Last week my days were full of exploring the town of Cordova with a paintbrush in hand. The Shorebird Festival was this past weekend and another intern from Tiera Peninsular and I were on a window painting excursion to help kick off the festivities to welcome the shorebirds. Many other aspects of the festival this past weekend were very artistic. I had the opportunity of helping out with an elementary school educational craft where different grades of students contributed to a collective art piece that was exhibited in the Cordova Center. It was a great opportunity to get involved in the creative aspect of the festival and personally contributing to the blossoming of festivities into the weekend.

Window Painting of Sandpipers

I also started conducting shorebird surveys this week! They will run from the 1st through the 16th of May every day around the 10 ft tide. I have 3 different survey sites- Odiak Slough, 3 mile and Hartney Bay where I do count surveys on the types of shorebirds that are present. Predators are also noted to observe any possible interference with the shorebirds at each site. I’ve been learning a lot every day and am grateful for all the help that I have received so far. This project has been successful largely due to the wonderful Citizen Scientists and all those working closely that also donate their time and knowledge year after year to collecting data on each migration.

It’s been rewarding to see how the numbers of birds have slowly grown over the last few days. The quantity of shorebirds is few in presence and late in arrival this year in comparison to some past years. According to past years of data, there tend to be two noticeable peaks each year through the influx of thousands of shorebirds. We have not yet witnessed the first peak here on the Copper River Delta this year. It will be interesting to see how this year’s migration patterns may compare to past years of data. Each year is different, and this study is great at keeping track of possible trends in order to better inform management practices to support shorebird populations as they migrate along the west coast.

Conducting shorebird surveys at Hartney Bay. Photo taken by Melissa Gabrielson

The presence of Least Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers have been most noticeably increasing the past couple days. On the first day of the survey, we saw a group of 10 Western Sandpipers and yesterday there were close to 500 that I had seen throughout the course of the survey. (For those of you that may not know, “peeps” is a word used for the smallest sandpipers with the highest chirps. They are hard to identify one from another without time, practice or best identification conditions (such as a lack of light, distance or ability to hear the call) so sometimes we default to calling them peeps when we are referring to them as a whole group and or when we cannot tell them apart. This group includes Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, and Baird’s Sandpipers. I am learning to distinguish Lease Sandpipers and Western Sandpipers- the most common types of peeps that pass through Cordova- calls in the field! I feel honored to have the opportunity to start learning their language and working so closely with them here on the delta.

Yesterday, as I was walking out on the tidal mud flats, a flock of Least Sandpipers took off and greeted me as they flew near me, allowing me to see and hear them up close. I’m hopeful that it’s moments like these- where I experience something so intimately breathtaking- that will continue creating space for learning, growth, and gratitude for all the opportunities that still await me here. I am looking forward to the rest of the survey season and all that I will learn, see and hear.

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