Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Happy Summer Solstice!

I can’t believe summer is already here. This will be an interesting summer for me. I’m usually off for 10 weeks, but this year I have a summer job. Here’s a picture of my workplace:

I’m a nature summer camp intern at Rancocas Nature Center. I’m excited that I get to spend the next few weeks working outside and learning more about nature 😁.

Now that it’s a new season, I’ve been reflecting on my year list. Since winter (where we observed 81 species) I’ve added 71 species to the list, bringing my total to 152 species in 2018. We had a great spring migration this year. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Team BirdNation participated in the 2018 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge from March 1-June 1. Overall we observed 62 species on the checklist.
  • 60 species, including our first Caspian Tern, at Forsythe NWR during Global Big Day
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet on Global Big Day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Added 2 warblers to our life list: Northern Parula at Amico Island and Canada Warbler at Patuxent Research Refuge
  • Took a “mini vacation” to Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. Saw Pileated Woodpeckers for the first time in 3 years
IMG_2911
Patuxent Research Refuge on a rainy day (Image by BirdNation)
  • Red Knots for the first time ever at Fortescue Beach as well as thousands of other shorebirds and Laughing Gulls
IMG_5929
Semipalmated Sandpipers (Image by BirdNation)
  • Our first Wilson’s Snipe at Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve
  • Met Pete and Phoebe, the resident pair of Piping Plovers at Barnegat Light SP
  • Had an awesome trip to Forsythe with my friends Deborah and Bella, where we saw 51 bird species, some snakes, and tons of turtles
IMG_6117
Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls (Image by BirdNation)

Spring migration was awesome this year. We got 5 life list species (Wilson’s Snipe, Red Knot, Canada Warbler, Northern Parula , and Caspian Tern), and went on lots of great birding trips.

Summer always ends up being a little slow due to the heat, but you never know what will show up. We are also heading to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in August, so that’s something to look forward to. Can’t wait to see what the summer will bring!

How was your spring migration this year? What birds did you see? Tell us about them in the comments! 

Also, don’t forget to join the flock on Instagram, @birdnation123

Mission: Red Knots

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.

Stone Harbor Beach (Image by BirdNation)
Stone Harbor Point (Image by BirdNation)

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

Living on the Edge

“Does losing one more bird matter?”

This question was asked by author Deborah Cramer in her book The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey.

31zcmi6nktl-_sy344_bo1204203200_
(Image via amazon.com)

In The Narrow Edge, Cramer explores this question through documenting the journey of the Red Knot, a tiny shorebird. She focuses on Calidris Canutus rufa, one of the six subspecies of Red Knots worldwide. The rufa species uses most of the Atlantic Flyway for their migration route from South America to the Arctic. It’s an extremely long journey – around 19,000 miles round trip- and a dangerous one. Cramer sets out to learn about the obstacles the Red Knots face by traveling the migration route with them.

The journey begins on the beach of  Bahía Lomas in Tierra del Fuego, located at the southern end of South America. She refers to this place as the first “rung on the ladder” for the Knot’s epic migration. From the start, the population of rufas is lower than in the past. They continue up the coast, briefly stopping in Brazil to refuel before landing in Delaware Bay.

artmax_25
A Red Knot at Delaware Bay (Image by Bill Dalton via conservewildlifenj.org)

Although our trip started with Red Knots, there is another creature involved. Enter the horseshoe crab. Considered “living fossils” by some, they have changed very little in the last 445 million years. Red Knots rely eating the horseshoe crab’s eggs to help them complete their migration to the Arctic. However, horseshoe crab populations on the East Coast of the United States have been decimated over the years, due to being used as bait, fertilizer, and for biomedical research.

Horseshoe crab’s blood is copper-based (and therefore blue), as opposed to our iron-based blood. Scientist learned that horseshoe crab’s blood is highly sensitive to endotoxins. Amebocytes from their blood is used for the endotoxin  detector LAL (limulus amebocyte lysate). Humans rely on the crab’s blood to make sure medicines and devices such as IVs are free from harmful bacteria.

800px-limulus_polyphemus_aq

© Hans Hillewaert via wikipedia.com

Delaware Bay use to overflow with horseshoe crabs and shorebirds, but the last few decades have been much quieter. Cramer discovers this is having an impact on how many shorebirds make it to the Arctic, a region already threatened tremendously by climate change. Cramer spends 3 1/2 weeks with a team of scientists tracking shorebird nests in the Arctic, then heads back south to James Bay, Ontario. This is where she ends her migration trip, but journey continues for the Red Knots.

red-knots-and-horsehoe-crabs-900x645
Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs in Georgia (Image by Brad Winn, Manomet via shorebirdscience.org)

The Narrow Edge is a fascinating book. Cramer presents the struggle of the Red Knots and horseshoe crabs by combining history, scientific evidence, and personal stories (from herself and other). She doesn’t just focus on Red Knots and horseshoe crabs, however. When she asks if losing another bird matters, she reminds the reader that every species is interconnected, a notion that many humans tend of forget.

She goes on to say, “The loss of a bird can reverberate through a food web, touching its many strands in ways we have only begun to measure.”

The loss of any species, whether or not they are birds, can have a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem in which it lives. So many animals and plants in the natural world are living on the edge, just like the Red Knots and horseshoe crabs that Cramer writes about. She brings up many ecological and conservation issues, such as the value of the natural world to humans, ocean acidification, global warming, and habitat loss. The solutions to these problems are complex, and although Cramer alone cannot offer solutions, she presents what we already know and what is currently being done.

Cramer wants us to remember that humans are interconnected with nature as well.  Our actions do have an impact on all forms of life, from the Red Knots to the tiniest insects to the largest mammals. Although the stakes are high, horseshoe crabs and Red Knots continue to persist the best they can. Through Cramer’s cautious warning, there is a glimmer of hope. If conservation of all life becomes more of a focus, maybe someday we can persist like the Red Knots and create a healthier Earth.

 

(If you want more information about the Red Knots and climate change in addition to the book, you can check out an article written by Deborah Cramer for the May/June 2016 issue of Audubon Magazine. It’s called Red Knots are Battling Climate Change- On Both Ends of the Earth.)