Archive for January 11th, 2012
As late as 1995, no one knew where Spectacled Eiders wintered. Despite alarming declines in the Alaska populations, and considerable research, no one really knew where they went. In the summer of 1995, a few Alaska birds were fitted with satellite tracking transmitters. Telemetry from monitoring satellites showed the birds were in the frozen Bering Sea, south of St. Lawrence Island. A plane was dispatched with a couple of biologists to try and find out what was going on. What they found was something like this:
Each of those brown dots is a Spectacled Eider. The entire world population of this species winters in a few adjoining polynyas, open leads in the Bering Sea pack ice, south of St. Lawrence Island. If you think all of the wonder is gone from the world, imagine seeing this incredible density of birds for the first time…
Most Spectacled Eiders breed in the Russian Far east, but 10-15% of the species breeds in Alaska, in two areas: the North Slope and the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta.
WC was lucky enough to see this species in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
Spectacled Eiders are an endangered species, classified as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. North American populations are about 10% of what they were in the early 1960s. The cause of the population isn’t clearly known, although lead poisoning from lead shot used by hunters is a contributing cause.
WC found them very hard to approach, even with a slow, patient stalk. It may be that they have been hunted so recently that they still have that wariness of hunted birds. Overall, that’s good. Frustrating for an avian photographer, but in the best interests of the species.
The bigger concerns for this species are that we don’t know what is depressing the population, and the effect of global warming on their winter prey is completely unknown. There are too many unknowns; the future of Spectacled Eiders is clouded. But WC has hopes that this species undeniable charisma will help save it.