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BirdNote: The Arctic Coastal Plain

Air Date: Week of

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The male Pectoral Sandpiper displays its pectoral sac, as shown above, before embarking on its territorial, mating flight. (Photo: Gerrit Vyn)

As Mary McCann explains in today’s BirdNote, each spring the Arctic Coastal Plain welcomes a vast abundance of birds from around the globe to mate and start a family. Nature photographer Gerrit Vyn describes the displays of male shorebirds, particularly the Pectoral Sandpiper, during mating season in the Arctic.



CURWOOD: Well, as Jamie Williams was saying, Alaska offers an extraordinary bounty of wild creatures for anyone who visits to see, and as Mary McCann explains in today’s Birdnote®, that’s especially true at this time of year.



The Arctic Coastal Plain in June

[Spring bird song on the Arctic Plain recorded by Gerrit Vyn]

MCCANN: In early June, millions of birds arrive on the Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska, from all over the world. They’re there to attract a mate and raise their young. They’ll feed on the explosion of insect life that happens in the brief spring. Nature photographer (and sound recordist), Gerrit Vyn, takes us there:

VYN: So, when the shorebirds arrive, it’s an absolutely spectacular event. Soon as they get up there, these male shorebirds of all different types begin all of these unique displays –

If you go up there on a calm, still, spring evening when the winds subside, all of these birds just lift off the ground and the tundra can appear barren and within a few hours you just hear thousands of birds in every direction calling and singing…

There’s one shorebird species, the Pectoral Sandpiper, where the male has this pectoral sac at its chest that...It’ll stand on the ground for awhile and inflate this sac and then take off on these sort of moth-like, buoyant flights low over the tundra, emitting this incredibly resonant, hooting song as it’s circling its territory, trying to chase off other males and attract a female…

A Pectoral Sandpiper takes flight. (Photo: Gregg Thompson)

[Flight display song of the Pectoral Sandpiper from LNS#130964]

It’s a really incredible thing to see this bird floating toward you uttering this loud resonant hooting sound.

[Flight display song of the Pectoral Sandpiper from LNS#130964]

I’m Mary McCann.


Interview of Gerrit Vyn by Chris Peterson
Songs and calls of the birds at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by M.J. Anderson and Gerrit Vyn. Feature of Pectoral Sandpiper by Gerrit Vyn LMS 130964.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013-2017 Tune In to Nature.org June 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann


CURWOOD: For photos, soar on over to our website, LOE.org.



Listen on the BirdNote website

More information on the Pectoral Sandpiper


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