Sunday, May 11, 2008

[Red Knots, Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones off the Villas on Saturday. Photo by Don Freiday. Click to enlarge.]

I spent part of the weekend volunteering with a friend for NJDEP's Shorebird Stewards program. NJDEP closes sections of the Delaware Bayshore beaches, and the stewards' job is to explain the closures to visitors and report any violations.

We were stationed in the Villas, where about 1000 shorebirds, primarily Sanderlings but also Ruddy Turnstones and about 80 Red Knots, fed on horseshoe crab eggs left from the recent spawning activity during the new moon earlier in the month. Crab spawning peaks during the new and full moons, due to the exceptionally high tides that occur during these times.

[Red Knots stand out in flight - note for example the bird at the top of this group, slightly left of center. There are several other knots in the photo, mostly across the top. Although they appear quite chunky on the ground, knots have the very long, pointed wings of a long-distance migrant - 10 inch birds with a 23 inch wingspread. Compare this wing shape with the shorter wings of the smaller Sanderlings (the dominant species in the photo). Also in the photo are Ruddy Turnstones, and a few Semipalmated Sandpipiers. Photo by Don Freiday. Click to enlarge.]

Response from the public to these closures is decidely mixed. One wonderful little girl, about 6, came up with her family and spoke up before we could say more than hello: "You can't go out on the beach here because the big crabs are there making baby crabs." She and her family were fine with the closures, which last from May 10 to June 6, and only affect certain areas along the bay.

Then there was the 40ish woman jogging, who came up and said "I hate this. I hate to see our tax dollars spent this way." We tried to explain the short duration and sectional nature of the closure, and why it was in place, but there was no convincing her, perhaps because she just had no real affection or empathy for birds or the natural world in general. That's why nature education and interpretation are so important - we can only protect natural resources if we have an enlightened public.

Regardless, no one entered posted areas while we were there, though plenty of beach combers and dog walkers appeared outside the posted areas, moving the birds around.

[Dog walkers about to flush birds outside the areas closed by DEP.]

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