Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mendenhall Wetlands

While traveling in Alaska last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Mendenhall Wetlands in Juneau. This is the most well-known birding location in Juneau, and it’s very obvious why after spending only a short amount of time there. I was able to visit the site with Mark Schwan, the president of the Juneau Audubon Society. He taught me a lot about this amazing birding site as well as a few of the other local hotspots.

The wetlands cover 3,764 acres and 9 miles of the Gastineau Channel, and there are many access points and areas that are worth a visit. The wetlands are a major stopover for shorebirds and waterfowl as well as home to numerous other wonderful birds.

In addition to being an awesome place to bird, Mendenhall Wetlands is a globally recognized Important Bird Area. This means that this site host a over 1% of the North American population of a species at one time or over 5% of the population for a whole season. Mendenhall Wetlands doesn’t just qualify due to one species; they actually host 15 species that qualify under these criteria including four species, Surfbird, American Golden-Plover, Rock Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher, are on the Audubon WatchList.

This site has recorded 256 species of birds and that represent 83% of the birds seen in the whole Juneau area. Birders have been flocking to this area for a long time and once birder from the area has recorded over 15,000 observations from the area!

The major attraction for visiting birders is the mouth of the Mendenhall River which hosts huge numbers of shorebirds. During the right season you may even find thousands of shorebirds at this location. Many rare shorebirds have also been found in this area including Bar-tailed Godwit.

We only had time to visit one area within the wetlands, so we chose to visit the Dike Trail. While we arrived at a rather bad time for birding (early afternoon), it was a great place to be. As we hiked around, we found a few interesting species, but the main highlight was just getting to see this amazing property. It is truly a huge property when you start walking around, and while I only had one hour to , I can definitely see how you could spend a whole day or more here.

To learn more about this great place to bird and the conservation issues facing this property, check out The Mendenhall Wetlands: a globally recognized Important Bird Area by Robert Armstong.

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