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Audubon Society releases interactive map of Pacific Coast's marine birds

Alaska has high number of important areas

Posted: December 20, 2013 - 12:02am
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A raft of surf scoters swim on the back side of Douglas Island.  Photo by Bjorn Dihle
Photo by Bjorn Dihle
A raft of surf scoters swim on the back side of Douglas Island.

The Audubon Society has collated and interpreted information from databases and decades of government surveys to create an interactive map of important areas for more than 33 million seabirds and 150 species along North America’s Pacific Coast. A great number of those areas are in Alaska.

“It’s really exciting for us to have this out in the view of the world now, because it’s something we’ve been working on for several years,” Audubon Alaska’s communication manager Beth Peluso said. “We wanted to make it a little more fun and interesting for people that go out birding.”

The maps list species for which the areas are important for wintering, nesting and migrating. It also links to more information, including pictures, audio recordings of birdcalls, descriptions of habitat and conservation challenges.

Some of those important areas are entirely free of land — they’re places the currents or the ocean floor create productive environments. About 1,400 breeding black-footed albatross, for example, use 130,900 acres in the Gulf of Alaska shelf edge — about 75 miles from land. About 2,000 breeding Pomarine jaegers spend most of the year in approximatley 275,000 acres in the Bering Sea. In order to isolate both of those areas, and to determine their importance, the society used studies ranging from 1975 to 2009.

“That was one of the challenges we had,” Peluso said. “How do you map a place in the middle of the ocean? How do you draw a line around what part of the ocean is important for the birds? ... It’s really the first time we’ve had something we can pull from this huge amount of information.”

She added that it’s “cool to see how the birds are distributed. Most people don’t really think of birds on the ocean.”

Some important locations for birds in Southeast Alaska are the Blacksand Spit colony near Yakutat, which is by no coincidence the location of the Yakutat Tern Festival. More than 10 percent of North America’s Aleutian terns nest there. St. Lazaria Island is a nesting area to more than 200,000 Leach’s storm-petrels and 180,000 fort-tailed storm-petrels. During breeding season, marbled murrelets abound in Port Snettisham, south of Juneau. Glacier Bay is home to many more.

While this map focuses on marine areas, researchers are at work creating a similar reference for land and coastal areas.

“The information on this new map is essential to both researchers and policy makers — as well as to bird enthusiasts who just want to learn more about these terrific birds,” said Michael Sutton, Audubon’s vice president of the Pacific Flyway, in a press release.

Check out the map here: http://gis.audubon.org/pacificflyway_ibas.

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