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Cover Photo: A Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) making a stopover at Barba Azul Nature Reserve  in Beni Bolivia. Teodoro Camacho, Armonía.

Long-distance migratory shorebird monitoring in Barba Azul Nature Reserve, supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) program and the US Forest Service, took place throughout the entire month of September, as it does annually. This initiative aims to systematically collect essential data concerning the habitat requirements and population trends of these migratory species, specifically focusing on the threatened Buff-breasted Sandpiper  (Calidris subruficollis). In this year’s survey , groups of up to 225 Buff-breasted Sandpipers were counted in a single day at the Barba Azul Nature Reserve during their southward migration.  

“This year, we observed fewer Buff-breasted Sandpipers, with an accumulated number of 2,385 individuals compared to 3,871 in 2022.  In other years, our day counts consistently exceeded 600, and notably, in 2016, I recorded an extraordinary number of over 1,400 individuals in a single day at the Tiniji River in northeastern Barba Azul. I have not yet seen such dry conditions in Barba Azul before” reports Teodoro Camacho, the Coordinator of the Shorebird Census. 

“We attribute this year’s decline directly to the severe drought conditions caused by the El Niño year in Bolivia. In collaboration with Richard Lanctot, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper expert from the US Fish and Wildlife Service who GPS-tracked Buff-breasted Sandpipers this year, we observed a significant delay in their departure from the state of Texas to South America. Observing annual fluctuations is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, our long-term monitoring plays a vital role in comprehending these annual differences and identifying potential decreasing trends.” informs Tjalle Boorsma, Conservation Program Director for Asociacion Armonia. 

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a Near Threatened shorebird that migrates annually from the Arctic, where it breeds, to the Southern Cone where it overwinters. These shorebirds, having journeyed from Texas and flown over the Amazon rainforest, pause to strengthen themselves in the natural grasslands of the Beni Savannas in Bolivia. They spend approximately 4 to 8 days in this habitat before resuming their onward journey to Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil.   

Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica) y Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). Teodoro Camacho, Armonía.

Armonía has dedicated nearly a decade of active conservation efforts towards the emblematic Buff-breasted Sandpiper, particularly in creating conducive stopover habitats during their southbound migration. Our commitment extends beyond gathering abundance data; we also meticulously collect a range of habitat factors to gain deeper insights into their feeding requirements: number of livestock, presence of other domesticated animals, presence of cattle dung, grass length, grass cover, among others. Significantly, our shorebird research highlights the preference of Buff-breasted Sandpipers for sites with a balance of livestock presence and grass length between 4-6 cm. In the Barba Azul East section of the reserve , Armonía is pioneering low-impact ranching practices to intentionally craft habitats suitable for grassland species. The year 2023 stands out with a notable emphasis on infrastructure investment to enhance our low-impact ranching management thanks to the support from the US Forest Service and Tareen Filgas Foundation. 

For more insights, we invite you to explore our video on this subject:

Various species of migratory shorebirds use the natural grasslands and marshes  of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, primarily established to protect the Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis), as stopover sites for foraging and resting: Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica), Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) and at least another 10 migratory shorebirds. Hence, since 2014, Armonía has been actively executing  the Migratory Bird Monitoring Program within the expansive 11,000-hectare Barba Azul Nature Reserve. Utilizing the insights from our long-term monitoring, and noting the substantial presence of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Barba Azul has been officially designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) for regional importance in 2015. It stands as the sole WHSRN site recognized in Bolivia. 

Photo: During the monitoring work of long-distance migratory shorebirds at Barba Azul Nature Reserve. Ruth Marquez.

Armonia would like to thank our dedicated shorebird team, led by Teodoro Camacho, and comprising Erick Zeballos, Nicole Avalos, Ruth Marquez, and Rodrigo Cortez. Their meticulous efforts have documented the presence of 11 long-distance migratory shorebirds in 2023 at 5 sites within the Barba Azul nature Reserve.

Photo: Erick Zeballos, Ruth Marquez, Teodoro Camacho, Nicole Avalos and Rodrigo Cortez. (Standing from left to right) 


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