Saturday, June 28, 2008

Notes from south of the canal, and a comment on horseshoe crab egg numbers

I birded Cape May Point State Park this morning, including a walk along the beach at Cape May Point where the rips were very quiet, only 16 Least Terns (feeding all the way out in the rips with the bigger terns), 1 Royal Tern, 15 Common Terns, and 5 or so Forster's Terns feeding there. The State Park Red Trail held two Yellow-breasted Chats, Indigo Bunting, and the usual suspects, although I did not see the handsome Ruddy Duck that's been hanging around lighthouse pond - photo at left by Karl Lukens from a few days ago.

The report on the last CMBO Rea Farm "Beanery" walk this morning is as follws: "We found the target birds; 3 Blue Grosbeaks, 6 Indigo Buntings, and briefly saw 2 Prothonotary Warblers which were very quiet. We also saw 4 Green Herons and a Black-crowned Night-Heron, and heard several Yellow-billed Cuckoos. - Karl & Judy Lukens, Tom Reed, Roger and Kathy Horn."

Yesterday morning a walk along Delaware Bay yielded 4 Black-bellied Plovers, all in non-breeding-like plumage. The one bird I got close enough to to see feather detail on had very worn wing coverts and primaries, indicating a one year old bird that either remained on its wintering grounds or made a partial journey northward, which is what you'd expect for a June Black-bellied here.

My general sense from the past few days of birding is that there aren't a lot of fish around in the nearshore waters around the point and up the bay - I'm seeing relatively few herons, few feeding Ospreys, and few feeding terns.

Last night we held a farewell party for the NJAS seasonal shorebird research interns, who this year hailed from Belize and Peru. I spent a bit of time talking with Larry Niles (retired from NJDEP's endangered and nongame species program but still very active in shorebird work) about knots and crabs. Larry noted that weight gain for Red Knots was poor this year. Horseshoe crab egg densities averaged only 1,000 per square meter in the top 5 cm of beach this year, compared to 3,000 last year and 50,000 back in the horseshoe crab/shorebird heyday. The low number of eggs was due to a combination of low numbers of crabs and cool bay temperatures which altered the crab spawning schedule. Larry said he thinks shorebird numbers have bottomed out. With the moratorium on crab harvest secured for NJ waters, we can hope for improvement from here on out, although there is certainly no guarantee of that.

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