Lakeland Associate Professor of Biology Paul Pickhardt travelled to the tundra of Alaska in May and June as an invited scientist and fourth member of a research team headed by ornithologists and conservation scientists.
The team, which included researchers from Georgetown University, Cornell University and the Smithsonian Institution, was part of a large migratory connectivity project. Their goal was to capture previously marked birds and mark individuals of two different species to help find conservation solutions for threatened migratory birds.
Two of the four researchers involved are the lead and senior authors of the recent, highly publicized Science report documenting bird declines of 2.9 billion across North America in the last half century.
The research team spent two weeks searching for previously banded and geo-tagged Alaskan Bluethroats (Luscinia svecica) and they successfully captured one such Bluethroat utilizing audio playback and multiple mist nets deployed across tundra vegetation. Additionally, the team successfully captured five Long-tailed Jaegers (Stercorarius longicaudus) and four American Golden-Plovers (Pluvialis dominica) by deploying bow nets over birds returning to their nests.
The captured Jaegers and Plovers were fitted with solar powered, satellite tracking units to track remotely their future movements and seasonal migrations. The group is optimistic that the satellite tags will document migrations of the Jaegers to their non-breeding, feeding areas off the western coast of South America.
"The expectation is for the American Golden-Plovers to migrate to southern South America this fall and possibly they will fly directly over Wisconsin next spring as they return over central North American to their tundra breeding grounds in Alaska," Pickhardt said.
All of the handled and captured birds were successfully released to their nesting areas and were monitored to insure that the birds were not negatively impacted from their capture and tracking devices.
Over the course of the research trip, the group identified more than 100 unique species of birds in the tundra or along the Bering Peninsula's shorelines and there was an abundance of non-avian wildlife sighted each day in the field.
Mammals the group sighted on most days in the field included muskoxen, moose, arctic foxes, tundra ground squirrels, lemmings and caribou/reindeer. In addition to the animal diversity, the lichens, mosses, shrubs and diminutive trees blanketing the snowy, mountainous tundra provided for stunning backdrops to bird searches.
"I'm optimistic that my participation in this collaborative research could provide summer research and/or graduate school opportunities for Lakeland science students interested in bird research and/or conducting field research associated with migratory bird species," Pickhardt said.