Sunday, June 27, 2010


Now, one of the main goals of the project in Chile is to get baseline values for the suvivorship of both Hudsonian Godwits and Whimbrels. This is a task that is far easier on their wintering grounds, because it is where large numbers gather in regular locations where they can be (relatively) easily studied.

When we got to Chile this year, one of the first things that we needed to do was to find where the birds were. Once we did that, we started looking for birds that had already been caught and banded in previous winters in Chile. Typically, Whimbrels are easier to resight, partly because wintering Whimbrels are very sight faithful, and will return to the same sight winter after winter, so all one has to do is return to the sight where the birds were caught. Whimbrels are also bigger, and sport larger leg flags, and are thus easier to read. Godwits, on the other hand, are not as site faithful, and there are more likely to be many thousands more godwits in any one place. In addition, godwit leg flags are smaller and harder to read. However, there are also more tagged godwits out there, which makes finding more of them easier. Resighting is important because it helps to establish suvivorship rates over the years (this is the fifth year that this project has been going in Chile).

Recently flagged Hudsonian Godwit. Can you read the alpha code on the red flag?

A mixed flock of Hudsonian Godwits, Surfbirds, Brown-hooded Gulls, and Franklin's Gulls.

Nathan searching for flagged godwits at Putemun.

Hudsonian Godwit footprints. Here, they flew away before I could get close enough to read any flags.

Pullao, one of my favorite places that we searched for godwits and Whimbrel

During our time on Chiloe, we had several key sites that we visited several times, all around the area of Castro (the capital of Chiloe). These sites included Putemun (which was a large estuary behind the cabañas where we were staying, and also my least favorite place, due to its muck), Pullao (where we spent a lot of time resighting and catching birds), Rílan, and Curaco (both of these two sites were on a smaller island, Quinchao, which is accessible by ferry from the town of Dalcahue).

Resighting was both fun and frustrating. While frustrating due to the difficulty in reading flags, it was also fun, because it brought me to new sites and I got to watch birds for hours on end. While there wasn’t a great diversity of birds at these sites, it was always awesome to see large numbers of godwits and whimbrel, as well as the assorted other birds that were found here.

A flock of assorted gulls. In this flock, the three common gull species are present, which include Brown-hooded Gulls, Franklin's Gulls, and Kelp Gulls

Black-faced Ibis

A flock of Black Skimmers loafing on a mud flat

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Some Summer in Winter

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!

A ferry ride from the mainland to Chiloe

Tracks across the mud in search of godwits

View of a beach where godwits like to roost

View of the bay from our cabin

Lots of aquaculture in the bay

The countryside of Chiloe

One of the many churches that are scattered around Chiloe

Not on Chiloe, but a view of some montane habitat on the western edge of the Andes