12 Days Of Shorebird Surveys

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It has been an unforgettable experience conducting surveys everyday since May 1st. The first day I  surveyed I only saw a handful of shorebirds, but by the 5th day I saw shorebirds by the thousands! It was stunning.

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aflocks

Estimating large flocks was not easy, especially when the flocks moved from one side to the other when I was halfway into estimating the flocks. I had to be really cautious not to recount flocks, and often I had to start estimating my flocks all over again when I was halfway into my estimation. Although it was frustrating when they moved so much, the sound, the shape, the colors they made when they flew in unison was hypnotizing. Often the large flocks were composed of Western Sandpipers and Dunlin, when they flew together the sound of their wings resonated as they constantly changed their angle. When they changed their angle in flight, there are flashes of white from their bellies and suddenly it is dark brown with orange from their backs or when their perpendicular to the horizon for a slight instant they disappear. (Check out this video of the flocks! https://www.facebook.com/CopperRiverDeltaShorebirdFestival#!/photo.php?v=637458752997669&set=vb.292878567455691&type=2&theater)

Not only was it amazing to see so many shorebirds, but this weekend was our Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival (May8-11th), and I saw many of shorebirders as well! During the festival I hosted a children’s activity Friday night, and helped Susan with her kid’s activity the following day. I had a lot of fun during the festival and these events. For my Friday night activity, I created data sheets and a field guide to some of the common shorebirds in our area so that kids could learn about shorebird surveys. During the activity I had shorebird cut outs posted throughout the room where they had to search and identify each shorebird they found. The children that participated had lots of fun, and soon enough some of the kids were identifying birds without referring to their shorebird guides! They shouted WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, DOWTICHER, and WESTERN SANDPIPER with excitement when they spotted them. Using the data sheets I created each child tallied their sightings, recording the species and abundance of each shorebird.

The following day Susan made a presentation describing what makes a shorebird a shorebird. The children who participated were are 1-8 years old, and were very energetic. Susan described how shorebirds vary in size, color, and shape, but they all live near the shore. After the presentation the kids made their shorebird masks, one child named Robert (in the orange T-shirt) even made a giant red worm to go with his mask! We had a blast!

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The Initiation of Shorebird Surveys in Alaska

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I have been really lucky with the weather we have been getting this year. The sun has been out and the shorebirds are arriving fast! Yesterday was my first day surveying, I saw a few shorebirds- 13 Least sandpipers, 2 greater yellowlegs, and 1 black-bellied plover (one of my favorite shorebirds that I was eagerly hoping to see).

Today was Day 2 of surveys, and WOW did I see A LOT of shorebirds! The picture above is from a mixed flock of Western sandpipers, dunlin, and least sandpipers. It was AMAZING to see them fly together, but also a bit frustrating when it comes to trying to estimate the flock size during the survey! They finally landed on a small island where 5 black-bellied plovers where hanging out. It was pretty awesome to see how different the species where from one another in terms of plumage and size. The black-bellied plover was the largest (11 1/4″) in the flock, dunlin were the second largest (7 1/2″) compared to the little peeps- western sandpipers were just a little bigger than the least sandpiper (5 1/2″) by half an inch.

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I was not able to find any volunteers for these two surveys, so it was a little intimidating but it was fun being out in the sun and using the skills I learned during EFTA training and studying. Tomorrow will be the first day I will be going out with a volunteer, hopefully all goes well! Before I start my surveys tomorrow, I’ll also be painting shorebirds in town with 2 high school students that I met during their art show at the High School. Stay tuned for more shorebird window art and lots of SHOREBIRDSSS! 🙂

LeastSandpiper

I found least sandpipers enjoy hiding in the vegetation at Hartney Bay. They camouflage so well!

Spring in Alaska

I have never lived in a place that allowed me to experience seasons like I am in Alaska. My environment is constantly changing. I witnessed winter, and now it really feels like spring is here! The grass and flowers are beginning to emerge; everything is slowly becoming green as the white snow melts in Cordova. The change in season makes it official; THE SHOREBIRDS WILL BE ARRIVING SOON!

I’m looking forward to the shorebird festival and all the amazing activities and surveys that coincide with the arrival of my shorebird friends. This week I networked with an artist from Argentina who was kind enough to create an illustration for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. Aleteos is her trademark, she is also involved in Argentina’s shorebird festival and their international illustration contest. Here in Cordova, I am working on finding a place to display 25 of the illustrations that were displayed in Argentina’s festival. Collaborating with Rocio and Festival de Bahía San Antonio in Argentina makes this year’s illustration contest theme really relevant – this year’s theme was: “Inspiring Flights. Connecting Skies.” It’s amazing the way shorebirds inspire us by their resilience, traveling far distances throughout the various flyways, and the way they connects people around the world.

Soon after the shorebird festival, the field seasons will begin here in the Cordova Ranger District. In the wildlife department of the Forest Service we are continuing to prepare for the field season. We are taking inventory of our gear- knowing what we have and what needs to be repaired or replaced is essential for our safety and success out in the field. We have a lot of big projects lined up, and I am excited to write about them as the dates get closer. Till then, stay tuned for lots of pictures and my wildlife adventures!

Out on the boat with co-workers. We saw humpback whales, herring, bald eagles, steller's sea lions, porpoises, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks and MORE!

Out on the boat with some of my co-workers (I’m in the bright teal jacket). We saw humpback whales, herring, bald eagles, steller’s sea lions, porpoises, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks and MORE!

Preparing for the Alaska Field Season

I was initially really nervous about how cold it would be here in Alaska, but I have been surprised how fast I have been adjusting to the weather change.  Since I arrived to Cordova, Alaska two weeks ago, I have witnessed snow storms, wind storms, and sunny days too!  I have never lived in an environment like Alaska, but I have realized that I LOVE SNOW, and small town Cordova! 

The past few days working with the USDA Forest Service have been intense!  My days consisted of completing online training courses (getting certified to drive a federal vehicle, traveling on planes and air boats, and being prepared for the outdoors) and helping my supervisor Melissa, a wildlife biologist, organize for the field season.  As I complete my training requirements and help prepare, my excitement grows for the months to come!

I have also been busy working on preparing and promoting our annual Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival that will take place May 8-11, 2014!  The Copper River Delta is the LARGEST contiguous wetland on the Pacific coast in North America.  As a key coastal wetland and critical habitat in Alaska, it is visited by up to 5-million shorebirds that stop to rest and feed during their annual spring migration!  I invite you all to visit, or add this festival to your bucket list!

Here are some fliers I made for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival:

Copper River Delta

 For Information and Updates visit our Facebook page!

http://www.facebook.com/CopperRiverDeltaShorebirdFestival

keynote speaker

Our keynote speaker, internationally acclaimed wildlife artist Lars Jonsson!  He will also be hosting a field painting workshop during the Festival!

CALLING ALL ARTISTSDuring the Festival, shorebird and wildlife art is featured in the Festival’s brochure, I am inspired to create something to submit after visiting the Copper River Delta! 🙂