On March 1st I began an essential component of my internship – shorebird surveys! For approximately two weeks I will participate in the Copper River Delta Shorebird Survey (CRDSS). The CRDSS is part of the Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey (PWSS), an international effort to keep track of shorebird numbers. Shorebird populations are recorded and entered by citizen scientists (such as myself!) into an accessible database known as the California Avian Data Center (CADC). With the information from the database, scientists and land managers can make the appropriate conservation decisions. For example, they can prioritize certain habitats that are deemed vital stopover sites for shorebirds during their spring and fall migration.
On my first day I got a firsthand experience on what a true Copper River Delta spring is like. According to the locals, I was spoiled in the month of April because it was sunny and calm for the majority of the month. When May arrived, however, it was pouring rain. Fortunately, my supervisor had double checked with me before I arrived at Cordova and made sure I had a rubber-based raincoat. A normal water resistant raincoat will become obsolete over time, losing its water resistance from the Alaskan downpours. In addition, I was glad I learned about the proper (clothes) layering techniques from attending college in the Midwest. Despite the rain pouring sideways at certain points, I was pumped to go out there and count some shorebirds!
When I went out to the survey sites (I have three) I was assisted by a couple volunteers (shout out to them for tolerating the rain with me!) with the counts. One of the volunteers is an avian research assistant, therefore an expert birder who quickly spotted shorebirds that I had narrowly missed. At first we did not see many shorebirds; in total from two out of the three survey sites we only saw an adorable oystercatcher. Once we went to our final survey site we noticed a large flock of peeps flying! I was excited and counted them immediately, but they were a bit restless and kept landing and departing. The flock would only stay on the ground for a few seconds. Luckily for me they landed and foraged just long enough for me to identify the species in the flock. I noticed that out of approximately 300 peeps, 10% of the flock were Least Sandpipers and the rest were Western Sandpipers. This identification would have been impossible if they had not stayed put on the mudflat.
A few minutes after the survey was over, I noticed why the birds were reluctant to land. There was a Merlin (small bird of prey) flying directly at them and around them. Too bad the survey was over because I could have counted this interaction and also the Whimbrel that landed near us as well. At any rate, I can’t wait to see more shorebirds that will stop by to refuel before they fly up to their breeding grounds in northern Alaska. I’ll be conducting these surveys in the next two weeks and I’m excited for shorebird festival that will occur this week from the 3rd to the 6th! Whoo-hoo Shorebirds!
PS. In the above picture notice that it was a beautiful day when I was conducting surveys.