Stowe to follow pole-to-pole path of world's most-traveled birds


Spending up to eight months of the year in transit, arctic terns “migrate farther than any other bird — 40,000 kilometers every year,” says Andrew Stowe. “The length and duration of that migration is just absolutely mind-boggling and something I’ve been fascinated by. They can live up to 35 years, so you’re talking about a lot of distance covered and a lot of the world seen.”

The birds breed in Canada during the boreal (northern) summer and spend the austral summer feeding in Antarctica, thereby maximizing their exposure to daylight. Stowe will cover the migration route in parallel with the terns, tracing a course around the Atlantic Rim from Canada to the United Kingdom, down to South Africa, possibly stopping in Antarctica, and then returning through South America and the Caribbean. He’ll visit more than a dozen countries during his Watson year.

“I’m going to need clothes for every latitude on the planet,” he says.

He’ll devote his time to field work, observing and counting the birds, and will also conduct interviews in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Ecuador and Canada as he investigates how national environmental policies affect the terns’ fortunes.

“The scope of what the terns accomplish, as a scientific phenomenon, is almost too broad for science itself,” Stowe says, simply because of the great distances they cover. “Thinking about what the Watson is geared for, I thought that would be a really cool thing to attempt.”

“It’s a moment of intense satisfaction, knowing that I can actually find these birds and get to know them as well as possible.”

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