New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Back to State of NJ Homepage Back to Fish and Wildlife Homepage Back to DEP Homepage

As we have for the last 18 years, biologists with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program began a new field season on the Delaware Bay. Each year more than a million shorebirds of 6 species come to the bay just to rebuild depleted energy stores (fat) to continue their migration to the Arctic breeding grounds.

Traveling as far as 10,000 miles, they make a gamble worthy of any in Atlantic City, that there will be enough horseshoe crab eggs on the bay beaches of New Jersey and Delaware to double their body weight in less than three weeks. The birds have been gambling for thousands of years, and winning, but now the stakes are rising. Crab numbers are falling as is the supply of eggs. Now the question all biologists are asking is, will there be enough?

To answer that question, we have assembled a prestigious team of shorebird scientists and an extensive array of projects. Leading all of this are Larry Niles, Kathy Clark and Mandy Dey from the Endangered and Nongame Species Program. We lead the entire project and act as the chief liaisons between the different projects. The projects include:

Shorebird Banding Project led by Clive Minton, Ph.D. Clive is a lifelong leader of bird banding programs, virtually creating the current cannon netting method used by bird banders the world over. Clive created the UK's Wash Wader Study Group in 1959, the first of many worldwide shorebird study groups. Eventually he created the International Wader Study Group in 1970. In recognition of the Clive's outstanding contribution to Australian and International Ornithology he was inducted into the Order of Australia in 2000.

The goal of the project will be to band approximately 100 birds of each species every three days. We will continue a crucial assessment of bird weight throughout the month and compare it to previous years. Moreover, we will band birds with color bands, joining 16,000 other birds banded over the last four years. These banded birds are becoming a key asset to other biologists on our team to help develop population estimates and movements of birds while on the bay.

Delaware Bay Shorebird Survey led by Kathy Clark. This survey has taken place for the last 16 years with identical counters and methodology. It's done from an airplane, once every week for the five weeks of the stopover period (May to first week of June). The count is conducted in the entire bay and is done in conjunction with Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Annual Count of Horseshoe Crab Eggs led by Craig James and Cristina Frank. The egg count is a laborious sampling of eggs in the upper 5 cm of all the bay beaches every week throughout May and early June. We use the same methodology as the surveys conducted by Bob Loveland of Rutgers and Mark Botton of Fordham since the 1980's. This count is an invaluable estimate of what is available to shorebirds.

Baywide Ground Count of Birds led by Allan Baker, Clive Minton and Larry Niles. This will be a bay-wide ground count during the peak of the stopover period. Observers will spread out all over the bay and will be synchronized with the aerial count for that week. The ground count will employ all the team for one day.

Night Feeding and Alternate Foods of the Red Knot led by Humphrey Sitters, PhD. Humphrey, who has just finish his doctorate at Oxford on oyster catchers, has conducted work on waders throughout the world and is now the Chair of the British Trust for Ornithology, one of the most important ornithological organizations in the world. The project aims at understanding night feeding in Red Knots on the Atlantic Coast marshes. Although most of the work will require painstaking observation at night with night vision equipment, we will also use radio transmitters to help locate important roosting and feeding areas. We hope to learn whether there are alternate foods for knots and is there enough to replace horseshoe crab eggs.

The Telemetry Project led by Lawrence Niles, Kathleen Clark and Humphrey Sitters. For the last four years, Program biologists have attached radio transmitters to red knots to 1) study movements of red knots while on the bay and 2) as a key tool in locating Arctic breeding grounds. (See the other web journal on this same site.) This was done to help evaluate the impact of declining horseshoe crab availability on the ability to successfully breed. The transmitters weight about 3 grams and are attached to feathers that will eventually be moulted after the transmitter loses its power. We will continue this project this year. We will also use the same transmitters to help located important nighttime roosting and feeding areas on the Atlantic coast.

Survey of birds in the Delaware Bay Marsh led by Amanda Dey, Kathleen Clark and Lawrence Niles. Currently the survey of birds in the Delaware Bay takes place entirely on the beach, even though nearly twice as many birds may be using the marshes. Most of the birds in the marsh are semipalmated sandpiper, short-billed dowitcher and dunlin. We hope to improve our understanding these birds' numbers on the bay and the areas important to them. The survey will be done from a helicopter and sample key areas throughout the bay. Those samples will then be extrapolated to estimate total populations. Counts will be done once per week, starting the second week of May.

Shorebird Scan Project led by Allan Baker, PhD. and Patricia Gonzales. Allan is the chief ornithologist with the Royal Ontario Museum, the founder of the Western Atlantic Shorebird Association and an expert in shorebird phylogenetics. Patricia is an ornithologist from Argentina and has worked extensively on shorebirds in Argentina for the last 20 years. The scan project attempts to characterize movement on the bay and to estimate the number of birds in the entire flyway population by using the proportion of trapped and re-trapped birds.

The Banding of Semipalmated Sandpipers led by David Mizrahi. As the Director of Conservation Research at New Jersey Audubon, David conducts a variety of birds projects in NJ and is a veteran shorebird biologist who has just completed his Ph.D. on semipalmated sandpipers. David will mistnet semipalmated sandpipers on the Delaware Bay marshes and do a parallel investigation on weights of these birds who also rely on the horseshoe crab. Semipalms are poorly represented in the beach counts and the main bird-banding project.

Threshold Egg Availability for Red Knots led by Graciela Escudero. Leaving her master's program at the Neatherlands Sea Institute for the month, Graciela will try to determine the threshold densities of surface eggs necessary to keep red knots feeding. She will compare this with the eggs available on beaches dominated with laughing gulls and also beaches with no birds. This will be compared with other data on the density of eggs necessary for birds to actually gain weight.