Wrapping up on Coats Island

Another whirlwind Arctic field season on Coats Island is complete.  After two days of bad weather and high winds, the skies cleared and calmed on the day my flight was supposed to leave the island. I spent the morning doing a final check of the birds near camp, searching for new nests, and packing up. During my 23 days on the island, I estimate that I spent approximately 200 hours in the field, walked about 350 kilometers (about 217 miles), and checked at least 250 individual Semipalmated Sandpipers for leg bands and geolocators.


SESA Selfie

Shiloh Schulte holds the 10th tagged Semipalmated Sandpiper just before it is released.


The satellite phone does not work inside, so I set up this workstation to transmit the blogs and photos.

The satellite phone does not work inside, so I set up this workstation to transmit the blogs and photos.


The Trent University/Environment Canada crew was constantly looking as well, so we feel confident that we covered the study area very effectively. In the end, we confirmed sightings for ten Semipalmated Sandpipers tagged with geolocators and retrieved the tags from all ten birds. Both the return and retrieval rate for these birds is exceptionally high for the eastern Arctic, but on par with what we found in Alaska.

We do not know why the return rates are so variable in the East, but it could have to do with shifting food resources on the breeding grounds, or possibly greater risks on the migration routes or wintering areas. For example, if eastern birds are making long ocean crossings, they may be more susceptible to hurricanes or other major weather systems. Once the analysis of the recovered tags is complete later this summer, we will have a much better idea of the timing of migration, important stopover points, and the distribution of wintering sites for Semipalmated Sandpipers that nest on Coats Island.


A cooperative Semipalmated Sandpiper poses for a portrait shot. Many of the Arctic nesting shorebirds have little fear of humans, treating us no differently than Caribou.


Spotting the plane over the hills to the east, I had the same mixed reaction as I had the past couple of years. Very excited to be going home to see my family again, but reluctant to leave the Arctic and particularly such a diverse and compelling place as Coats Island. With no snow on the runway and light winds, the pilots had no trouble picking us up. I flew out with Dr. Erica Nol, a prominent shorebird biologist who has inspired years of Arctic shorebird work and conducted foundational research with American Oystercatchers, my primary study species. Dr. Nol is Scott Flemming’s academic advisor and spent a week with us in camp getting to know the study site and the crew.



Most of the Coats Island crew see the plane off as we leave the island. From left to right, Shawna-Lee Masson, Scott Flemming, and Lindy Spirak.

Most of the Coats Island crew see the plane off as we leave the island. From left to right, Shawna-Lee Masson, Scott Flemming, and Lindy Spirak.


Scott Flemming, Shawna-Lee Masson, Lindy Spirak, and Malkolm Boothroyd are still on Coats and will not fly out until the 25th of July. Though busy with their own research, they are all still looking for our tagged birds and it is possible they will find a late arrival or one that we overlooked somehow. We will certainly keep you posted if we hear of any additional recaptures and will update you later on when we know more about the results from the recovered geolocators.


Scott and Shawna compare notes at the end of a long field day.

Scott and Shawna compare notes at the end of a long field day.


None of this work would be possible without the close collaboration of Dr. Paul Smith of Environment and Climate Change Canada and the crew from Trent University. This entire project is a great example of the productivity and results that come from collaboration across agencies, country boundaries, and diverse backgrounds. I feel very lucky to be a part of this team and to have the opportunity to participate in this research and adventure.


longspur chicks

The Lapland Longspur chicks were just hatching when I left the Island.

King Eider male

Male King Eiders keep close watch on nesting females until all the eggs are laid. At that point they return to the sea and flock up for another year, leaving the females to incubate the eggs and raise the young.



This study is a cooperative project with Environment and Climate Change Canada (http://www.ec.gc.ca/). In addition to collaborating on study design and analysis, Environment and Climate Change Canada managed many of the logistics, including transport, and lodging.

Enviro Canada


Funding and support for Manomet’s 2016 field season on Coats Island was provided by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (http://www.cec.org/). The CEC is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to addressing environmental issues of concern across North America.


4 thoughts on “Wrapping up on Coats Island

  1. Congratulations on the season’s success, Shiloh. I can’t wait to hear where those little guys spent the winter.

  2. The birds and researchers have so much to teach us about perseverance, cooperation and the great respect and care that our planet deserves. Thank-you!

  3. Dear Shiloh,
    Great information about Semipalmated sandpipers on Coat’s Island, NT . We can not wait to hear the story revealed from the 10 geolocaters. The work that you and your colleagues have done is admirable and important . These post are enjoyable to read at our interpretive centre devoted to shorebirds here in the South. It is incredible to know that you may have seen birds that we will protect at Johnson’s Mills, NB when they stop for rest and nourishment before continuing on to places like Wia-Wia, Suriname and beyond. Today, as you leave the North, it is with great anticipation that the Nature Conservancy of Canada and our friends and partners are expecting the arrival of the first Fall migrants of the season. Yeah Yeah.
    Qujannamiik – Merci – Gracias – Thank You,
    Kerry Lee

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