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.

Podcast: Stephen Brown Reports Live from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

The 2016 arctic field season is officially underway! In the podcast below, Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation, speaks from his camp in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Brown and his crew are conducting a two-year survey of the refuge—the largest survey of breeding shorebirds ever attempted.





Hello, this is Stephen Brown, reporting from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Welcome to the 2016 season of the shorebird recovery program science program.

We are delighted to have you with us and we are delighted to be here—back in the arctic conducting the work to support the shorebirds.

It’s the evening of May 15, late at night. So it is already tomorrow back home where I live in Vermont and where many of you are on the East Coast. We have many different crews surveying this year, so the science blog is going to be a very exciting website. There are now three helicopter crews underway, surveying part of the vast Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

None of that would have been possible without the amazing support from our Manomet donors, along with our grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We are grateful for your support.

And a quick overview of what you can expect this season:

We are just starting out, a very busy start getting ready. You probably read a post from Brad who is just back from Georgia and his work on Red Knots. So it was a full court press to get everyone ready and trained and geared and here.

Very soon there will be a post from Metta, who has been conducting the camp organization and planning and logistics—all of the things it takes to get us here, some of the pictures of us in transit and what it was like as we arrived.

Later on this summer, you will be hearing from Alan Kneidel from one of the crews in the central part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. And he will also be recording later on in the summer from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where he is participating in a new project with geolocators this summer.

You will also hear later on from Lindall and Andy, who are our crew here at Boot Lake in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. They are conducting our intensive surveys which we will explain later on in a post.

So it will be a busy season and we hope you look forward to hearing all of these posts and updates and seeing our pictures.

The birds arrived early with a warm spring and the weather couldn’t be more different than what we had last year. Last year, we surveyed almost every day in driving rain, mostly sideways.

And this time we were greeted with a beautiful clear sky and a beautiful sunny day. And, because there is always a new wrinkle in the arctic, very high winds.

We set up camp yesterday with sustained winds in the 25-28 range and gusts at 30. So if you imagine putting up a tent that’s seven feet high and 12 by 12, in gusts of 30 miles an hour, you can get an idea of the challenges we had.

But we are delighted that we are getting a break from the rain this year and maybe a slightly easier survey. It’s always more helpful when the wind is quiet and today is it down to a normal 15 or so, which is very calm for here and much easier to hear what the birds are doing.

So stay tuned for all these updates and we hope you enjoy hearing our live updates from the field. This is Stephen Brown reporting live from the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Welcome to the 2016 Shorebird Field Season!

Greetings to all of you who follow our shorebird science adventures!  We are very excited about the upcoming field season, which will have even more expeditions than ever before—and some exciting new projects to feature!

We will be posting soon from our first expedition to Brazil.  Brad Winn and Monica Iglecia are leading a trip to teach two shorebird management workshops with new partners in Brazil.  They are already there preparing and will be reporting back soon on their experiences meeting new partners and teaching field identification techniques and applied shorebird habitat management.  Rob Clay is there as well, working with Brad and Monica and helping build partnerships to implement the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, a new effort to support shorebird conservation along the entire flyway with partnerships spanning the hemisphere.

In mid-May we will be returning to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to finish the second year of our two-year effort there to survey the entire Refuge, which has never been done before.  The Refuge is the size of Maine, so this is a big undertaking!  In addition to the rapid surveys by helicopter across the entire area, we are also putting out two field camps to monitor numerous plots intensively, and we will use those to measure how many of the birds nesting in a given area our rapid surveys detect.


Yukon Delta Landscape

An aerial view of the vast wetlands on the Yukon Delta, where shorebirds nest in high densities. This important ecosystem have never been systematically surveyed for breeding shorebird populations.


In early June, Shiloh Schulte will be returning to Coats Island in Hudson Bay, along with partners from Environment Canada.  Last year the team put out 30 new geolocators to try to get a better understanding of what sites and migration routes are important for Semipalmated Sandpipers that nest in the eastern arctic.  This population is in steep decline, so gathering information to guide conservation efforts is critical.

Finally, in September, Rob Clay will be launching a new project to survey shorebird habitats in the Paraguay River.  Although informal observations and anecdotal reports have long suggested that the wetlands associated with the Paraguay River provide important habitat for North American breeding shorebirds, primarily during their southbound migration, no systematic survey has ever been conducted.  Recent telemetry studies of species such as Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper have begun to highlight just how important these interior wetlands might be.  We will be conducting field surveys by air, by boat, and from the ground to identify the most critical habitats along the southern Paraguay River.

None of this work would be possible without the support of our loyal donors who help us in so many ways.  Thank you to all of you who help support our work, and follow us on this blog!  It will be an exciting season!


-Stephen Brown, Vice President of Shorebird Conservation