Nature has reminded us yet again that she is unpredictable. Cold weather and winds led erratic horseshoe crab spawning and low numbers of surface eggs for hungry migrating shorebirds. The horseshoe crabs were challenged further, even after spawning increased. High winds and high tides stranded tens of thousands of crabs, who would have died without volunteer rescue.
Red Knot numbers were down, with some birds possibly having arrived and then left when they found lots of competition and few eggs. Red Knots wintering at short-distances, like the southern US, are able to refuel on clams and mussels on the Atlantic Coast when necessary. Red Knots and other shorebirds departed the Bay a few days later than recent years, sticking around to pack on a few more grams with the eggs finally on the beaches. Even with extra time on the beaches, only 25% of Red Knots left in good weight, normally the number is closer to 80%.
With communities, organizations, biologists, and wildlife agencies taking action, all that could be done was done. Their conservation efforts are buoyed by hundreds of volunteers. Volunteers educate visitors on beaches, conduct citizen science to monitor horseshoe crabs, rescue stranded horseshoe crabs, or even feed the visiting biologists on the research team. The research teams in Delaware and New Jersey are also mostly volunteers from around the world who help to catch, weigh, measure, band, and re-sight flags on the birds. MANY, MANY thanks to the people who give their hours, days, weeks, and months to taking action.
For full details on Red Knot numbers, departure weights, and other information from New Jersey’s Delaware Bay Shorebird Project visit the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey’s blog.