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Report from Chile: Godwit Flocks Within Sight!

By Nate Senner, Ph.D. candidate
Google map of Chile
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A Land of Plenty

After nearly 24 hours of traveling we finally arrived in Puerto Montt around 3:00 p.m. on Sunday.  What a relief!  And given that Puerto Montt is not a particularly beautiful city, it takes 24 hours of traveling before I can really say that I find it a relief to arrive there.  Luckily though, this region – Los Lagos, or the Lake Country – is one of the most beautiful you will find anywhere in the world.  Here the Andes come down to meet the sea and powerful volcanoes overlook raging rivers lined with huge evergreen alerce trees.  On Isla Chiloé, the Andes give way to rolling hills and small family farms that slope gently into large muddy bays filled with thousands of shorebirds.  Think Oregon, if only the Cascades rose up from the coast and tidy farmhouses replaced Oregon’s condos and hotels.  In essence: paradise.

Our first job was to cover the few bays along the mainland east of Puerto Montt, and then the northern part of Isla Chiloé. We were searching for Hudsonian Godwits and Whimbrels that we had banded during the past two years here.  This job is just as important as banding a new cohort of birds, because from our resightings we can begin to understand the population dynamics of these species. For example, we can learn what percentage of birds of each age survives each year, and also document how the birds move about among their 17 wintering sites in this area.  We’re particularly excited this year because, having banded nearly 330 godwits and 160 Whimbrels over the past two years, we finally have enough resighting opportunities to begin to answer some of these questions.

Peruvian Pelican by Thomas B. Johnson.

Leaving straight from the airport we took the short ferry ride from the mainland to Chiloé, encountering dozens of Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters as well as Magellanic Penguins, Peruvian Pelicans, and Brown-hooded Gulls. Once ashore, we drove to one of the island’s larger bays. Bahía Caulin greeted us with a sight for my bird-deprived eyes, which were accustomed to New York’s meager supply of winter birds. Here, godwits and Whimbrels were everywhere, as were Flightless Steamerducks, Southern Lapwings (an ever-present annoyance, despite their beauty), and Black Skimmers.

While we didn’t find any of our own banded birds, we did come across a godwit bearing an orange flag that had been banded at Bahía Lomas on Tierra del Fuego in 2003!  A very nice surprise, and a discovery that may eventually help us to piece together the puzzle of godwit movement during the nonbreeding season.

After Caulin, we drove west along Chiloé’s north shore toward the town of Ancud.  There after a couple of rather uneventful resighting stops we decided to stop for the night – but not before an immense meal of local seafood at the only open restaurant we could find at 9:00 pm on a Sunday.  Truly the finest way to finish off our first day back on Chiloé.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library