Copper River Delta: Shorebird Migration

May 23, 2015  •  1 Comment

The Copper River Delta is a 35-mile wide wetland complex east of Cordova, Alaska, and a critical stop-over for millions of migrating shorebirds on the Pacific Flyway.  It is particularly important for Dunlin and Western Sandpipers.  At least 90% of these two species pass through the Delta area for refueling on their way to their breeding areas in the high Arctic.

While accessing and viewing the birds on the Delta itself is difficult, many of the birds also pass through a low point in the Chugash Mountains and congregate at Hartney Bay, just to the west.  There it is possible to view and photograph flocks or individual birds as they pass through the area, stopping for a day or two to forage on the mud flats.  At low tide the birds are spread out over the extensive intertidal areas, but high tides push the birds into smaller areas and greater concentrations, making for a spectacular viewing experience.

The incredible synchronization of the individual birds in these large shorebird flocks is amazing to watch.  A wave passes through the flock as the birds change direction -- showing dark backs or white underparts -- rising or falling, breaking into smaller groups or consolidating into larger flocks – all with the mountains and bay as a beautiful backdrop. 

Shorebird flock over Hartney Bay, near Cordova, AlaskaShorebird flock over Hartney Bay, near Cordova, Alaska A flock of sandpipers masses and then, changing direction, circles low against the bay.

One Dunlin in a flock of sandpipers, Hartney Bay, AlaskaOne Dunlin in a flock of sandpipers, Hartney Bay, AlaskaDunlin (Calidris alpina), with black stomach patch of breeding plumage, stands out in a flock of Western Sandpipers, Hartney Bay, Alaska One lone Dunlin in breeding plumage (upper right with distinctive black patch) stands out in a crowd of Western Sandpipers.

Shorebird flock, Hartney Bay, AlaskaShorebird flock, Hartney Bay, AlaskaShorebird flock flies low over Hartney Bay, Chugash Mountains in the background. Shorebird flock with Chugash Mountains as backdrop.

The large flocks that congregate at Hartney Bay also produce opportunities for close-ups of birds in their bright breeding plumage.

Least Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, AlaskaLeast Sandpiper, Hartney Bay, AlaskaLeast Sandpiper, smallest of the sandpiper family, in breeding plumage, Hartney Bay, Alaska A clear view of the yellow legs makes it easy to distinguish the Least Sandpiper (above) from the black-legged Western Sandpiper (below).

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) foraging in Hartney Bay durinWestern Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) foraging in Hartney Bay durin Semipalmated Plover, Hartney Bay, AlaskaSemipalmated Plover, Hartney Bay, AlaskaSemipalmated Plover foraging in grasses at the edge of Hartney Bay, Alaska Distinctive black collar, eye stripe, and bi-colored bill also make the Semipalmated Plover easy to identify.

For more images of the Cordova area and Prince William Sound, click here


A nice combination of birding and scenery photographs.
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