2019 Alaska Bird Conference

The 2019 Alaska Bird Conference was held in Fairbanks 4–8 March 2019, with sponsorship and participation from ABR. We were excited to attend sessions, present talks, and even help lead a workshop on using unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) to study birds.

Rick Johnson presented the results of 25 years of surveys for Spectacled Eiders on the Colville delta, Kuparuk oil field, and the northeastern National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). In addition to presenting the results of ground and aerial surveys, he discussed variation in incubation behavior, the influence of nest predators, and observations of reactions to disturbance.

Rick also presented Yellow-billed Loon occupancy of breeding territories near new oil development areas. Surveys conducted in 1993 and 1998, prior to construction, provided a baseline of comparison to subsequent surveys conducted during construction through 2008. Results suggest that Yellow-billed Loons continued to occupy territories and raise broods in areas surrounding the Alpine development during and after construction. Subsequent declines in occupancy and productivity from 2008–2018 were associated with increases in ambient temperature and predator activity, especially an increase in the prevalence of red foxes.

Kristen Rozell presented on the factors influencing nest densities and nesting success of Greater White-fronted Geese at a new drill site in the eastern NPR-A.  Similar to trends seen in Yellow-billed loons, incubation behavior and productivity are influenced by predator activity. For geese, the biggest trouble-makers were bears.

John Shook presented on the raptor studies conducted for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project. A technique used for moose population surveys was adapted to assess raptor nest sightability and increased the accuracy of nest abundance estimates.

We rounded out our participation in the conference by attending the workshop on using UAS in wildlife research. Many of our staff attended as participants to hear from leaders that included Peter Webley (UAF), David Bird (founder of the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems), Mark Laker (USFWS), and our own Senior Scientist Matt Macander. Matt discussed using UAS to quantify habitat characteristics, a critical step to linking animals to their environment.

As always, the Alaska Bird Conference was an excellent opportunity to catch up with collaborators, and other organizations conducting bird research.  We appreciate the hard work of all of the volunteer organizers of this biannual event. For more information on any of the presentations, please contact ABR Director of Research Adrian Gall (agall@abrinc.com).

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