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On May 4 the team caught 115 ruddy turnstones and 53 sanderlings. With our rigorous schedule of 100 birds every 3 days, we had to start once again for more sanderling. Sunday is a very difficult time for banding and trapping because of all the people on the beaches. After a great deal of work, we eventually caught 60 sanderlings. But we were continually frustrated with dogs and joggers and children playing games with the crabs.
The mayhem highlights the work that needs to be done. It used to be much worse. In the early 1980's, the shorebird migration was virtually unknown amongst birders and the general public. With an initial surveys by Peter Dunne and others in 1982, and subsequent surveys by Kathy, the magic of the migration on the Delaware Bay stopover quickly became well known.
By 1986, the great numbers of people coming to the bay were disturbing to the birds and the biologists protecting them. Within a year, and with funding from the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, we began providing signage at all access points, platforms to help channel people to specific areas and volunteers to patrol the beach, informing walkers about the effect of disturbance. Now the work is done in partnership with New Jersey Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and NJ Conservation Foundation.
The problem is that as people repeatedly flush the birds, it increases the amount of effort the birds need to find eggs. Sometimes eggs remain unavailable because the birds can't get to them. Without eggs the birds can't gain weight. By the 1990's, the problem of disturbance has largely been controlled, but as our experiences on Sunday has shown, it is an ongoing problem. We find most people do it unintentionally; once informed they stop. But the number of people stills grows, as do the problems.
We were particularly annoyed to watch a jogger run down the narrow strand of beach constricted by the high tide to only about 10 feet of bare sand, flushing every single shorebird from our trapping area. They flushed like the bow wave on a boat; the jogger saw every single bird flush. Eventually, we fired and made a small catch of 38 sanderling and 13 turnstone.