We investigated the migratory orientation of early and late captured dunlins, Calidris alpina, by recording their migratory activity in circular orientation cages during autumn at a staging site in southwest Alaska and performed route simulations to the wintering areas. Two races of dunlins breeding in Alaska have different wintering grounds in North America (Pacific Northwest), and East Asia. Dunlins caught early in autumn (presumably Calidris alpina pacifica) oriented towards their wintering areas (east-southeast; ESE) supporting the idea that they migrate nonstop over the Gulf of Alaska to the Pacific Northwest. We found no difference in orientation between adult and juveniles, nor between fat and lean birds or under clear and overcast skies demonstrating that age, energetic status and cloud cover did not affect the dunlins' migratory orientation. Later in autumn, we recorded orientation responses towards south-southwest suggesting arrival of the northern subspecies Calidris alpina arcticola at our site. Route simulations revealed multiple compass mechanisms were compatible with the initial direction of early dunlins wintering in the Pacific Northwest, and for late dunlins migrating to East Asia. Future high-resolution tracking would reveal routes, stopover use including local movements and possible course shifts during migration from Alaska to wintering sites on both sides of the north Pacific Ocean.
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