Regional Shorebird Surveys Present a Have a look at Altering Habitat Across the West


This text was initially revealed on Intermountain West Joint Enterprise’s web site. It was authored by Max Malmquist, Saline Lakes Outreach Affiliate, Nationwide Audubon Society, and Blake Barbaree, Senior Waterbird Ecologist, Level Blue Conservation Science.

This previous August, a whole bunch of volunteers, non-profit biologists, and state and federal company employees grabbed their binoculars, recognizing scopes, and hen identification guides to do one thing that hadn’t been executed in virtually three a long time: rely migrating shorebirds throughout the Intermountain West. This huge mobilization of surveyors got down to go to as many wetland websites as potential from August 9th to August 22nd in an try to assist fill in vital knowledge gaps regarding shorebirds and their susceptible habitats.

The snowmelt-fed wetland habitats of the Intermountain West play a important function in supporting over 30 species of migratory shorebirds that use the Pacific Flyway, corresponding to Dunlin, Lengthy-billed Dowitchers, and Western Sandpipers. As they migrate south from their breeding grounds in Siberia, the Arctic, and components of North America, shorebirds need to cease, relaxation and refuel earlier than heading to their wintering grounds on the Pacific Coast and inside parts of Central and South America. The wetlands of the western United States act as oases for these birds, and for millennia, shorebirds have funneled to those irreplaceable habitats twice a 12 months throughout spring and fall migration.

Over the previous few a long time, the American West has endured vital local weather change results. It has been the epicenter of a multi-decadal mega drought, raging wildfires, and record-setting temperatures. As these impacts hit us more durable every year, an enormous query stays unanswered: How are these altering environmental circumstances affecting shorebirds and the wetlands on which they rely?

Stopover Habitat the Focus of Survey

Migratory hen populations are notoriously troublesome to watch; this holds significantly true for shorebirds. Many of those species use the complete hemisphere throughout their annual life cycle, and pinpointing the limiting components of shorebird populations and distribution is extraordinarily troublesome. So, how are shorebird populations doing? What areas alongside their lengthy migration route are probably the most important for his or her survival? What are the main challenges on their breeding and wintering grounds?

For years, there have been numerous large-scale shorebird monitoring efforts all through the flyway which have targeted on wintering populations of shorebirds, and to a lesser extent breeding populations. One portion of their annual cycle is especially missing in current knowledge: their migratory stopover habitat.

Enter the Intermountain West Shorebird Survey.

From 1989 to 1995 Level Blue Conservation Science (then generally known as Level Reyes Fowl Observatory) spearheaded an effort to watch 162 wetland websites within the Intermountain West for shorebirds throughout peak spring and fall shorebird migration. This monumental effort yielded wonderful insights into shorebird populations and the distribution of key habitats and meals sources, and the research remains to be referenced to today. Therein lies the issue: knowledge from over 30 years in the past nonetheless informs how we speak about shorebirds and their habitats in 2022. Circumstances have dramatically modified since that point, and the necessity for up to date data is extra vital than ever.

Over the course of 2022, Nationwide Audubon Society’s Saline Lakes Program (Audubon) and Level Blue Conservation Science teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife businesses, Audubon chapters, and different non-profit organizations to revisit these historic surveys. After months of coordinating, recruiting, figuring out wetland websites, and performing reconnaissance, this effort culminated in surveys of over 110 wetland websites, all inside a two-week window in August.

These surveys will not be solely a snapshot of shorebirds throughout their fall migration, however additionally they present an image of the situation of those wetland habitats. The preliminary outcomes demonstrated that the critically vital shorebird websites recognized thirty years in the past are nonetheless vital when recent water is current, however they’re struggling resulting from drought and growing regional aridity. The truth is, seven of the 38 shorebird survey websites that traditionally held greater than 1,000 shorebirds per 12 months have been utterly dry in August of 2022.

Though this 12 months’s survey offers only one knowledge level, fall and spring surveys will proceed for the following three to 5 years as this system grows. The outcomes will assist information water administration throughout the West.

This survey was carried out with the assistance of many companions and is all the time on the lookout for extra volunteers and supporters.


Utah/Nice Salt Lake Survey

Native companions together with Audubon, Sageland Collaborative, Tracy Aviary, the Utah Division of Wildlife Sources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all labored collectively to coordinate a “huge day” survey of Nice Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Fish Springs Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, and Amalga Barrens (a sanctuary for birds close to Logan, Utah managed by Bridgerland Audubon Society). On August twelfth, 99 volunteers, company employees, {and professional} biologists surveyed over 60 distinctive areas (50+ on the Nice Salt Lake) by foot, ATV, car, airboat, and airplane.

The surveys got here collectively with out a hiccup, however the circumstances, particularly on the Nice Salt Lake, have been horrifying. This 12 months’s scorching climate in Northern Utah compounded the consequences of the drought with the Nice Salt Lake reaching its all-time document low for the second consecutive 12 months. Surveys have been challenged by the climate, which, regardless of a dawn begin and a few scattered clouds, noticed temperatures rapidly soar into the mid-90s. Declining lake ranges made for troublesome strolling by way of miles of microbialite fields. These fields are an integral a part of the Nice Salt Lake ecosystem that, as they turn out to be uncovered and lifeless, put brine flies, brine shrimp, and the birds that depend on these meals sources in danger. 

Low ranges on the Nice Salt Lake additionally made planning for the surveys troublesome. Historic surveys within the late 80s and early 90s occurred when water ranges have been a lot larger. In locations the place an airboat used to easily skim alongside the shoreline and rely birds, shallow water and dry lakebed made this unimaginable. These areas, now inaccessible by boat, needed to be lined by airplane, ATV, or by foot.

Utah Surveys at a Look

  • 99 individuals at 60 distinctive survey websites throughout the state.
  • 5 modes of survey transportation: Airplanes, boats, vehicles, ATV’s, and toes.
  • 31 species of shorebirds, together with some rarities (Purple Phalarope, Hudsonian Godwit).
  • Over 228,000 shorebirds.  Among the highest species counts comply with:
  • 72,000 Purple-necked Phalarope
  • 38,000 Wilson’s Phalarope
  • 57,000 unknown Phalarope
  • 30,000 American Avocet
  • 19,000 Black-necked Stilt
  • 2,000 Lengthy-billed Dowitcher


Nevada Surveys

With regards to shorebird surveys, Nevada is among the most troublesome states to deal with within the Intermountain West. Because the driest state within the nation, at a primary look looks as if it will not have a lot habitat for shorebirds. Though which may be true for the general acreage of habitat, Nevada has the very best variety of shorebird websites of any of the 11 western states (56!), and most of them are distant from the comparatively small pool of surveyors who stay principally within the western and southern components of the state. Regardless of these challenges and with particular due to Lahontan Audubon Society (Reno), Purple Rocks Audubon Society (Las Vegas), Bristlecone Audubon Society (Elko), the Nevada Division of Wildlife, and US Fish and Wildlife Service employees, companions have been capable of go to over 40 websites in Nevada. The participation this August was awe-inspiring, particularly given the circumstances all through the state.

The dearth of water in Nevada was past what any of us may have fathomed. Of the 40+ websites visited, virtually half (18) have been utterly dry or had small pockets of spring water. Through the survey window in Jap Nevada, we spent every week visiting a dozen historic websites, 9 of which have been troublesome to think about ever having held shorebirds.

Nevada Surveys at a Look

Over 30 individuals lined over 40 websites throughout the state.

A big variety of historic websites have been utterly dry, or restricted to small springs.

Lahontan Valley had larger numbers than all different websites mixed with over 13,500 shorebirds. Among the highest species counts are as follows:

  • 4,000 American Avocets
  • 3,300 Lengthy-billed/dowitcher species
  • 2,000 phalarope species
  • 1,100 Black-necked Stilts

California/Oregon Surveys

The regional surveys kicked off on the Salton Sea, the place excessive warmth ended surveys ended by 11 a.m. They concluded with affirmation that many key websites have been utterly dry or practically dry. Honey Lake, Goose Lake, and the Higher/Center/Decrease Alkali Lake advanced—all crucial shorebird websites 30 years in the past—have been all utterly dry. Lake Abert dried up solely solely every week after the survey was carried out. Each Tule Lake and Decrease Klamath Nationwide Wildlife Refuges had solely small swimming pools of water remaining and fewer than 300 shorebirds mixed.

The Salton Sea and Mono Lake have been the one websites with greater than 10,000 shorebirds counted. Different websites had counts within the vary of 0 to eight,000 birds.

In two weeks of journey throughout japanese California and southern Oregon, it was troublesome to seek out any shorebirds resulting from this drying, in addition to resulting from altering land use throughout the area. Nevertheless, there’s a spot of excellent information: we additionally found new websites holding shorebirds that didn’t exist 30 years in the past, from wastewater remedy crops to groundwater recharge basins. Websites like these could maintain larger significance for shorebird populations as we face a drier future.


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