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.

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