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TOGIAK: The Summer Search Begins for the Feathered Mystery of Lake Aleknagik,Kittlitz'sMurrelets
Alaska Region, June 20, 2014
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A Kittlitz's murrelet taking flight at Lake Aleknagik.
A Kittlitz's murrelet taking flight at Lake Aleknagik. - Photo Credit: Pat Walsh/USFWS

Waqaa from Dillingham, Alaska! My name is Rachel Ruden, and I am a third-year veterinary student from the University of Pennsylvania, well over three thousand miles away. I was awarded a fellowship through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study one of the most elusive seabirds in North America- the Kittlitz’s murrelet, Brachyramphus brevirostris. Weighing under .25 kg (roughly nine ounces) and about ten inches long, this small alcid is poorly understood and likely experiencing a dramatic population decline. Although this species is recognized as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red Book, it has not qualified for protection under the Endangered Species Act in the United States due to insufficient data; we just don’t know enough about it.

 

Despite years of anecdotal evidence from the Bristol Bay area, the presence of Kittlitz’s murrelets (KIMU) on freshwater lakes has remained largely undocumented. The motivation behind my project came from an August, 2013 survey on Lake Aleknagik conducted by staff at the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, where I am stationed. During that survey they observed at least twenty-six distinct birds from forty-one observations, including one deceased juvenile of a closely related species, the marbled murrelet. Clearly this location requires a closer look!

This summer, I am coordinating a more extensive research effort to survey Lakes Aleknagik, Nerka, Beverly, and Togiak with the following objectives: to document Kittlitz’s and marbled murrelet presence or absence, to identify hatch-year (juvenile) birds indicative of established breeding populations and to determine population density. Several collaborators will assist these efforts, potentially leading the way to a fourth objective documenting temporal trends in murrelet abundance from July to September.

For the next several weeks I will be developing and refining my project design with the intention of beginning surveys in mid-July. Please stay tuned for an update on my findings!

For more information about this project, contact me at: rmruden@gmail.com


Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov



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