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Angela Wyant

Bird Migration
Electronic Field Trip

Bird migrations surely stirred wonder among humans long before the rise of civilization. As they pondered the mysteries surrounding the annual passage of millions of winged creatures, puzzling over their punctual arrivals and abrupt departures, some ancient watchers of the skies must have longed to follow birds to their unknown destinations.

Now technology permits both scientists and schoolchildren to “accompany” the migrants and answer age-old questions. Audubon is joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the public school system of Prince William County, Virginia, to promote “Migration Science and Mystery” in thousands of classrooms across the country. The project was initiated in 2002 by employees of the Chugach National Forest in Cordova, Alaska. This spring live webcasts and televised segments will guide youngsters and their teachers on electronic field trips up the west coast of North America to document the progress of shorebirds migrating from their winter quarters in the tropics to their nesting grounds on Alaska’s Arctic Slope.

“We are still seeing declines in shorebird populations, caused in part by the loss of good stopover sites on migration,” says James Chu, a biologist with the Forest Service’s international program. “This project connects children with various shorebird habitats in the Western Hemisphere. Children will bring home the message that all of us can help conserve migrating birds in our own backyard, or in local areas that need to be protected.”

Produced by the Prince William Network, a division of the school system in Prince William County, the electronic field trips provide migration studies to encourage children and teachers to explore the nature of science. Lesson plans and other material for teachers pose and help answer questions: What’s a shorebird? Why are good resting and feeding stopovers on migration vital to shorebirds? Do shorebirds “summer” in the north and then “summer” again in the tropics? Children take part in web chats during and after each stage of the migration.

On April 19 the project will focus on the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon, California. An Audubon naturalist will be among the specialists describing the birds, their habitat, and details of their arduous and dangerous migration. In succeeding weeks, by way of web chats or webcasts, the project catches up with the birds on key stopovers: April 24, the Fraser River Delta, Vancouver, British Columbia; May 3, the Stikine River Delta, Wrangell, Alaska; May 10, the Copper River Delta, Cordova, Alaska; and May 17, Alaska’s Arctic Slope. For up-to-date descriptions of the project and its timelines, as well as to learn how to participate, go to—Frank Graham Jr.

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