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KANUTI: Refuge biologist secures additional funding to study shorebirds in Interior Alaska
Alaska Region, May 30, 2012
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Many people who know Whimbrels are surprised by this picture of a Whimbrel in a tree! Whimbrels are a bird of the tundra, a generally treeless habitat.  However within Kanuti Refuge, Whimbrels perch in the few black spruce scattered within its very limited boreal tundra habitat.
Many people who know Whimbrels are surprised by this picture of a Whimbrel in a tree! Whimbrels are a bird of the tundra, a generally treeless habitat. However within Kanuti Refuge, Whimbrels perch in the few black spruce scattered within its very limited boreal tundra habitat. - Photo Credit: USFWS/Christopher Harwood
This was the distribution of shorebird studies in Alaska in 2008 as reported by the Alaska Shorebird Group.  The Kanuti Refuge Whimbrel study was the sole shorebird study reported for the Interior.  Distribution of studies has remained similar through 2011, with the exception of one additional Interior study in 2011.
This was the distribution of shorebird studies in Alaska in 2008 as reported by the Alaska Shorebird Group. The Kanuti Refuge Whimbrel study was the sole shorebird study reported for the Interior. Distribution of studies has remained similar through 2011, with the exception of one additional Interior study in 2011. - Photo Credit: Alaska Shorebird Group

Alaska is world-renowned for its coastal shorebird resources—from the Copper River Delta, to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, to the northern coastal plain. These hotspots host an outstanding diversity and abundance of migrating and/or breeding shorebirds. But, did you know that shorebirds migrate through and breed within Alaska’s vast Interior, too….and hardly anyone has studied them? Well, maybe the “tide” is changing for boreal shorebirds, or for at least for one species—the Whimbrel.

 

While working in the southern portion of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in May 2008, Refuge avian biologist Chris Harwood documented a previously unknown, local population of breeding Whimbrels in north-central Alaska. The Whimbrel is recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a “Species of Conservation Concern” because of suspected population declines in North America. In 2009, researchers from the USGS-Alaska Science Center tagged some of Kanuti’s Whimbrels with GPS transmitters and determined that during their southward migration, these birds not only cross over the eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska, but that they winter from Mexico to Chile. In 2010, Harwood enrolled in a Master’s degree program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where he is studying the breeding ecology of Kanuti’s Whimbrels. While Harwood and other scientists are beginning to understand more about this local population on the Refuge, there is still much that is not known about other Interior Whimbrel populations that breed beyond the Kanuti Refuge boundary.

As part of his Master’s thesis, Harwood hopes to shed greater light on the distribution and ecology of Whimbrels throughout the broader Interior. To that end, in fall 2011 Harwood applied for, and was awarded, $15,000 from the Angus Gavin Memorial Migratory Bird Research Grant through the University of Alaska Foundation, a grant made possible by gifts from the Atlantic Richfield Company (now ConocoPhillips). Harwood was able to leverage FWS funding for his local refuge research to secure these additional funds to study Whimbrels more widely in the Interior.

The Whimbrel is just one of the many species of shorebirds that have been understudied in Interior Alaska. Perhaps Harwood’s increased efforts to understand Whimbrels throughout the region, made possible by this generous grant, will spur investigations of other boreal shorebirds, many of which are also Species of Conservation Concern to the USFWS.


Contact Info: Joanna Fox, (907) 456-0330, joanna_fox@fws.gov



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