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

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