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

This text was initially printed 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 lot 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 performed in nearly 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 attainable from August 9th to August 22nd in an try to assist fill in vital information gaps referring to shorebirds and their susceptible habitats.

The snowmelt-fed wetland habitats of the Intermountain West play a crucial function in supporting over 30 species of migratory shorebirds that use the Pacific Flyway, reminiscent of 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 should 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 important 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 tougher annually, a giant query stays unanswered: How are these altering environmental situations 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 all the hemisphere throughout their annual life cycle, and pinpointing the limiting elements 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 crucial for his or her survival? What are the most important challenges on their breeding and wintering grounds?

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

Enter the Intermountain West Shorebird Survey.

From 1989 to 1995 Level Blue Conservation Science (then generally known as Level Reyes Hen 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 superb insights into shorebird populations and the distribution of key habitats and meals sources, and the research continues to be referenced to this present day. Therein lies the issue: information 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 info 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 companies, 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 aren’t solely a snapshot of shorebirds throughout their fall migration, however in addition 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 contemporary water is current, however they’re struggling attributable to drought and growing regional aridity. In actual fact, seven of the 38 shorebird survey websites that traditionally held greater than 1,000 shorebirds per 12 months have been fully dry in August of 2022.

Though this 12 months’s survey gives only one information 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 at all times in search of 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 “massive 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 no hiccup, however the situations, particularly on the Nice Salt Lake, have been scary. 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 via miles of microbialite fields. These fields are an integral a part of the Nice Salt Lake ecosystem that, as they change into 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 coated by airplane, ATV, or by foot.

Utah Surveys at a Look

  • 99 contributors 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 (Pink Phalarope, Hudsonian Godwit).
  • Over 228,000 shorebirds.  A number of the highest species counts observe:
  • 72,000 Pink-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

Relating to shorebird surveys, Nevada is likely one of the most troublesome states to deal with within the Intermountain West. Because the driest state within the nation, at a primary look looks like it will not have a lot habitat for shorebirds. Though that could 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), Pink 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 situations all through the state.

The dearth of water in Nevada was past what any of us may have fathomed. Of the 40+ websites visited, nearly half (18) have been fully dry or had small pockets of spring water. Through the survey window in Japanese Nevada, we spent per 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 contributors coated over 40 websites throughout the state.

A major variety of historic websites have been fully dry, or restricted to small springs.

Lahontan Valley had larger numbers than all different websites mixed with over 13,500 shorebirds. A number of 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 fully dry or almost dry. Honey Lake, Goose Lake, and the Higher/Center/Decrease Alkali Lake complicated—all essential shorebird websites 30 years in the past—have been all fully dry. Lake Abert dried up fully solely per 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 jap California and southern Oregon, it was troublesome to search out any shorebirds attributable to this drying, in addition to attributable to 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 vegetation to groundwater recharge basins. Websites like these might maintain better significance for shorebird populations as we face a drier future.

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