Monday, May 28, 2007

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Last year our banding crew doubled the food budget. Imagine what 20 or so people working hard all day would eat over a month long period. But I'm not complaining. After all, food is a minor cost for all our team does, oftentimes working from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. And these are skilled people, many with PhDs and many years of experience on shorebirds from all over the world. But some have big stomachs.

By chance one day, I mentioned the gargantuan appetites of the banding crew to my friend Jane Galetto, who is exec director of Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River. Over the next few days she sent an appeal to her generous membership and the citizens of Cumberland County to help feed the hungry shorebird biologists. By the time the crew arrived, Jane had arranged for 10 dinners of over 20 people. It started with Jane providing a meal of filet mignon and another of salmon steaks that Clive grilled to perfection, enough to cover two meals for 24 people.

Next we were treated to what we thought was chili con carne that was in fact chili sin carne. Tony and Marsha Klock make vegetarian chili that was so deceptively meaty that our two vegetarians; Philippa and Mike passed it over and ate a different meal! Over the next week Jim Applegate, a recently retired professor from Rutgers and his wife Carole brought delicious lasagna, Sue and Dave Fenili, trustees of Citizen United, brought sloppy joes, Leslie and Tony Ficcaglia brought a generous quantity of tasty roasted chicken, dozens of eggs and four pounds of bacon, Harry Whitelan of the Port of Call Restaurant in Maurice River Township, brought us a lovely lasagna, Scott and Lenore Eves provided five dozen eggs from their chickens and Dot Slack gave us a delicious cake with cream cheese icing. Over the next week we look forward Renee Scagnelli's stuffed peppers and Diane Amico’s fish dinner. Renee is a botanist who has also led our group on a field trip to Bear Swamp and Diane Amico is with the planning office in Vineland and an environment studies student at Stockton.

Every mother knows that cooking is the fastest way to her family’s heart. I think it is fair to say that there is a small crowd from all over the world in love with the Citizens United and the people of Cumberland County!

We are also thankful to Pete and Jane Galetto for their generous invitation to the Millville airshow. I loved it because it brought back fond memories of my father and our family trips to the Willow Grove airshows, Clive also loved it because he saw the planes he knew as a boy in wartime England. Pablo and Victor enjoyed the show because before they had only experienced the thrill of powerful jet fighters flying in movies.

A Horned Lark looking over a Blue Angel at the Millville Airshow

Harry Whitelan's lasagne dinner

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Sunday, May 27, 2007

The entire team waited patiently for a few of the 300 red knots roosting and feeding on Stone Harbor point to be twinkled by Peter Fullagar into the catch area of the three cannon net. We had being trying for over an hour to move the birds into position but without luck. Peter was working hard twinkling the birds so slowly that you couldn’t really tell he was moving. The team including Sue, Mandy, Dick, Pablo, Victor, Alice, Barry, Angela, Jeannine and Philippa sat in rapt attention by the firing box while an unseasonably cold wind pushed sand across the long sandy flats adjacent to Hereford Inlet. But the wind-blown sand forced the birds into a new place just outside of our catch area. We decided to relocate the net. Eventually, Peter twinkled the birds onto position and we caught 84 red knots. This was an important catch as it represents the birds that feed on the Atlantic Coast which are most often birds from the southeast US wintering population. It was also the second catch in a very long day that started at dawn.

But the most spectacular event of the evening was the gradual disappearance of three small flocks of knots and sanderlings into the north. It always seems such an impossible coincidence to actually be there when a group of birds, that have been around the bay and Atlantic coast for two or three weeks, suddenly make the decision to lift up and fly on a 2,500 mile journey. And yet there was no mistaking it. They took off as usual, flying together but in a loose formation. Usually they are responding to some unknown cue, the need to move for a better place to feed, a real or imagined threat from a predator. But on this evening of strong winds from the south they took off and gradually gained altitude. Flying higher and higher, in widening circles the flock started to reform into a ‘V’, the most efficient formation for flying long distances. Turning into the north they slowly disappeared from sight. Next stop Southampton Island or some other Arctic tundra breeding site. It was thrilling!

Our catch that evening told the whole story. Although the mean weight was 171 grams or 9 grams below what is considered to be average lift-off weight of 180 grams, the numbers disguised the existence of two different weight-groups. The majority were in the higher weight-group that averaged 182 grams while the lower weight-group averaged only 128 grams. This illustrates an important characteristic of the migration: most of the birds that feed on the Atlantic coast arrive on time and gain sufficient resources of fat and protein to fuel their onward migration while others are less fortunate; perhaps they arrived late or in poor condition, or perhaps couldn’t find sufficient food. Either way, they are behind in the race to get to the Arctic in time to breed successfully.

Distribution of red knot weights from May 27 catch at Stone Harbor

A similar weight pattern was evident among the knots we caught earlier the same day at Fortescue on the Delaware Bayshore. Probably the fat birds came to the bay 10-14 days ago arriving around the time of the last spring tide when there was a good horseshoe crab spawn. This led to an abundance of eggs and they fattened quickly. The second group probably arrived later and found fewer eggs because it was a period of neap tides. Before the collapse of the horseshoe crab population, eggs were available throughout the month regardless of the tide. Now with far fewer crabs they can all spawn on the best tide, the high spring tides, and avoid the low high tides or neap tides.

When the fatter birds reach sufficient size they leave for the Arctic. This pushes the average weight of the birds in the bay downwards, because those left behind have lower weights. Each year we see groups of birds coming to the bay late, but it is only in about the last five years that they seem to be having a more difficult time. We will have to wait and see what will happen to them this year. But it’s always good to watch fat birds spiral up into the sky chattering excitedly and disappear northwards!

Red knot weight gain (grams) tracked throughout the stopover period (early May to early June) on Delaware Bay; 1997 to 2007

Ruddy Turnstone weight gain (grams) tracked throughout the stopover period (early May to early June) on Delaware Bay; 1997 to 2007

Sanderling weight gain (grams) tracked throughout the stopover period (early May to early June) on Delaware Bay; 1997 to 2007

A juvenile Red Knot with traces of breeding plumage

A Red Knot banded in Chile; Red Flag with engraved letters "MH"

Black-necked Stilt and Red Knots in Mispillion Harbor by Alice Ewing

Clive and his sister Angela banding Knots at Stone Harbor Point

Roosting sanderlings by Alice Ewing

Horseshoe crabs spawning on Reeds by Alice Ewing

One Red Knot weighing 212g and another weighing 95g

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Victor Ayala, Mandy Dey and I bounced about in the small aluminum skiff trying our best to count red knots, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, semipalmated sandpipers and dunlins and having a difficult time of it. During the previous few hours, the sea had grown nasty around Egg Island point, probably the most remote place on the Delaware Bay. The boat rolled and pitched in the high, steep waves that were driven by a stiff breeze from the southeast blowing against the tide. Most sailors fear wind against tide conditions in Delaware Bay and we were trying to deal with that as well as scanning the shoreline for birds.

Our goal was to do a ground count while Kathy Clark, Ron Porter and Humphrey Sitters counted from an airplane probably also suffering a bad time from this wind. Our entire team was spread out along the bayshore today trying to conduct counts simultaneously with the team in the airplane so we could, with the help of USGS biologist Jon Bart, develop a more robust estimate of the shorebird population on the bay. The count of red knots has dropped significantly over the last 15 years and is now at an all time low. We don’t consider our counts to be estimates of the total population because we don’t know what proportion stopover in the bay (although we are closing in on that number with our resightings project). Moreover, even when peak numbers are present, some may not have arrived, while others may have already departed. The counts do, however, provide a key indicator of the condition of the Delaware Bay stopover as do the other species counts. For example last year a sudden drop in the number of ruddy turnstones created a great deal of concern.

Our aerial counts are carefully designed so that they not only tell us the peak numbers of each species as accurately as possible but also a measure of the degree to which numbers vary across the stopover season. These are not just sample counts from which the total is estimated by extrapolation. These are counts of all shorebirds using the Delaware Bay. Moreover they have been carried out in exactly the same way with the same principal counter (Kathy Clark), at the same time in relation to the tide every week for the whole 6-weeks of the spring shorebird stopover for over 20 years. This consistency of methods gives the counts great credibility. In sharp contrast, the latest figure for the number horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay is 18 million. But no one has counted 18 million crabs; it is just an estimate with a very large degree of uncertainty. As such it is a poor basis for judging the condition of the crab population or determining harvest regulations.

Though we have every confidence in the aerial counts, no survey in incapable of improvement and all surveys should be verified using different methods. So this year we are carrying out sample ground counts at the same time as the flights. These will be compared with the aerial counts and provide some estimate of the number of birds not seen from the air. In theory counters standing on dry land should be able to count every bird present on a beach accurately. However, for those bobbing about in a small boat, like Victor, Mandy and me off Egg Island, this may not be true. We intend to do a better job next week.

The aerial count of May 22 is intriguing. As suspected, knot numbers were a bit lower than this time last year probably because adverse northeast winds held up their migration. Kathy and her team counted 7,395 down from the May 23 2006 figure of 8,680. Thankfully, turnstones were up to 18,535, 34% higher than last years May 23 peak of 12,178, but much lower than the May 24 count of 2005, when there were 42,995. The next count should confirm the peak figure for most species so we are looking forward to its result with trepidation.

While we were busy counting the bay, Mandy Dey coordinated with other biologists to produce a US east coast estimate for red knots. On the same day that Kathy Clark counted 7,395 knots, Brad Winn counted 2,155 in Georgia, Bill Mace and Katherine Goodenough counted 125 in South Carolina, Barry Truitt and Bryan Watts counted 5,939 in Virginia, and Dave Allen and Sue Cameron reported a preliminary count of 125 in North Carolina. These figures total 15,763 which is comparable to last year’s figure of 15,494. In 2006 there was less coverage in South Carolina and the northern coast of North Carolina.

The final chapter of the count saga will be told later this week.

Victor looking out over Egg Island

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Monday, May 21, 2007

Tom Virzi, a PhD candidate at Rutgers working on Oystercatchers, called to tell us that there were 1,600 knots near the Fish Factory near Forsyth Refuge. It was a fortuitous call. Humphrey, who has focused on the red knots using the Atlantic Coast at Stone Harbor, as well as Clive and I were confused by the lack of knots in Stone Harbor. In fact Jim Fraser of Virginia Tech found very few knots on the Atlantic Coast of Virginia as well. Over the last four years we have gradually unraveled the mystery of the Atlantic Coast knots.

Originally we thought they were actually knots coming from the Delaware Bay that went to the ocean coasts and marshes to seek new prey because of the decline in horseshoe crab eggs. But recently we published the more likely scenario that the Atlantic birds represent the southeast US wintering knots, primarily the ones from Florida. In other words, the knots coming to the Delaware Bay shore are mostly birds from South America, who make an arduous and long migration that leaves them depleted and in need of recharging on the bay. They are also the main segment of the red knot population and the group that has fallen by over 70% in the last ten years. The Florida knots in contrast, fly a shorter distance and appear to focus more on mussel spat and small clams all along the Atlantic Coast. But good spat and clam areas shift. Some years Stone Harbor is good, sometimes Virginia is good. This year it appears that the area around the Fish Factory is good.

Clive, Mark, Sue Rice visiting from USFWS and I hopped in the small aluminium boat with some trepidation. The wind howled at 25 knots and we were uncertain if we could find the area that Tom described in nasty weather. We did and within a few hours we had thoroughly scanned the flock for alpha-numeric flags. The distribution paralleled our resightings in the Stone Harbor knots, a disproportionate number of birds caught and flagged in Florida and the Atlantic Coast. The presence, however, of some Chile, Argentine and Delaware Bay flagged birds tells us we don’t have this figured out completely.

The distinction between these populations is key to understanding the plight of the red knot. The key indicator on the Delaware Bay is the ability of shorebirds to gain weight. Many factors complicate the assessment of weight gain besides the availability of horseshoe crab eggs especially when you are using captured birds. For example if you make several catches and see a clear gain in the flock weights you can depend that practically all birds are gaining weight. But if a new flock arrives from South America then the flock weight will decline dramatically because you have the influx of new low weight birds. Individual birds may have gained weight but the average weight of birds caught will have fallen.

Despite these and other complications the assessment of weight-gain is key to monitoring the health of the Delaware Bay stopover. For years the ability of birds to gain weight declined and large numbers of birds left the bay without sufficient energy to get to the Arctic or breed successfully. This caused the population to decline. Now that the population is so low, many of the remaining birds are gaining weight simply because there are fewer birds competing for the depleted resources. Understanding the distinction between South American and Florida wintering helped us understand the vital importance of horseshoe crab eggs to red knot, especially the long distance migrants.

In this blog we will present the weight gain data that we use to assess the birds’ progress. Each data point is an average weight for the birds caught that day. Despite all the complications it is clear why the birds are here.

Lisa LaCroix from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife releasing a Sanderling
Mixed group of shorebirds feeding on the beach at Fortescue

Kimbles Beach at low tide

Mandy Dey and the count plane flying overhead

A flock of Red Knots flying towards the catching area

Laughing Gulls and Red Knot

A mixture of shorebirds and gulls taking a break from frienzied eating

Banding Red Knots on a bug-infested beach at Fortescue

A dense swarm of gnats at Fortescue

A Red Knot has an individually inscribed flag attached

Mark Peck scanning for flagged Red Knots near Brigantine

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two events dominated our third day of trapping shorebirds on the Delaware Bay. The Director of NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Dave Chanda, (left, holding a ruddy turnstone), two members of the Division’s Marine Fish Council and one member of the Fish and Game Council stood by waiting for us to catch and would join us in the processing of the birds. The second was a nasty 25 knot wind blowing against the beach. This would make an easy catch virtually impossible because we would have to set the 12 meter long cannon net perpendicular to the wind and beach assuring that the birds would have to walk across the net. The best option is normally to set the net parallel to the beach firing towards the sea at birds lined along the edge. However, the onshore wind would simply cause the net to act like a parachute and gently float to the ground, allowing the birds to fly away. Instead we had to be very aware about birds walking on the net or within the danger zone, a 6 foot strip in front of the net that that must be clear to prevent birds from being injured by the leading edge of the net. Make no mistake: this net goes out so powerfully and fast that it covers a 25’ by 40’ area in a split second and the birds are covered before they have a chance to fly.

The welfare of the birds is our number one concern; after all the reason why we are here doing this work is to protect them. We all should be concerned. Kathy Clark of the NJ ENSP conducts the yearly survey of shorebirds on the Delaware Bay and has been doing so for over 20 years. Over that time we have seen the slow decline of this once world-class stopover for shorebirds on their way to the Arctic. In 1989, there were over 90,000 red knots on the Delaware Bay and an estimated total of 1.5 million shorebirds. It was ranked as one of the top four stopovers in the world along with the Yellow Sea in China, the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and the Copper River Delta in Alaska. Imagine a small estuary in New Jersey and Delaware being in the same class as one in Alaska! Unfortunately, the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs and the consequent decline in the availability of their eggs for shorebirds has led the numbers of shorebirds using the Bay to fall, a decline that has accelerated in the last few years.

Fortunately, courageous leadership by the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection led to a two-year moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in NJ starting in 2006. Delaware Fish and Wildlife has also bravely opposed significant political opposition and imposed their own two-year moratorium on the harvest of crabs starting this year. Four of the people who helped create this sea change, David Chanda, the NJ Fish and Wildlife Director, Gil Ewing of the NJ Marine Fish Council as well as Fran Puskas and John Messerol of NJ Fish and Wildlife Council, were among the group watching while Clive Minton, Dick Veitch and I sat in the dune grass getting ready to catch shorebirds. We wanted to give them a first hand experience with the birds they helped protect. But first we had to catch them!

Clive and I stared through our binoculars watching several hundred ruddy turnstones, sanderlings and red knots walking across the long net and into danger zone. Three feet in front of the net we had laid a thin cord with small swatches of material spaced every couple of feet known as a “jiggler”. We can pull the jiggler from the firing position to scare the birds just enough to encourage them to walk out of the danger zone. But each time Clive yanked the jiggler it scared the birds to the backside of the net and when he stopped they would walk back across into the danger zone and spread out into the catching area. We were in a bind. So we decided to wait it out until a natural change occurred in the birds’ behavior. Minutes seem like hours when your decision to fire can mean a good catch, a poor catch or no catch. In a flash the danger zone cleared, we fired and within seconds the team went to work calming the birds by covering them with a shade cloth and moving them into the keeping catches. We caught and processed 78 turnstones, 62 sanderlings and 1 red knot. We were please to have the Director and Council members join in the processing of the birds.

The cannon net firing in sequence

The team running to the catch

Fran Puskas with Phil and Victor banding a Ruddy Turnstone

Gil Ewing working on a Ruddy Turnstone

John Messerol and his granddaughter Amber

Kathy Clark, Ron Porter and Humphrey Sitters surveying shorebird from a Cessna 172

Friday, May 18, 2007

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - 2007 Shorebird Team Biographies

Victor Ayala is a Marine Biologist from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur. He works with shorebirds in the north of Baja California Sur, Mexico, with another great people. He is here to lead cannon netting for use back in Mexico.

Mike Boyd is a biologist for the Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Fund at Long Point Ontario. He is here to receive training in cannon-netting to help with the start of his Masters project this fall on the staging ecology of Sandhill Cranes in Ontario.

Kathleen Clark, Principal Biologist, Endangered and Nongame Species Program, has worked on shorebirds in the Delaware Bay since the mid 1980's and has conducted the aerial shorebird counts for 20 years. She leads the Program's work on endangered and threatened raptors, including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, barred owl and red-shouldered hawk; she also leads work on tiger salamanders in southern New Jersey.

Amanda Dey, PhD, leads the Shorebird Project for the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Her doctoral thesis focused on predicting songbird occurrence relative to landscape features. She has worked on the bay since 2001, has co-lead shorebird research in South America and the Arctic, and is currently involved, with NJ Audubon and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, in development of an online system to track banded shorebirds throughout the western hemisphere.

Alice Ewing is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne – studying survival rates in several migratory shorebird species in NW Australia. She first became involved with shorebirds in 1998 with Clive Minton and the Victorian Wader Study Group. Alice is visiting NJ to assist with flag-resighting As well as enjoying anything to do with nature and the outdoors, she loves to play canoe polo.

Bruce Ferry is from Canada, rents audio visual equipment for Conferences as a full time job but watches birds as a full time obsession. Bruce was as Assistant Warden at the Broome Bird Observatory in Australia. 2007 marks the fourth visit to NJ helping the cause.

Peter Fullagar PhD is a zoologist. He worked with CSIRO Wildlife Research for 30 years. His interests centre on waterfowl and seabirds but also include shorebirds. Now retired he maintains his interests with work on shearwaters and small petrels, island ecosystems and for a difference Superb Lyrebirds!

Steve Gates has been involved with the shorebird project for 7 years. He regularly takes part in project expeditions to the Canadian Arctic, Tierra del Fuego and Florida. Trained at Rutgers University he is currently an independent ecologist with an interest in conservation issues in New Jersey.

Pablo Lobera is also from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur. His thesis was on the subject of marine birds on Isla San Jose Gulf of California and he also finds shorebirds interesting. He hopes to learn more about this group of birds and their catching method.

Clive Minton PhD from Australia is a world renowned shorebird expert, from the 1950s to the 1970s he lead the Wash Wader Ringing Group in the UK, he then moved to Australia where he has been instrumental in leading shorebird studies through the Australasian Wader Studies Group and the Victorian Wader Study Group. He has been involved in the Delaware Bay Shorebird project since it began in 1997.

Larry Niles PhD just retired as Chief of the Endangered and Nongame Species Program and now consults for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. He co-leads the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project with Amanda Dey and has worked on the bay for over 25 years. Larry leads shorebird expeditions from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. Larry serves on the National Shorebird Council and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Council.

Mark Peck is a assistant curator of birds for the Royal Ontario Museum and has been working on the Delaware Bay since the beginning of the project. Mark has travelled from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic with stopovers at all of the major staging areas. Mark extracts blood to sex birds and differentiate populations genetically and the resighting of flagged birds. Mark contributes photographs to this web blog

Jeannine Parvin works with New Jersey Audubon Society. She has been a volunteer with the program since 1999.

Bill Pitts is a Wildlife Technician with New Jersey’s Endangered and Non-game Species Program, and this is his third year on the shorebird project. He graduated from Rowan University in 2004 with a B.S. in Biology and a concentration in Environmental Science.

Humphrey Sitters PhD from the UK with the International Wader Study Group and edits the Wader Study Group Bulletin. He is also Honorary Secretary of the British Ornithologists’ Union and a Vice-President of the British Trust for Ornithology. He has taken part in shorebird expeditions throughout the world. This is his eleventh consecutive season studying the shorebird stopover in the Delaware Bay.

Philippa Sitters has grown up with a family of keen ornithologists and has taken advantage of a free year before going to university to join her father in Delaware Bay. She may soon be studying Classical history but this doesn’t stop her enthusiasm to help out in as many ways as possible.

Larissa Smith, Assistant Biologist, Endangered and Nongame Species Program, has worked on the Shorebird Project since 2003. Larissa leads the Shorebird Steward Project -- recruiting, training and coordinating protection activities by shorebird stewards and Division Conservation Officers during spring migration. Larissa coordinates the 15 beach closures on the Delaware Bay and Atlantic coasts to reduce disturbance to foraging shorebirds during the most critical period of northbound migration. Larissa also works on Bald Eagles and coordinates the bald eagle volunteer corps who tenaciously protect our state's bald eagle nesting population.

Susan Taylor works as a Senior Conservation Officer with the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria, Australia. This is her fifth year as a volunteer on the program.

Dick Veitch is a retired Conservation Officer from New Zealand. In his work career he managed and participated in many endangered species recovery programmes in New Zealand and other parts of the world. He continues to be involved in wader banding in New Zealand and has participated in the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project for the past 10 years. At home he should be doing many chores but prefers to do woodturning.

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Saturday May 12, 2007

You can tell the beginning of the season on the Delaware Bay not only by the arrival of shorebirds but the shorebird biologists. In one day, at the Philadelphia International Airport, we retrieved Pablo Lobera Alvarez and Victor Ayala Perez from Mexico, Humphrey and Philippa Sitters from the UK and Clive Minton, Susan Taylor and Peter Fullagar from Australia. Pablo and Victor study ecology under Dr. Roberto Carmona of the University of Baja California Sur. They have come to the Bay to help us and learn how to catch shorebirds to carry out similar work in Mexico. Dr. Peter Fullagar has studied shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl in Australia for over 50 years including one study of shearwaters still ongoing after 48 years. Drs. Sitters and Minton are core team members.

The first project we needed to get started was the resighting of individually banded birds. Over the last four years we have banded knots, turnstones and sanderlings with alpha-numeric leg flags that can be read with a spotting scope at a distance so as not disturb them. Relocating marked bird dramatically improves our understanding of both population dynamics and behavior. A marked bird that is repeatedly resighted yields valuable understanding about how long they live and, if enough birds are resighted, demographic information about the entire population. Last year, our scanners relocated over 60 percent of all previously banded birds.

But every time someone goes to scan a group of birds, there might be a bonus. Over the last three years, our team and others have banded birds not only on the Delaware Bay but also on the Atlantic Coast of NJ (lime green flag on upper left leg), in Florida (lime green flag on upper right leg), Brazil (blue flag), Argentina (orange flag), Chile (red flag), and Canada (white flag). Seeing a bird in the Delaware Bay, just arrived from Chile with a brilliant red flag -- telling you all that is known about that bird, is a special treat for all. One bird from Florida was resighted 12 different times!

The repeated resighting of individuals tell us much about their migratory routes and the timing of their arrivals and departures from all the places they stopover on their migration. This past year we worked with Yves Aubry, a Canadian Fish and Wildlife biologist, on the Mingan Islands, an archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec. Yves found a significant number of knots stopping over there on their way south from the breeding areas in the Arctic. He and his assistants resighted over 500 individuals with flags, and from this data, we determined that mostly South American red knots stopped over on the Mingan Islands, each for about seven days.

Most of this work is being carried out by volunteers, and every year more and more join the team. In recognition of this, we are trying to start a new website for online reporting of marked birds through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s E-Bird web site. The new site will allow volunteers to report resightings, find out where else the bird has been seen and where it was originally banded. An added bonus for volunteers is the use of digital cameras attached to spotting scopes to record resighted birds. The pictures are so good that you can read the band combination and numbers off the picture. This new technique known as “digiscoping” is rapidly becoming a worldwide pastime. I have attached some digiscope pictures to the blog.

The resightings program depends on regular banding of new birds which is an integral part of our program. On Monday, we trapped 71 ruddy turnstones and 58 sanderlings and one red knot and on Tuesday we focused on knots and caught 48 knots 28 turnstones and 76 sanderlings. More about that in the next blog entry.

Editor's note: due to computer issues, we're unable to post photographs. We hope to resolve that issue in the next couple of days.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA - Saturday, May 5, 2007

We began our 2007 shorebird season on the Delaware Bay presenting to about 30 people who intended to volunteer their next three weekends to protecting Delaware Bay beaches. Mandy Dey, Carl Youghans, Larissa Smith and I talked of the plight of the Delaware Bay shorebird stopover and the status of the species especially the red knot. We also spoke of the need for the public to resist the urge to walk the beach where shorebirds are feeding or roosting because disturbing them will deprive them access to horseshoe crab eggs, the food they need to build fat to fuel the flight to their Arctic breeding areas.

As we have shown in all our previous posts from Tierra del Fuego, the situation for the red knots remains perilous and the birds will need as many eggs as they can get. Both in the Delaware Bay and in the main wintering areas, red knot populations remain at historic lows. Similarly, the horseshoe crab in the Bay, on whose eggs the shorebirds rely to build weight to reach their arctic breeding areas, hovers at all-time lows and has yet to show any significant sign of increase despite years of harvest restrictions. Last year, ruddy turnstone also fell to an historic low and may soon find itself in the same condition as the knot. The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Conservation Wildlife Foundation of NJ, the Nature Conservancy, NJ Audubon and many other groups have committed to a major volunteer-based program to ensure that the birds have safe feeding and roosting areas throughout the NJ bayshore. The volunteers are trained to inform the public that disturbing birds can hurt their chance of survival by preventing them from feeding. Shorebirds are sensitive to disturbance and may leave the beach altogether if disturbed repeatedly.

Of course if people choose to ignore the volunteers and insist on disturbing birds, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers are available to provide greater encouragement to do the right thing. If necessary the officers will issue a summons. It is against the to disturb red knots and other shorebirds. Over the last five years of the program all but a tiny minority of people willingly comply, most care for the birds and their need to come to the Delaware Bay and leave it in good condition.

This past week has been a blur of preparation while we wait for the arrival of the main flock. This year the team will include 20 people from 6 countries conducting many different projects on red knots, sanderlings and ruddy turnstones. Not only will we provide the logistical support to insure all of the work can be done, we will also provide room and board. We are renting two houses that will be packed with researchers conducting work from early morning to late at night: counting, catching and banding, scanning for individually marked birds and tracking birds equipped with tiny radio-transmitters.

More Photographs

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blogging from the Bayshore - Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA

The Shorebird Team is convening once again at Reeds Beach on the Delaware Bayshore to trap and band shorebirds during their critical stopover enroute to the Arctic. The crew arrives from all over the globe, Australia, England, Canada and New Jersey. Each member is assigned a responsibility and a tentative schedule for trapping and banding is established. At the same time a team from Stockton University is studying horseshoe crab and horseshoe crab egg densities. The film crew that followed the team in Tierra del Fuego has arrived to capture the work at the bayshore.

We will start blogging from the Bayshore very soon.

In the interim, please check out
This site, developed by Mike, aged 11, from Maryland, promotes great protection for the red knot and introduces Mike's group, Friends of the red knot. Thank you Mike for supporting these wonderful birds.