Whimbrel Takes a Turn

IMG_9929-whimbrels-sunset

My fingers can barely move fast enough across the keyboard today. As soon as we broke the news on the whereabouts of our five tagged whimbrels, I received an urgent and excited email from my colleague Barry Truitt, chief conservation scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve:

“This just in — Hope has departed James Bay in central Canada and is en route to (drum roll, please) the MacKenzie River in northwest Canada!”

Could this be true?

Last week, Cool Green Science reported that the tagged whimbrels from Virginia’s Eastern Shore appeared to have touched down at their expected breeding grounds around the James and Hudson bays in Canada. You could almost picture the five happy shorebirds, scouting the boreal forest and pocket wetlands for suitable mates.

But it now looks like Hope, the largest whimbrel of the bunch, isn’t quite ready to settle down. Hope’s satellite transmitter shows us that, after a brief stop in central Canada, she’s moving towards Pacific breeding grounds in northwest Canada.

For years, shorebird biologists have assumed that all the whimbrels that stopover on the Atlantic coast are from the Hudson and James Bay population. Hope’s continued journey northwest shows us that we had a Pacific coast whimbrel (an outsider!) in Virginia.

At 688 grams, Hope takes the cake (pun intended) as the second largest whimbrel ever recorded, beating out Winnie, last year’s 640 gram Pacific coast whimbrel. Researchers initially reported strong physical similarities between the two birds — so it almost seems fitting that Hope is keeping us on our toes this time around.

Where will Hope end her big migration? And can we expect any surprises from the other whimbrels? Check back in soon.…

Maddy Breen is a marketing specialist with The Nature Conservancy based in Arlington, VA.

(Image: Whimbrels at sunset. Source: Barry Truitt/TNC.)

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