Shore Birds, Horseshoe Crabs, and Peregrine Falcons

Seems as though a lot of recent conservation news is bringing back fun memories.  Last week, I posted about the Great Barrier Reef and studies on reef fish done at James Cook University, where I spent a semester studying in college.  The GBR is an amazing place, a good memory but a reminder of how everything is affected by global warming.  Yesterday, some news came through the grape-vine that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has set up an web-site showing live footage of nesting Peregrine Falcons at Rachel Carson State Park in Harrisburg, PA.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, nesting birds, especially rare birds such as the Peregrine Falcon (which were nearly extinct in the early 1990s due to the effects of DDT on shell strength), were common dinner table conversation.  It’s pretty exciting to be able to watch these birds from hundreds of miles away!  And, today some great news from the New Jersey shore appeared.  New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law banning the harvest of horseshoe crabs until after a major bird migration occurs.  The red knot, a small and increasingly rare shore bird that migrates from South America to Arctic Canada (one of the longest migrations in the world), stops along the New Jersey shoreline to stock-up on nutrient rich horseshoe crab eggs.  These small, and seemingly tireless birds need to store up enough energy and fat to fly to the Arctic, breed, and lay eggs.

One summer during college, I lived along the Jersey Shore, teaching environmental education and doing research in the lovely (but kind of smelly) salt marshes.  One day, all of us interns were woken up very early by our supervisors, and taken out to the bay.  We proceeded to meet a team of bird-banders who had been following the red knot for weeks.  We sat, quietly away from the shore, while experienced researchers and volunteers careful set a cannon net.  All of sudden we heard a loud “BOOM” and everyone in our pack started racing toward the net.  Not knowing what was happening, we followed, like good interns.  When we arrived at the net, it was amazing!  The net had captured all of the red knots (and other shore birds) that were in the area feeding on horseshoe crab eggs.  We were then instructed to carefully remove the small birds from the nets, and bring them to the banders, who would carefully measure and record different statistics about each bird.  It was all coming together….

Just nights before we were out along the same bay, in the moonlight at low tide, counting the number of horseshoe crabs.  The web of marsh-life became ever so evident; and the threats to the red knot became very real.  The horseshoe crab population was plummeting, and the red knots were searching for other migration corridors, with a more ample food supply.  Problem was, the other migration corridors did not have the type of water and food they needed.   The yearly routine of these amazing, small and strong birds was critically threatened.

It is great to hear that these studies and the work of avid scientists, researchers and advocates has come to fruition with the recent law.  This story has certainly reminded me of a very important part of our world, and some very important species that need our attention.  Its great to be reminded of the past, especially when the news is good!

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