Hi friends! Sorry for the disappearance…hectic few weeks. Of course we squeezed in some birding amidst the chaos. And now back your regularly scheduled blog posts 🙂
In October 2016, I wrote a post about Deborah Cramer’s book, The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey. (You can read that post here). Throughout The Narrow Edge, Cramer explores conservation issues by documenting the journey of the Red Knot.
Red Knots are fascinating little shorebirds. They make one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird. The Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the Red Knot subspecies, travels up the Atlantic Flyway from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to their Arctic breeding grounds. The round-trip of a Rufa migration comes out to around 19,000 miles in a single year. One of the stopover sites on their journey happens to be Delaware Bay, less than an hour from where we live. So our mission this Memorial Day weekend: to find Red Knots.
Red Knots touch down in Delaware Bay mid-May. They only stay in the region long to refuel by feasting on Horseshoe Crab eggs for about 2-3 weeks. Red Knots are considered endangered in New Jersey and are declining in many areas throughout their range. Last year, 17,000 Red Knots were counted along Delaware Bay, with around 10,000 on the New Jersey side (and the rest being in Delaware). This year numbers are up: around 34,500 birds with about 26,000 in New Jersey.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Red Knot numbers in general are up, but it is a good sign. The Red Knots are staying longer and with a better Horseshoe Crab spawning season, gaining more weight. These factors allow the Red Knots to leave the area in better condition to make it to the Arctic and breed.
Today we decided to look for Red Knots at Fortescue Beach in Cumberland County. It ended up raining while we were there, but we were in no way disappointed. The goal was Red Knots, and well…mission accomplished!
We didn’t find the Red Knots right away. First there were the Laughing Gulls. Hundreds of obnoxiously loud Laughing Gulls. The video below (which was shot on my Iphone 7 at a far distance, so please excuse the bad quality!), barely captures the volume of the bird sounds, but it gives you a little idea of how loud they were. You can also see the Greenhead flies, which are unfortunately out in full force already.
The amount of shorebirds was amazing, even considering peak numbers were about a week ago. There were over 1,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and hundreds each of Red Knots, Dunlins, and Ruddy Turnstones. We even saw the occasional Willet and Herring Gull. I’ve never seen so many shorebirds and Laughing Gulls in one place. Behind us were the sounds of Yellow Warblers, Marsh Wrens, and Red-winged Blackbirds. On the way to and from the beach we saw at least 8 Ospreys.
Our last top of the day was Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County. We only saw a handful of Red Knots, but more variety of species. Species included American Oystercatchers, a Little Blue Heron, Dunlins, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Barn Swallows, Least Terns, Willets, and a Boat-tailed Grackle.
I wanted to see Red Knots ever since I read The Narrow Edge. I feel so fortunate that Dave and I were able to experience these birds on their epic journey north. The Red Knot also marks my 198th life list entry. Only 2 more until 200!
If you want to learn more about the Red Knots in Delaware Bay this year, check out this article from the Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/science_nature/red-knots-numbers-weight-up-this-year/article_24bef445-6669-5371-85e8-630ba79bee5a.html