The Critical Connections project -- underwritten by the National Park Service, Alaska Geographic and the Denali Education Center -- is an ongoing effort to trace the migratory routes of the breeding birds of Denali National Park in Alaska, which fan out across nearly two-thirds of globe each year on their travels.
Spearheaded by Dr. Carol McIntyre and Laura Phillips of Denali National Park, Dr. Iain Stenhouse of the Biodiversity Research Institute and Scott Weidensaul, the project focuses each year on a different group of Denali's more than 165 species of birds -- passerines, raptors, shorebirds, seabirds and others -- using the latest in tracking technology.
In 2015, the team launched Critical Connections by using tiny geolocators to trace the movements of Swainson's thrushes, which breed in the park's spruce forests and winter in Central and South America, and gray-cheeked thrushes, which inhabit willow thickets in the rolling tundra landscape and travel to northern South America.
In 2016, we recaptured the returning thrushes to download their stored migration data, allowing us to track their movements as far south as Bolivia and northern Argentina. We also turned to a fresh suite of birds: hermit thrushes that occupy fast-spreadsing poplar forests in the park; Arctic warblers that winter in the Philippines, Indochina and Malaysia; Wilson's warblers, which migrate to Mexico and Central America; blackpoll warblers that migrate to northern South America; and fox sparrows that travel to the Southeastern U.S.