St. Matthew Island expedition: McKay’s Buntings and much more

Irby just returned from a month-long adventure on St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea. This island is the most remote location in the 50 United States as measured from its distance to the nearest permanent human settlement. The trip was a partnership between the Lab’s Conservation Media Program and the USFWS, especially the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge ship Tiglax picked our small Lab team (Irby and Andy Johnson) up in the Pribilofs and delivered us to St. Matthew, where we joined biologists Rachel Richardson, Bryce Robinson, and Stephanie Walden who were already on the island monitoring the breeding biology of McKay’s Buntings and Pribilof Rock Sandpipers. While the research team worked intensively on those two enigmatic birds, Andy and Irby captured hours of video, audio, and still images of those two special species, an exuberance of seabirds, and the very special setting of an island that almost nobody ever gets to witness. We camped there for an entire month, long enough to track the full breeding cycle of the buntings … but not nearly long enough become used to the stark beauty and biological intrigue of such an unvisited place and its exuberance of birds.

Stay tuned for video productions based on this trip, along with a forthcoming Living Bird feature!

A male McKay’s Bunting with a mouthful of food for its nestlings. America’s least-known endemic bird species!

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