Shorebird Surveys in the Copper River Delta

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My intern colleagues have been conducting shorebird surveys along the Pacific Flyway in shorebird wintering grounds from California to the Oregon coast for the past weeks. In the recent weeks they have seen less shorebirds at their survey sites. This is because those shorebirds have been feeding in coastal and inland wetlands where they have been accumulating  fat reserves and are ready for their spring migration. Millions of shorebirds began their spectacular long distance migration to their breeding grounds to the Arctic. Stopover sites are important places along the migration route for birds to rest and refuel.

The Copper River Delta is a critical stopover site for successful migration of many shorebirds, providing superabundant food resources that enable them to quickly replenish their energy reserves and continue on their journey.  Five to seven million shorebirds visit the Copper River Delta every spring. Many species of shorebirds use the Delta, Western Sandpipers and Dunlins are the most abundant. Some shorebirds remain on the Copper River Delta to breed but most head further north.

I was very excited to begin my surveys here in the Copper River Delta. Because the Copper River Delta is a stopover site, the shorebirds stay here for a short period of time. My surveys were completed over a period of 12 days. In those 12 days I saw progression of their arrival, the peak number and their numbers go down as they continued with their journey. My survey site was Hartney Bay, a part of the Copper River Delta where a great number and variety of shorebirds rest.

On my first few days, I saw a few hundred birds. It went up to several thousand over the next few days. My highest number was an incredible 25,000 shorebirds at Hartney!  After that the numbers decreased significantly in the following days. Overall it was an incredible experience. My first days out there were not the best weather but being out there every day and witnessing their arrival was worth it. Towards the middle of my surveys we had some sunny weather again and more birds were arriving. It was overwhelming to  see and count over 25,000 birds in one day but it was also an amazing experience.

Shorebird Surveys in Cordova also gave me the opportunity to meet some great people in the community. I reached out to people who were interested in contributing to citizen science. Each day I had at least 2 volunteers with me. They helped identify some of the birds and I taught them about estimating shorebirds and why we are doing this project.

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