Friday, February 15, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count begins, and more Knot thoughts

The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, began today. The GBBC is a four-day count scheduled every year over Presidents Weekend. The objective is for people of all ages and expertise to count the birds in their backyard, local park or anywhere else, and submit the results via online checklists to "create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent." It serves as a citizen-science project, and also attempts to recruit more people to become birders. You can check it out and participate by clicking HERE.

My mom joined me for a walk around Reeds Beach this evening. It was very mild, albeit a little cloudy, and there was plenty to see, including a Short-eared Owl just across the creek from the marina, singletons of Marsh Wren and Seaside Sparrow calling, Bonaparte's Gulls and Ruddy Ducks at less than 10ft along the jetty, Clapper Rails sounding off, and a Great Horned Owl softly calling from the marsh edge at dusk.

I have my own unique perspective on the Red Knot issue, and while we're on the subject, I'll share it.

Indeed, it was disappointing to hear the news that the extension of the moratorium was vetoed the other night, particularly when the vote was "along party lines", and when there are currently vacant seats on the council. I've been extremely lucky to live a quarter-mile from the Delaware Bay my whole life in a place that was named for my family, who settled here many, many years ago. The spring shorebird phenomenon has always been a part of my life, even before I started birding at age ten. My cousin was formerly a Shorebird Steward at "our" beach, and I can remember visiting her and looking out at all the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs with a true sense of awe. That was in the early to mid-1990s, and now there are days in late-May when I can walk the entirety of the road paralleling Reed's Beach without spying a single Red Knot...and I wonder if the beach will ever again be engulfed by the salmon-colored birds as it was when I was just five or six.

I've had the opportunity to peer into both sides of the issue. My own father used to be a bayman in his spare time, back in the 70s and 80s. He trapped his fair share of muskrats in the marshes, sold his fair share of bunker at the docks, and (yes) even harvested a few horseshoe crabs. If you've ever bought a made-from-cedar birdhouse from the nice man at the Cumberland County Eagle Festival or the Autumn Weekend in Cape May, you've met my dad...not such a bad guy, right?

I think that before the birding community jumps to the conclusion that these people are completely evil, we should consider a few things. There is a lot of good about these people who essentially live off the Delaware Bay- this concept of "living off the land" is one that dates back to the Lenni Lenape Indians who used to do the same thing here before we arrived. Most of these people have lived here all their lives; a lot of them have a very deep appreciation for the wildlife and the breathtaking scenery that is unique to the bayshore. However, when push comes to shove, we've now reached the point where it is essential to do everything we can to convince the baymen that sacrificing their horseshoe crab harvest will benefit the greater good, and we have to be sensible and even congenial while we do it. We need to persuade this group to believe that their sacrifice will ultimately benefit the place they love- and isn't that what we should all strive for as a leave a place better than how we found it?

What we've got here is a globe-hopping bird fading into extinction, and a treasured living fossil that has decreased significantly. As best as we can tell, the overharvesting of the horseshoe crab is the main culprit behind this problem, and the current moratorium must remain in place until both species are at least given the opportunity to make a comeback. Are there other issues that could be to blame? Certainly... Bayshore beaches are eroding (and federal funding has been slow to come), climate change could be altering breeding-ground habitat and raising the sea-level in Delaware Bay...

But our main belief is that this problem is centered around the over-harvesting, and we'll continue to fight to preserve this amazing phenomenon. And we hope you'll join us.

This evening's list from Reed's Beach is included, GBBC-style:

Locality: Reeds Beach, Cape May County, NJ
Observation Date: FEB 15, 2008
Number of Species: 59
Snow Goose - 2,000
Gadwall - 4
American Black Duck - 175
Mallard - 2
Northern Shoveler - 9
Green-winged Teal - 1
Greater Scaup - 75
Bufflehead - 20
Hooded Merganser - 2
Red-breasted Merganser - 1
Ruddy Duck - 28
Great Blue Heron - 2
Great Egret - 3
Northern Harrier - 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Red-tailed Hawk - 1
Clapper Rail - 3
Greater Yellowlegs - 1
Sanderling - 15
Dunlin - 28
Bonaparte's Gull - 8
Ring-billed Gull - 35
Herring Gull - 40
Great Black-backed Gull - 10
Rock Pigeon - 1
Mourning Dove - 30
Great Horned Owl - 1
Short-eared Owl - 1
Belted Kingfisher - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Northern Flicker - 1
Blue Jay - 2
American Crow - 1
Carolina Chickadee - 2
Tufted Titmouse - 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Carolina Wren - 4
Marsh Wren - 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1
American Robin - 25
Northern Mockingbird - 2
European Starling - 60
Cedar Waxwing - 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 3
Eastern Towhee - 1
Seaside Sparrow - 1
Song Sparrow - 12
Swamp Sparrow - 3
White-throated Sparrow - 30
Northern Cardinal - 4
Red-winged Blackbird - 125
Common Grackle - 45
Brown-headed Cowbird - 20
House Finch - 12
American Goldfinch - 6
House Sparrow - 30

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