – Luis Espinoza, Participant and Presenter, Chiloé Workshop. Photo: Maina Handmaker

We were lucky to support several workshop participants at a shorebird festival after the workshop, in the town of Curaco de Vélez, one of the WHSRN subsites on the island of Quinchao. Claudio Delgado spoke about Conservación Marina’s efforts to protect habitat for shorebirds; Luis Espinoza led groups of all ages to watch shorebirds at the nearby WHSRN subsite, Chullec. Workshop participant Carolina Vidal, who works for the tourism department of Chiloé’s provincial government, spoke about the pride the community feels to be home to so many zarapitos (the Chilean common name for both Hudsonian Godwits and their curve-billed cousin, the Whimbrel) every austral summer. The celebration included musical performances, traditional crafts, and Chiloé’s famous seafood dish curanto.

In the immediate term“In the immediate term, part of the lessons [from the workshop] will be integrated into a manual of best aquaculture practices that we’re developing to help mitigate its negative effect on habitat for Hudsonian Godwit in Curaco de Vélez, and also to build capacity with businesses that develop coastal infrastructure that can affect shorebirds. It’s important that this type of workshop connects partners of the Network, and includes neighbors and friends of the sites, because it increases understanding and discussion about the possibility of collaborative actions.” – Claudio Delgado, Director, Conservación Marina, seen here birding at the WHSRN site Maullín with Manomet staff. Photo: Brad Winn.

Since the workshop ended, we have continued to work with participants to share information and guidance to help them reach their shorebird conservation goals. Sol Bustamante is in charge of the Lakes Region of Chile for the federal Ministry of the Environment. She wanted to showcase Chiloé’s shorebirds in educational initiatives, tourism materials, and in presentations to the provincial Wetlands Round Table, so we have shared photos of Hudsonian Godwits, Whimbrel, and resident species like the South American Snipe and Southern Lapwing for use in informational brochures. Maribel Díaz recently purchased a property on the shore of Pullao Bay, and recognized that thousands of shorebirds were roosting on the mudflats in front of her land. The Habitat Management team visited her after the workshop to discuss opportunities for managing her site for shorebirds. Adjacent to Maribel’s property is the main roosting site within Pullao Bay, an area recently purchased by Audubon that is owned and managed by our shared partner organization Centro de Estudio y Conservación del Patrimonio Natural. Around the cove from that property is Refugio Pullao, a six-room lodge working to connect guests with the marvel of migratory shorebirds – owned by Carlos Grimalt, another participant in the workshop. Pullao Bay is another one of the wetlands that makes up the WHSRN site on Chiloé. In our last days on the island, we watched with jaws-dropped as almost 10,000 Hudsonian Godwit gathered to roost on Pullao Bay at high tide.

The Shorebird Ecology, Conservation, and Habitat Management Workshops in Chile made strides to strengthen partnerships and cultivate new connections, vital to keeping areas like Pullao Bay, Maullín, and the Estuary of the Maipo River protected for shorebirds. Planning has already begun for future workshops in southern Chile!

 A Whimbrel works onA Whimbrel works on its dinner in the wetlands near Ancud, Chiloé. Photo: Maina Handmaker

A flock of HudsonianA flock of Hudsonian Godwits at the Quilo wetlands on Chiloé Island. Photo: Brad Winn

An inquisitive BairdsAn inquisitive Baird’s Sandpiper walks the shoreline near Ancud on Chiloé Island. Photo: Monica Iglecia

Check out additional photos from our Chiloe and Santiago workshops on Manomet’s Facebook!