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Godwits and Scientists Rendezvous in Chile

By Nate Senner
Hudsonian Godwit on a beach
Hudsonian Godwit on the beach. Photo by Thomas B. Johnson.

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Cornell Ph.D. student Nathan Senner is back on Chiloé Island, Chile, this month to study shorebirds he last saw in his home state of Alaska. As you may remember from stories he posted last year, he’s trying to learn how Hudsonian Godwits and Whimbrels survive their 8,000-mile migrations from the top of the world to the bottom and back again.

In his first few days back in Chile, Nate lost no time in reconnecting. –Hugh Powell

Old friends

Hello again! I’m back on Chiloé Island (see a map) to spend another month trekking around after Hudsonian Godwits. Last year’s expedition, with my colleague Jim Johnson (from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), was a big success. We captured some 250 godwits and 100 Whimbrels, and resighting those birds will give us valuable information on how well those birds survive their arduous yearly migrations.

For the last week Jim and I have spent 10 hours a day staring at the legs of shorebirds, and it’s been well worth it! By reading the birds’ leg bands we know exactly which birds have survived their latest migration, and we also learn which sites on the island are important for godwits—and therefore for conservation.

We’ve already resighted nearly 300 of the 600 godwits we’ve banded in past years here on Chiloé—and we’re hoping to get to 400. But what’s even more exciting has been finding five of the godwits that I banded just this past summer in Susitna Flats, Alaska (map).

It seems so remarkable to me that I journey for over 30 hours on planes and in cars to get here, only to find these same birds that I tromped around with for a whole summer. I last saw them on the complete other side of the globe, and now they’re here, casually feeding on clams and worms as if it were the most normal thing in the world to see me again. I can only hope that we will be able to catch one of them; it would sort of be like meeting up again with an old friend!

We will find out soon enough, though, whether we’ll have any luck capturing godwits. (We’ve set ourselves a goal of 300 godwits and 150 Whimbrels this year, to expand our study.) I’ll be sending updates about our work to this blog, so stay tuned!

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library