In mid January, I left the cold, snowy Ithaca winter for somewhat warmer climes. For the rest of the month, I would be working with Nathan Senner, among other researchers, studying Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits. Our main goals over the course of the next three weeks would be to resight birds that were caught and banded in previous years in Chile, catch new birds to band, and try to find birds that Nathan caught in Alaska the summer before. Now, this may not sound to hard, but consider, the wintering population of Hudsonian Godwits on Chiloe, the place in Chile where we would be working, is roughly 8,000, with many thousands of Whimbrels as well. Finding where the large flocks gather, and then finding birds that have been flagged in years past is not always an easy task.
Most of our work would be done out of Chiloe, a large island that you can reach by a short ferry ride from the mainland. Keep in mind, this island is large… larger than Long Island in New York, for example. Chiloe is a unique island. Unlike most of the rest of Chile (the area around Puerto Montt is a huge exception), Chiloe has bays with large mudflats. These mudflats attract large numbers of godwits.
Chiloe is a beautiful place, and is full of small scale farms, pastures, hills, patches of woodland, bays, and beaches. The people are friendly, the food is great, and the weather was perfect. Many of the churches around Chiloe are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While they may not look like much from the outside, these churches were stunning inside, and had beautiful woodwork. Chiloe is also well known for its aquaculture. All of the bays and estuaries where we would look for birds also had a lot of aquaculture, where shellfish like muscles, oysters, and clams were farmed, and where salmon were farmed. Another activity around these mudflats was algae collecting. Many people living along the coast would harvest algae from these mudflats to later be sold. Aside from being unsustainable in many bays, the human, truck, and dog activity associated with algae collectors often had serious impacts on shorebird numbers in these locations. Finding a middle ground between poor algae collectors, the lucrative profits of aquaculture, and conservation is turning out to be very difficult, and is another discussion entirely.
For now, enjoy these pictures of the beauty and scenery of Chiloe!