Tracking the Dowitchers

Kirsti Carr Holding a tagged Long-billed Dowitcher. Photo credit: Greg Golet, TNC.

Long-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) are long-distance migrants that depend on a vast network of shallow-water sites from Alaska to Central America. Unlike the closely related Short-billed Dowitcher which primarily relies on coastal wetlands for important life events like feather replacement and overwintering, the Long-billed Dowitcher frequently uses interior freshwater wetlands to replace feathers and spend their winter. Importantly, Long-billed Dowitchers’ movements connect seemingly separate wetlands. As wetlands across inland portions of North America have been drained and degraded, their populations have declined in lockstep.

Long-billed Dowitchers begin arriving in the Klamath Basin every July after leaving their nesting grounds on the Arctic tundra. Most plan to stay for extended stopovers to take advantage of once-reliable food resources and to replace essential flight feathers. Research by the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership aims to study how wetlands and agriculture fields of the Klamath Basin are connected to other similar places throughout western North America. These insights will help us highlight the importance of Klamath wetlands and the types of conservation practices that dowitchers rely on throughout their annual migration.

Researchers attached solar-powered tags that are tracked using the Argos satellite network to dowitchers during August and September 2023 in the Klamath Basin.

Map of wintering sites for the tagged dowitchers.

Traversing the Sierra Crest overnight

Detected at 4:26 pm on November 7th in Lassen County, then again at 9:26 am on November 8th at the Salton Sea. 600 miles straight-line distance between locations = 35mph for 17 hours straight!! This bird has been located near Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge since its arrival.

From Klamath to Southeast Texas

Another dowitcher that traversed the Sierra Crest overnight, and then short stopovers in Arizona and northern Mexico before settling in for winter in southeast Texas. This area of Texas has a similar mix of farmlands and wetlands to California’s Central Valley.

Reliance on a mosaic of flooded ricelands in California’s Sacramento Valley

Around ⅓ of the tagged dowitchers are wintering in the mosaic of flooded rice fields and wetlands of the Sacramento Valley, a hotspot for wintering and migrating shorebirds. These maps show the tracks of two dowitchers that used the same area north of Sacramento for nearly two months.

Connecting Klamath and Mexico wetlands

Below are maps for two of the four dowitchers overwintering in northwest Mexico. One dowitcher took the nonstop route from Klamath to Baja, while the other hopped through California wetlands before settling in for winter on the Sinaloa coast, just south of the other who prefers Sonora coast wetlands.

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