Two teams from the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences are on Arctic expeditions this summer to study declining shorebird populations. Many threatened shorebird species, including some that are seen in New England, breed in Arctic habitat. One Manomet team is at the Canning River Delta on the north coast of Alaska and the other team is on the uninhabited Coats Island in Canada’s Hudson Bay. The Greenblog is running periodic updates of their work, part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network, a research project with 16 camps across Alaska, Canada and Russia.
By Ian Davies
Manomet Field Technician
Every now and then, something happens that is so unlikely that you wonder just how small our big world is.
AHU, the bird banded in Brazil found in the Arctic. (photo courtesy of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences)
Last summer, we were doing routine nest checks from our camp on the Canning River and came across a Semipalmated Sandpiper sporting a blue tracking flag and the code KKL on its leg. We discovered that it was one of 1,250 Semipalmated Sandpipers banded earlier that year by New Jersey Audubon in Brazil.
Then last week, lightning struck again.
On July 4 we discovered a different Semipalmated Sandpiper from Brazil, this one with the letters AHU on the bird's tracking flag. We emailed New Jersey Audubon and learned that it had been banded alongside KKL.
Based on the length of AHU’s bill and her place in the breeding population here at the Canning River, we can definitively say that she is a female and at least three years old this year. Both KKL and AHU travel almost 8,000 miles to the Arctic each spring from Maranhão state, Brazil.
AHU’s nest currently contains three eggs, two of which are showing signs of hatching – small cracks spiderwebbing out from a central location as the chick inside begins to chip its way out. In less than a day, the chicks should break through and carefully remove the tops of the eggs, crawling out into the nest cup. Within several hours, they will be able to walk and will be out and about with AHU and her mate.
Seeing two of the 1,250 banded birds from January 2012 at the same exact study area in northern Alaska suggests that some of our Semipalmated Sandpipers travel to northeastern Brazil for the winter.
According to David Mizrahi of New Jersey Audubon, who initially banded KKL and AHU, close to 100 of his birds have been resighted, some on migration in the central U.S. and others on breeding grounds like those here. The 300-400 Semipalmated Sandpipers that our camp has banded over the past four years have yet to be reported by anyone.
This season, we are using geolocator technology to piece together this puzzle. These small leg-mounted dataloggers have an accurate clock and record light levels. From that information alone, we can determine the bird’s latitude and longitude.
This year, the Canning River team successfully placed 29 of 30 geolocators on Semipalmated Sandpipers and the Coats Island team placed all of their 35.
To recover the data, however, we have to recapture the birds next summer and remove the devices. Six research camps in the Arctic Shorebird Demographics Network are putting geolocators on Semipalmated Sandpipers this season; with all of that data, we will hopefully have a better understanding of Semipalmated Sandpiper migration by this time next year.
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