Podcast: A Glimpse into the Science Behind the Shorebird Surveys

Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation, delivers his second podcast from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The shorebird surveys are underway and Brown explains why his team is conducting a set of intensive surveys in addition to the numerous rapid surveys this year.




Hello this is Stephen Brown reporting live from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, where we’re deep into the surveys that we are conducting across the entire refuge to understand shorebird abundance and distribution.

We are back to the typical arctic weather you could expect this time of year, after that brief spell of very warm and sunny weather. It is now averaging around 32 degrees at night and a balmy 40 degrees during the day. We have had winds between 25 and 30 miles an hour, so we are back to having wind chills that are below freezing. I am crouched in a small ditch right now to get out of the wind, which is blowing at 30.

If I stand up …**howling wind**…

I will try to keep the wind down and hopefully you can hear me alright.

It has been very busy at camp year, more than usual. We have a longer term stay and that’s because we are doing intensive work at the camp. The same camp, the same lake that we camped on last year, in a slightly different area. And we will have a camp there for a little more than a month. It will be for intensive plot work. And I wanted to explain why we are doing that this year.

The Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge is larger than the State of Maine and there is only about a two week window in which we can conduct the shorebird surveys. So we have to go very quickly and cover a lot of ground. We spend a little over an hour and a half on a plot that is about 40 acres, or 16 hectares, and searching for shorebirds over that large an area and that short of time, we know that we will miss some birds.

So you are not surprised to hear that some birds aren’t just laying when we are near their nests or they’re away foraging or it may be early in the laying period when they spend more time away.  Some birds sit very tight and you don’t happen to flush them as you cover the plot. But other birds haven’t even started to nest yet and will nest little later in the season and for others they have tried to nest, but their nests have been eaten by some predator.

For all of those reasons we don’t see all of the birds when we do our rapid surveys and that’s where they intensive survey plots come in.

We have set up four similarly sized 40-acre plots near camp, within about a mile of camp. And on those plots, our crew is searching fully, to find all the nests, not just now, but over the next few weeks, and then we have a measure of all the nests that will be on those plots over the season.

While we are here, each of the rapid surveyors, the four of us, will individually survey those plots, not knowing anything about what’s nesting there. And that will give us what we call a detection rate. So there may be nests there that we don’t see on our survey, but we know how many we see and over time we calculate the proportion of nests we are likely to encounter.

So all of that requires a much more intensive planning process, more staff and more equipment and we have been working hard and moving quickly, getting everything set up and now that we have the intensive plots underway, we will be having a little more time, hopefully, to send some pictures back for the blog and show you some of what’s been going at camp.

Later in the season, we will have a post from Lindall and Andy, who are the intensive survey crew, conducting those intensive surveys on those plots and will post on their experiences there.

So the clock is ticking and the shorebird season is short so I am going to get back to conducting a rapid survey on a plot very close to the edge of the Yukon Delta.

Thank you very much to all of you who support our work and help make it possible for us to do this survey, be in this amazing place, doing this work for the shorebirds. Thanks again, reporting live, this is Stephen Brown from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

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