Revised: September 15, 2022
Juneau Audubon Society
P.O. Box 21725
Juneau, AK 99802-1725
Alaska Bird Conference
Every two years, researchers and managers convene
to report on all aspects of
bird biology, management and conservation in Alaska.
The 2021 19th Alaska Bird Conference was held virtually
The ABC was held virtually in November. Normally, the bird conference is held every two years. Researchers share their latest findings, agency biologists and others interested in bird conservation meet, and anyone can check out the presentations, some of which are free.
Every bird conference that I attend, I look for patterns and themes that run throughout multiple presentations and discussions. This year I was struck by the urgency expressed for the need to address bird population declines and threats. Bird studies in the Americas, even Alaska, have reached the point where there are many long-term data sets, incredibly sophisticated means of tracking birds, new and powerful statistical models, and a multitude of bright PhD’s from diverse backgrounds tackling the questions. That’s good news. There are also ever more birdwatchers who report citizen-science-collected data and support conservation. The bad news is that the bulk of studies and trends across the spectrum of species and types of studies raise concerns. Biologists are still saying, as they always have, that more study is needed to draw conclusions. And sometimes new information reveals that the population is higher, or more flexible in its habitat needs than previously thought. But increasingly scientists are also saying that just in case those declines are as steep as they appear, we need to ramp up conservation ac-tion, public education, and policy-- and we need to do it right now.
All the abstracts can be viewed at https://www.alaskabirdconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ABC2021-Abstracts_12Nov2021.pdf. Within are presentations from two species that breed in Southeast Alaska.—Aleutian and Arctic Terns
Aleutian Terns (found near Yakutat, and at Glacier Bay up through coastal Alaska and eastern Siberia) have a low global population size. Although they are usually colonial nesters, they are difficult to count and monitor due to poorly mapped and remote nesting locations, potential to move between nesting sites, tendency to mix with other tern species and to fly at rapid speeds, and poorly mapped pelagic migration routes (to Asia). Some of the most comprehensive and innovative approaches to date, using and combination of foot counts, drones and aircraft, and working with partners in Russia, yielded low estimates: less than 2500 individuals at the four known large col-onies that are thought to hold 30-50% of the total population.
Their cousin, the Arctic Tern is more numerous and widespread throughout the far north worldwide. However, a local observation (at the Mendenhall Lake and Portland Island nesting areas) of a die-off during the 2019 nesting season raised concern for terns and other seabirds in Alaska who also feed on baitfish. During a warm spell, harmful algal blooms resulted in shellfish and baitfish (sand lance and herring) registering high levels of saxitoxin (the poi-son that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in humans) which was ultimately determined to be the cause of death for some of the victims. A similar case found young Kittzlitz’s murrelets near Kodiak succumbing to saxitoxin poisoning. While these may be isolated incidences, it raises concern for the role of harmful algae in the mix of other issues such food availability in a changing sea.
What to do? Unfortunately, there may not be a lot of local action options that will tackle broad scale changes in ocean temperature or harmful algal blooms directly. But we can remove the threats that we do have some local control over. In the case of terns, their nesting areas can be protected from disturbance. This is something the US Forest Service, Juneau Audubon Society and Alaska State Parks, are working on.
The 19th Annual Alaska Bird Conference was virtual. Dates for this conference were November 15-19, 2021. I you are interested, please contact Elizabeth Trowbridge, Center for Alaska Coastal Studies at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2018 18th Alaska Bird Conference was held in Fairbanks, Alaska
The 2016 17th Alaska Bird Conference was held in Cordova, Alaska. December 6 - 8, 2016
Conference Abstracts: Click Here
Juneau Audubon Society was pleased to host the 16th Alaska Bird Conference at the Centennial Hall in Juneau, Alaska.December 9 - 11, 2014
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Revised: September 15, 2022