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On Monday we met with much greater success. Trapping once again in Villas, we quickly located and trapped a flock of 354 birds. Most were sanderlings, 3 turnstones and surprisingly our first 3 knots. The sanderlings were in reasonably good condition, with an average weight just a bit heavier than the previous week. We processed the birds in just under 4 hours. Afterwards, a quick survey of the nearby beaches tells us that we are still early with few turnstones and knots in the area.
Humphrey, however, on the Atlantic coast has observed something extraordinary. He has begun his project by searching the marsh islands for all shorebirds in the area of Stone Harbor and North Wildwood. Surprisingly, he turned up more red knots than on all the Delaware Bay, over 600 birds. He observed the feeding behavior and found them probing deeply, unlike last year when they searched for mussels on the surface. Although this may sound innocuous it presents another piece of a puzzle we will try to unravel this season.
The big questions are what will happen if crabs fail to lay enough eggs for shorebirds? Is there an alternative food? Our preliminary answer from last year's work is no, but this years work will provide a greater understanding.
For years we often observed all shorebirds lifting off the Delaware Bay shore towards the Atlantic coast at or near dark each day. It varied with the tide, but predictably birds would leave when the tide flooded on the bayshore. We assumed the rising tide left no safe roosting areas so the shorebirds joined the thousands of nesting gulls, terns and herons on the Atlantic coast marsh islands between the barrier beach and mainland. There they found roosting sites free of marauding ground predators. Foxes, raccoons, dogs and cats can't swim the broad and swift tidal creeks, making birds safe on the marsh islands.
Humphrey's and Graciela's work demonstrated birds were also feeding on the Atlantic coast. Mostly at night and on mussels of which there are few. Now he asks - how important is this feeding to the shorebird? Is there adequate food to supplement the declining horseshoe crab eggs? Working on the Atlantic coast has always been difficult for our team because of the focus on the Delaware Bay. With an additional homebase on the Atlantic coast, this year's investigation should yield much data that will help clarify some of the nagging questions surrounding this stopover.