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On this very early morning, the crew set the net at 5:30 am and attempted a light catch of turnstones right on Reed's Beach. After a frustrating two hours of twinkling (moving birds down the beach by a slow moving walker) we could not get the birds past the many laughing gulls occupying the beach in front of the net.

The laughing gulls are quickly becoming a serious difficulty. Laughing gulls have always been abundant on the bayshore, for they have always fed on horseshoe crabs eggs. Like willets and glossy ibis as well as herring gulls and black backed gulls, they use the eggs to supplement their diet while they lay eggs and care for young. Some of the largest Atlantic coast colonies of ibis and laughing gulls occur just opposite the bay so the birds can fly the few miles across the peninsula and gorge on eggs.

Now they also must face the reality of declining egg availability. With a declining resource there is a greater competition for what remains and unfortunately the shorebirds will lose. The competition is lop-sided: laughing, herring and black-backed gulls will not only feed first, but also command the best beaches.

On Reed's Beach this morning the laughing gulls out numbered the shorebirds by at least 20-1. With the turnstones there wasn't a direct competition for eggs but rather a competition for space on the beach. Laughing gulls will spread out across the entire beach and much smaller shorebirds must find empty pockets between them. These pockets usually lack eggs, so the shorebirds must edge their way into a place amongst towering gulls often fighting amongst each other to command their own space. This will be a growing problem that will appear to be the fault of the gulls. But the real culprit is declining egg availability.

After failing to catch turnstones, the team broke up into several groups. Clive took the main group to met David Mizrahi and attempt a catch of dunlin and help David clear some areas for roosting sites for semipalms. Mark Peck assisted Humphrey in his survey for the Atlantic coast marsh.

Lawrence J. Niles, PhD
Chief, NJ Endangered Species Program

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