The Remarkable Odyssey of a Semipalmated Sandpiper

Written by Stephen Brown/Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Just a few days ago, Brad Winn and Shiloh Schulte returned from Coats Island with the first two geolocators from the Semipalmated Sandpiper migration study. We were waiting breathlessly to see what mysteries would be revealed! Ron Porter, who is working on analyzing the geolocator data, downloaded and analyzed the data from the first geolocator over the weekend. He produced the map below, which reveals a remarkable odyssey for a tiny bird, the first glimpse ever into the entire migratory pathway of this species.
Read more…
Map of the journey of a geotagged Semipalmated Sandpiper. Courtesy of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Map of the journey of a geotagged Semipalmated Sandpiper. Courtesy of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences

Coats Island Team Recovers Second Geolocator

Written by Brad Winn/Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Success! Another geolocator in hand. Our second tagged bird proved more elusive than the first. Though initially interested in the playback from the phone, he would not come close to the bow net. The constant wind whipping over the tundra also made a stationary mist net impractical. We settled in to observe the behavior patterns and routine of the bird banded with the colors Orange-White-Orange, our geotagged sandpiper.
Geolocator was successfully recovered  from the Orange-White-Orange Semipalmated Sandpiper. © Brad Winn
Geolocator was successfully recovered from the Orange-White-Orange Semipalmated Sandpiper. © Brad Winn
Geotagged Semipalmated Sandpiper. © Brad Winn
Geotagged Semipalmated Sandpiper. © Brad Winn
Semipalmated Sandpipers are generally not very wary of humans on the nesting grounds, and Orange-White-Orange was no exception. Very quickly he allowed us to approach to within a few meters when foraging around his favorite ponds. Our winning solution to capturing him was a slow and patient stalk while holding a mist net between us. Our strategy was complicated by the lumpy tussocks and mounds that cover the wet tundra. The first time we dropped the net on Orange-White-Orange, he was able to sneak out the side between two tussocks. Fortunately, he did not seem to realize that we were responsible for his near-capture, and he allowed us to approach closely again. This time we chose a relatively open area near the edge of a pond and waited for him to forage his way into the catch zone. Working in close coordination, we flipped the net over the little sandpiper and seconds later had him in hand!
Read more…

Boris & Irina reunite in Azerbaijan

Written by The Amazing Journey Team

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After spending the winter far apart in Eastern Sudan and Western Saudi Arabia respectively, Boris and Irina (two of our satellite-tagged Sociable Lapwings) have apparently reunited in Azerbaijan during their long journeys home to Kazakhstan.
Boris's track is in purple and Irina's in torquoise.
Boris’s track is in purple and Irina’s in torquoise.
In our last update on March 15th, we had followed Boris (on his rapid migration north from Sudan) to a location in Syria close to the Iraq border which he arrived at on Monday, March 10th. We now know he stayed there until the morning of Friday, March 14th but then travelled on, and by the afternoon of Sunday, March 16th, he’d arrived in Eastern Azerbaijan, near the west coast of the Caspian Sea.
We had also followed Irina, who stayed longer on her wintering grounds (in Saudia Arabia) than Boris but she set off from there on March 6th and by March 10th, she had arrived in Iraq near the Syrian border. We now know she stayed there until Friday, March 14th but then pressed on and by the afternoon of Sunday, March 16th, she too had arrived in the same area of Azerbaijan that Boris was in.
While it will require further survey and monitoring in the future, it looks highly likely that we have now discovered an important Spring migration staging site for Sociable Lapwings in Azerbaijan.
Historical records in our database have indicated that this area of Azerbaijan might be a last Spring stopover site for Sociable Lapwings before they cross the Caspian and head on to the Emba valley in Kazakhstan. Our knowledge of regular Spring staging sites is very restricted but now this location in Azerbaijan and another site in Syria where c. 2,000 birds were located in 2007 appear to be regular staging sites. As indications are that both Boris and Irina passed close to or through this area of Syria this year, it is indeed possible that they might have stopped at the Syrian location for a few hours before moving on non-stop to Azerbaijan too.
It is likely that there are not many large stopover sites for Sociable Lapwings on their Spring migration back to Kazakhstan. The journey home is rapid and the entire route through Central Asian semi-deserts in Spring is much wetter throughout, offering extensive suitable resting and feeding habitat that is unavailable in the Autumn.
As of Monday, March 24th, Boris and Irina are both still staging in Azerbaijan on the East Caspian coast.
The great image at the head of this post by Philipp Meister is of a flock of Sociable Lapwings encountered at Gobustan, Azerbaijan on 6th April 2006.
The shores of Lake Hadzhibagul in Azerbaijan. Image Courtesy of The Amazing Journey Team
The shores of Lake Hadzhibagul in Azerbaijan. Image Courtesy of The Amazing Journey Team
In February this year our Sociable Lapwing Study team received news of another important Sociable Lapwing migration discovery, from the same area of Azerbaijan, that was made in Autumn 2013.
On 20th October 2013 Pedro Romero Vidal recorded a flock of 45 Sociable Lapwings at Lake Hadzhibagul and on November 7th he found another flock of 15 there. Pedro regularly counts waterbirds at the lake to record their numbers and diurnal activity patters for his MSc thesis at Greswald University, Germany. On both occasions the birds he encountered were feeding on muddy ground with small pools.
Of great interest to us was that among the 45 birds he encountered on October 20th, no less than four were colour-ringed. One carried a blue and a white ring, but in general, viewing conditions were not sufficient to read the full combinations. However, as the majority of birds carrying rings now must come from the Korgalzhyn region of Kazakhstan, and as four ringed birds were seen together, it seems likely that these birds were ringed in Central Kazakhstan near Lake Tengiz.
This is another piece of the jigsaw in our quest to reveal the Sociable Lapwings’ migration routes. It suggests that some birds, and perhaps only in some years, do not take a detour around the North shore of the Caspian, but cross it directly from the West Kazakhstan or North Turkmenistan coast.
Until now this has only been proven for the bird’s Spring migration route.

Sociable Lapwings found wintering in The Negev

Posted by BirdLife International The Amazing Journey Project

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Sociable Lapwing has become an increasingly scarce winter visitor to Israel, so news of at least 35 wintering there in 2013 brings us great cheer this Christmas.

Jonathan Meyrav of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife International’s national Partner in Israel) brings us this news and provides a recent historical perspective…
Ever since I started birding in the late 1980’s, small numbers of these elegant waders wintered at various sites throughout the country. Back in those days Israel was much less heavily populated and a few small groups of ‘Sociable Plovers’ – as they were then known – could usually be found wintering in agricultural areas – some even on the outskirts of Tel Aviv as well as at more regular, remoter sites in Israel’s Eastern Valleys and the Western Negev region.
Jonathan Meyrav - SPNI. © David Callahan
Jonathan Meyrav – SPNI. © David Callahan
For the past 30 years Sociable Lapwings have continued to winter in Israel each year but in ever-decreasing numbers. In good years we usually found several flocks of 10-20 birds, though winter counts for the whole country rarely exceeded 55-60 individuals. I also recall a few occurrences in the late 80’s when exceptional flocks of around 100 Sociable Lapwings were reported, in most cases in the West Negev.
During the 1990’s and early 2000’s the numbers of Sociable Plovers wintering in Israel gradually dropped. We assumed this had to do with the obvious reasons of habitat destruction and development mainly in Central Israel, and with the loss of several major wintering sites in the Hula and Bet Shean Valleys. In retrospective though, these were also the years that the Sociable Lapwing population was probably affected so dramatically on the breeding grounds and elsewhere.
In the early 2000’s Sociable Lapwings had nearly disappeared from Israel and only very small numbers (down to 5 birds in some years) were reported, mainly from the Negev. In recent years however, there has been a slow but steady increase in Sociable Lapwing numbers again, both on passage and on the wintering grounds. In 2009-2011 just five Sociable Lapwings were reported on migration with around 12 remaining to winter. Last year 14 Sociable Lapwings wintered in The Negev, and single birds also wintered in the Bet Shean Valley and possibly the Hula Valley as well.
One of the wintering lapwings. © Jonathan Meyrav
One of the wintering lapwings. © Jonathan Meyrav
In 2013 there have been quite a few spring and fall records of Sociable Lapwings (involving around 15 individuals) and now, for the first time in 20 years, 31 Sociable Lapwings are wintering in the Negev again – in two different flocks. At least four more birds are also wintering elsewhere in Israel, including one remarkable bird at a site just 20 KM north of Tel Aviv.
This is encouraging and may imply that the population wintering in Israel has taken a turn for the good, with these elegant birds still hanging on after having been close to the brink of extinction.
The beautiful header photo of two Sociable Lapwings wintering in Israel was taken recently by Yoav Perlman.
Elsewhere, our three satellite-tagged birds are giving strong signals which indicate they have all moved very little in the last month.
Irina is currently still near Tabuk in Saudi Arabia, Boris is still near New Halfa in eastern Sudan and Ainur is still near Lake Hamel in southern Pakistan.

Timekeeping birds unlock early migration mystery

Written by Planet Earth Online
The remarkable timekeeping of birds could finally explain how some bird species are able to respond to climate change by migrating earlier and earlier each year.
Black-tailed Godwit. © Andreas Trepte
Black-tailed Godwit. © Andreas Trepte
According to a new study, individual Black-tailed Godwits migrate at more or less the same time every year. But the migration of the population as a whole seems to be happening progressively earlier.
Dr Jenny Gill of the University of East Anglia, who led the research, explains:
The only explanation that’s left, is that new birds are hatching and migrating earlier. As the older birds die off, the population fills up with early migrators.
Climate change is likely to be driving this change because Black-tailed Godwits nest earlier in warmer years. Birds that hatch earlier are likely to have more time to gain the body condition needed for migration, and to find good places to nest in the winter.
The team have monitored a population of Black-tailed Godwits for over 20 years. The citizen science project relied on the help of more than 2,000 bird-watching volunteers across Europe.
In winter, the wading birds can be found in estuaries all the way down the west coast of Europe, as they flee the harsh Arctic conditions of their Icelandic home.
It’s long been known that birds tend to return to the same place each time they migrate: that’s why many of the characters in your garden will be familiar to you.
But the new study, published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to show they also return at the same time, within just a few days. Dr. Gill says:
They can tell the time. I have no idea how, but they can.
We thought that individual birds might migrate earlier or later in response to the weather. But it seems that, whatever the weather, they migrate at almost exactly the same time every year; it’s quite remarkable.
If you think about it from the bird’s point of view, it makes sense. You know that the place you’ve been to before will be available, and you know that it will be available at that time.
Other studies have shown that birds which migrate over longer distances have found it difficult to adapt their migration cycles to a changing climate. Many of those species are also suffering rapid decline. The study could explain why those birds are struggling to respond. Dr. Gill also added:
Many long-distance migrants arrive so late on to the breeding grounds that they only have a short time in which to mate and nest. They simply don’t have time to respond to warming conditions by nesting earlier.
Reference: Jenny Gill, Jose Alves, William Sutherland, Graham Appleton, Peter Potts and Tomas Gunnarsson, ‘Why is timing of bird migration advancing when individuals are not,’ Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2013

Irina reaches Saudi Arabia

Posted by BirdLife International The Amazing Journey Project
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Irina is now in North West Saudi Arabia near Tabuk and appears to be in an area of irrigated, agricultural pivot fields. © Image courtesy of BirdLife International
One fascinating aspect of Sociable Lapwing migration is that these birds make their journeys in a series of hops rather than in one jump.
The last review of our satellite-tagged birds’ movements was made on October 28th and at that point we found Boris had remained staging near the Turkey/Syria border for at least 19 days and Ainur has remained in the same location for a month in South East Turkmenistan. While conditions remain favourable, migrating birds use these stopovers to feed, rest and restore their energy before travelling on.
Irina has however pushed on south and she is now in North West Saudi Arabia near Tabuk and appears to be in an area of irrigated, agricultural pivot fields.
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Irina’s location in pivot fields at Tabuk.
Irina’s arrival in Tabuk is significant as it confirms this location as a current regular stopover/wintering site. Last year, on November 15th 2012,  Rob Tovey found a flock of ten birds close by and Abaj, one of our previously satellite-tagged birds, was also found nearby in January 2011.
Previous historical records of Sociable Lapwing flocks in Saudi Arabia include 25 in 1934 and 45 in 1988. Irina’s arrival in Saudi is only the seventh record since 1950.
Rob Tovey also recorded a larger wintering flock of 35 Sociable Lapwings some 100km further south in South-western Saudi Arabia near Jizan in February this year.
It will be interesting to now see where Irina heads next. Will she stay and winter in Saudia Arabia or perhaps push on again and head across the Red Sea into Africa?
Here is a map showing the progress of our three tagged birds so far this autumn.
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Tagged Sociable Lapwing progress as at 28th October 2013.
If you would like to sign up for email alerts so you can stay in touch with the progress of our three tagged birds please follow this link.
If you have seen any Sociable Lapwings recently or encounter any in the coming months we’d like to hear from you. You can submit your own sightings here.
We look forward to bringing you more news of the next stage of the Sociable Lapwings amazing journey shortly.
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CCB collaborates with Canadian Wildlife Service on Arctic shorebirds

Written by Fletcher Smith/The Center for Conservation Biology

Fletcher Smith with Hudsonian Godwit after transmitter attachment. © CCB
Fletcher Smith with Hudsonian Godwit after transmitter attachment. © CCB
In mid-July, Fletcher Smith returned from a 6-week stint in the Canadian Arctic where he was assisting in operating a shorebird base camp on the Mackenzie River Delta in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service. The camp is part of both the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network (ASDN) and the Arctic Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring (Arctic PRISM) The overarching objectives of these programs are to measure demographic parameters of breeding shorebirds, such as adult survivorship and productivity, to estimate population size and trends in Arctic shorebirds. This information is extremely hard to gather for shorebirds and the network of sites gathering this information spans the entire Arctic. The focal species in the Mackenzie River Delta include Red-necked Phalarope, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Whimbrel. During the 2013 season, the Mackenzie Delta crew was able to find and monitor over 100 shorebird nests, capture and band nearly 100 shorebirds, deploy all 6 satellite transmitters on Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits, and deploy 15 geolocators on Semi-palmated Sandpipers, adding up to a successful season by any measure.
The collaborative satellite tracking project has been a tremendous success in providing useful information to conservation. Prior to the tracking of the Mackenzie River Delta Whimbrels, very little was known about the broader life cycle of these birds. A Whimbrel named “Hope” was the only previous connection from the Atlantic coast stopover areas to the Mackenzie Delta. “Hope” was tagged in Virginia and migrated to the Mackenzie Delta for four breeding seasons, using Virginia as a staging ground both in spring and fall migrations. During the 2012 breeding season, four Whimbrels were tagged in the Mackenzie Delta and all four migrated to eastern staging grounds before wintering in Brazil. The three Whimbrels tagged in 2013 took the same basic route, flying from the Mackenzie Delta to Atlantic Canada. They staged within in Atlantic Canada for approximately 2-3 weeks before undertaking the non-stop 4,000 plus mile flight to northern South America where they will spend the winter. The majority of Whimbrels winter in or near the Gulf of Maranhao in Brazil.
Hudsonian Godwit with 5-gram satellite transmitter. © Fletcher Smith
Hudsonian Godwit with 5-gram satellite transmitter. © Fletcher Smith
No Hudsonian Godwits have ever been satellite tagged, so the movements of these birds will be particularly interesting to scientists involved in the study. One of the Hudsonian Godwits has migrated from James Bay/Hudson Bay staging grounds to the Orinoco River in Venezuela. This was a 3,900 mile non-stop journey. The Whimbrels and Godwits can be tracked at Wildlifetracking.org.
Whimbrel with transmitter in flight. © Fletcher Smith
Whimbrel with transmitter in flight. © Fletcher Smith
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Satellite-tagged Sociable Lapwings are on the move again

Written by BirdLife International Amazing Journey Project
With a lack of trackable Sociable Lapwings to report on over the last year, we are delighted to now reactivate the Amazing Journey website to bring you news about the migrations of three new birds that scientists from RSPB and ACBK fitted with satellite tags earlier this year.
The lapwings – a male and two females – are breeding adults that were caught at the nest and satellite-tagged at separate colonies near to Lake Tengiz, in central Kazakhstan, this summer. Each successfully fledged young before leaving their small nesting colonies to gather together with birds from other nearby colonies in readiness for their autumn migration. This gregarious behaviour is why the species is called ‘Sociable’ Lapwing.
RSPB's Professor Rhys Green and Dr Rob Sheldon fitting a satellite tag in June 2013. Image courtesy of RSPB
RSPB’s Professor Rhys Green and Dr Rob Sheldon fitting a satellite tag in June 2013. Image courtesy of BirdLife International

Since mid August we’ve been anticipating the newly-tagged birds’ migration would soon begin. As days passed with no movements and then days turned into weeks, our monitoring team started to become increasingly concerned. While signals received from the tagged lapwings seemed very good, no changes in the birds’ locations were detected.

Most years Sociable Lapwings depart from their breeding areas in mid to late August. Was something up? Were the new satellite tags working properly? Could our birds really still be in the Kazakh Steppe, OK, and just waiting to depart?
We were all immensely relieved when the action finally began, confirming that all was well with the lapwings and that their tags were working properly. Remarkably all three of our tagged birds departed on the same day – Tuesday 17th of September.
A post-breeding flock of Sociable Lapwings gathering before migration. Image courtesy of BirdLife International
A post-breeding flock of Sociable Lapwings gathering before migration. Image courtesy of BirdLife International
Ruslan Urazaliev, who leads the Sociable Lapwing study for ACBK in Kazakhstan, comments “Throughout late August and most of September the wind has been mainly from the south and conditions here have remained warm. This probably delayed the birds migration. Although we searched all the areas where the satellite signals suggested our birds were gathering, we couldn’t find any Sociable Lapwings during the last few weeks. However, we did find large numbers of Ruff still present in the Steppe and they usually depart long before this. The wind patterns appear to have changed in recent days which may have allowed the Sociable Lapwings to finally begin their migration.”
To help report on the migration of the three tagged birds individually we have followed tradition and given each local names again. Boris, who was fitted with his satellite tag on June 5th 2013, carries the tag ID 123086 and a colour ring combination; green blue, orange blue. His coordinates and path are marked in blue on our map. Irina, who was fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th 2013, carries the tag ID 123088 and the colour ring combination; green blue, orange white. You can see Irina in the main picture at the head of this post. Her coordinates and path are marked in green. Ainur who was also fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th, carries the tag ID 123087 and the colour ring combination; green blue, green white. Her coordinates and path are marked in Red.
You can see the first stage of the tagged birds’ migration below and can click to enlarge the map.
Boris (blue), Irina (green) and Ainur's (Red) initial migration routes - September 17-23 2013. Click to enlarge.
Boris (blue), Irina (green) and Ainur’s (Red) initial migration routes – September 17-23 2013. Click to enlarge.
Boris nested at a colony close to the Sociable Lapwing main study site at Korgalzhyn but has now moved nearly 1,800 km west in two days and at the time of writing is near Stavropol in south-western Russia. Irina has taken a slightly more southerly course west from her breeding site, some 60 km south east of Korgalzhyn, with an initial flight of just over 1,000 km. She then paused briefly to the East of the Caspian Sea before taking a second flight to a stopover close to Boris in Russia. Whether she crossed the Caspian Sea or took a route around its northern shores is, of course, unknown. Ainur who had nested in a separate colony close to Irina, has headed about 1,400 km south to a location near to the southerly borders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Expert Sociable Lapwing tracking analyst Johannes Kamp comments
Boris has travelled to a new area between Volga and Kalmykia which is very interesting. If coordinate detail is accurate, it suggests that some birds do cross the North Caspian semi-desert. Previously there has been no evidence for this, with all our other satellite-tagged birds going around the North side of this area.
“Irina has taken a non-classical route that is mostly used in spring (along the Emba valley). She is following in the footsteps of Erzhan, our first tagged male that transmitted for four years bringing us the most comprehensive information of all our tracked birds.”
“Ainur has almost certainly headed for Lake Talimarzhan in Uzbekistan where the big Sociable Lapwing stopover site was discovered by UzSPB last year.
Where the birds head next can be predicted but discovering their exact routes and stopover sites is a vital part of protecting these Critically Endangered birds on their migrations.
The ongoing Sociable Lapwing conservation action that multiple national BirdLife Partners are taking for the species through this BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme project is funded by Swarovski Optik, RSPB and Mark Constantine. Without their support, vital research, monitoring, hunting intervention and conservation action would not be possible.
If you would like to sign up for email alerts so you can stay in touch with the progress of our three tagged birds please follow this link.
If you have seen any Sociable Lapwings recently or encounter any in the coming months we’d like to hear from you. You can submit your own sightings here.
We look forward to bringing you more news of the next stage of the Sociable Lapwings amazing journey shortly.

Rare sighting of marked spoon-billed sandpiper on migration

Written by BirdLife International
This Spoon-billed Sandpiper was marked in north-east Russia and has now been seen in China. © Michelle and Peter Wong
This Spoon-billed Sandpiper was marked in north-east Russia and has now been seen in China. © Michelle and Peter Wong
A rare sighting of a marked Spoon-billed Sandpiper on migration was reported last weekend from Rudong mudflats north of Shanghai.
The Critically Endangered bird was identified by a lime green plastic flag on its leg marked ‘01’ that was attached by scientists from Birds Russia on its breeding grounds this summer.
Conservationists know that this bird ‘Lime 01’ fathered six fledglings this summer – three that were hand-reared by conservationists and three that he raised himself – which is 10 times the average for the species.
In all, this summer sixteen hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper fledglings and eight adults were marked with the lime green plastic leg flags. Birdwatchers are being asked to report all sightings of spoon-billed sandpipers.
Rudong mudflats are the most significant known staging post in China for Spoon-billed Sandpipers where 106 individuals were counted last year in October. Demand for land is high in the region, which is only 150km from Shanghai, and land has already been reclaimed from the marshes at Dongling to the southern end.
Pavel Tomkovich of Birds Russia, who caught and marked the bird with Nikolai Yakushev, said:
When I marked “Lime 01” I wondered if anybody would ever see it on its travels, almost a quarter of the way round the world, as looking for Spoon-billed Sandpipers can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Looking for marked birds is even more difficult as we were only able to mark eight adult birds with these unique flags. Thanks to the reports of local birdwatchers, we’re learning their stopover points.”
Lime 01’ was seen leaving the breeding grounds on 4 August and was seen 5,000km away at Rudong on 31 August. Spoon-billed sandpipers can cover as much as 1,000km per day, leaving around three weeks during which it may have been staging elsewhere.
Zhang Lin of the “Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China” Team said:
The first Spoon-billed Sandpiper arrived at Rudong about two weeks ago since when I have been regularly scanning the increasing numbers of waders at the high tide roost at Rudong. When I glimpsed a bird on 31 August that looked like it had a lime green leg flag I knew something exciting was in front of me. On closer inspection it turned out to be ‘Lime 01’. I was over the moon as this is the first time that one of the birds marked in 2013 has been seen in China.
It is amazing to see how these little but Critically Endangered birds are connecting our key sites along the flyway between Russia and China. They are very important as they allow us to track whether efforts to save the species are working.
BirdLife’s project to save Rudong and Minjiang Estuary, two key resting and feeding sites used by Spoon-billed Sandpipers in China, ‘Saving Spoony’s Chinese Wetlands’ is supported by a $100,000 grant from The Walt Disney Company, through Disney’s Friends for Change.
Guidance on reporting spoon-billed sandpiper sightings is available from the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force http://www.eaaflyway.net/spoon-billed-sandpiper.php.

Whimbrels completed 3rd leg of unknown loop migration route

Written by Bryan Watts & Fletcher Smith/The Center for Conservation Biology
Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology have tracked 3 Whimbrels from wintering areas on the coast of Brazil on a nonstop, 4,000 mile (6,400 kilometer) flight to the Gulf of Mexico. This flight represents the third leg of a previously unknown loop migration route and connects four widely scattered locations in the conservation of this declining species.
The three birds named Mackenzie (for the river where they breed), Akpik (named for the cloudberry that the birds feed on in the fall) and Pingo (named for an arctic formation caused by permafrost) left their wintering grounds near Sao Luis, Brazil between 9 and 13 April. The birds flew nonstop for 95 to 100 hours averaging 40 miles per hour (67 kilometers per hour) before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Originally captured and marked on the breeding grounds along the Mackenzie River in far western Canada in June of 2012, the birds took a bold fall migration route flying 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) to the east coast of Canada in mid-July to stage for 2 weeks before embarking on a marathon 4,300-mile (6,900-kilometer) flight out over the open ocean to the northern coast of South America. All three birds have spent just over 7 months in the extensive tidal system of the Gulf of Maranhao before initiating their migration north.
Map of migration route for 3 whimbrels marked on breeding ground in western Canada. Recent flight from Brazil to Gulf of Mexico was previously undocumented. Photo by CCB.
Map of the migration route for 3 hombres marked on breeding grounds in western Canada. A recent flight from Brazil to Gulf of Mexico was previously undocumented. Photo by CCB
All three birds are currently staging in different locations. Akpik is staging in Laguna Madre within the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico a site known to be a critical wintering area for the closely related long-billed curlew. Mackenzie is near the Demieres Isles in southern Louisiana. Pingo is in and around Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge south of Houston, Texas the site of a recently discovered spring staging area of hemispheric importance to Whimbrels. Understanding the connectivity of this site to breeding areas has become a high priority for the research community. The bird appears to be using farm fields that have been managed over the winter for migrating shorebirds.
Mackenzie, Akpik and Pingo, all from the same breeding location, have now linked sites in far-flung, unexpected regions in their orb of conservation. Important in their own right, each of these sites must be considered collectively for conservation efforts to be effective. Mackenzie, the bird fitted with the recycled transmitter of Machi (a bird shot on Guadeloupe in September of 2011) is now staging in the heart of the area impacted by the Deep Horizon Oil Spill. The spill began on 20 April, during the time of Whimbrel staging in 2010. Such events highlight the fragility of conservation networks and the importance of locations and cultures working together toward common goals. Through these birds we now know that an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may impact a breeding population on the Mackenzie River, or a staging area in Nova Scotia, or a wintering area around the mouth of the Amazon. Understanding these linkages is a critical step in protecting these networks and the species that depend on them.
Fletcher Smith with Akpik on breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic. This bird is now staging in Laguna Madre. Photo by CCB.
Fletcher Smith with Akpik on breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic. This bird is now staging in Laguna Madre. Photo by CCB.
The three Whimbrels are part of a larger project that has included 20 additional birds that have been tracked to better understand migratory pathways and locations that are critical for this declining species. The study has tracked Whimbrels for more than 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) since 2008. The broader tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Canadian Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Follow the migration routes of these Whimbrels and others at the Seaturtle.org Wildlife Tracking page.