Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A spectacle, subdued

Reed's Beach is a tiny bayshore community located about 10 miles north of Cape May. It and other similarly sleepy and bug-infested places along the shores of Delaware Bay find themselves, for a couple weeks each year in late May/early June, at the convergence of diverse and, often, conflicting interests.

Firstly, there is the time-honored claim made by the horseshoe crab. The spring tides attract them to the calm bay shores to spawn and lay their eggs, by the billions.

Drawn specifically to the horseshoe crabs themselves, rather than their eggs, are commercial fishermen. Their value to the biomedical industry and as bait for eel and conch has led to a severe decline in the horseshoe crab population recently.

Next there are the birds that are lured to the bonanza of food presented by the spawning horseshoe crabs... all the seaside regulars show up to eat... gulls, grackles, shorebirds, crows... the beach is a living (and loud!) mosaic of birdlife.

Add the occasional predator to the scene, in this case a Peregrine, and you have the perfect recipe for a birder orgy. Birders love to see such drama and spectacle.

Our claim to this extravaganza, as birders, is a relatively recent one. Crabs and shorebirds were converging here on the Delaware Bay for any number of years without anyone really being aware of it. No sooner had the birding community come to know of it, than it almost disappeared.

Almost!

The star species in this spectacle of birds and crabs is the Red Knot. A robin-sized shorebird that undertakes a world-class migration and stops, midpoint, at Delaware Bay to refuel on its journey to the Arctic to breed.

Scientists and the birding community have watched their numbers plummet year after year. This year, on the lucky day we were there to witness it, some 5,000 had just arrived from Tierra del Fuego. 5,000 sounds like an impressive number until you understand that you're looking at approx. half the Eastern population of a species.

Half of all the Red Knots in my world were spread there on the beach in front of us and still the shoreline looked mostly empty. A Peregrine appeared on the horizon and cut through the panicked flock, reducing it by one, perhaps. One less than half the population landed again, only to be panicked from their feeding, yet again, by a photographer or a fisherman intent on the jetty.

We all stake our claims...

One of the finest and most informative videos I've yet found is available at this link from PBS.

8 comments:

Caroline said...

I have a small shorebird carving that is from Virginia, carved by Shirley Westerfield that is of a red knot, which she labels as Beach Robin. Looking at your photo, I can see the colloquial name making sense.
Neat post, fun to see scenery different from our short grass prairie in the spring.

robin andrea said...

What a beautiful bird. How incredibly lucky you were to have seen them. It is heartbreaking to think their numbers are in such decline. Before today I had not ever heard of them, and now I will wonder about them and hope they find a way to flourish.

Wren nests in... said...

Status update (April 2011) from the International Wader Study Group can be found here: http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/downloads/cwnj_106.pdf

amarkonmywall said...

This is the clearest, most concise, beautifully written and photographed blog post I've read in a very long time, Laura. Thank you!

dguzman said...

I'm still hoping to see one someday.

Rabbits' Guy said...

Thanks for the info and connnection to the special.

I suppose (or maybe it is already) those will get listed as endangered and a variety of protective efforts will go into place .. like the plovers? .. or a crab take limit? (Guess I better watch the full video ..)

Wren nests in... said...

The complete (285 page) original status report from 2007:

http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/redknot_status07.pdf

LauraHinNJ said...

Thank you, Amy, many times, for the links... excellent!

(It was nice, also, to share that day with you!)

Would you tell us some of your personal experiences... thoughts... hopes?

: )