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Today our goal was to count shorebirds on the entire bayshore. We wanted to reproduce a similar count done two years ago in hope of shedding some light on the number of knots then and now. As we did two years ago, our count only included birds along the bayshore and did not include birds in Stone Harbor or in the marshes.

Most of the team spread out along the southern bay coast, south of Reeds Beach. We moved quickly to make the high tide at 9:00 a.m. Alastair, Kenny and Kevin were stationed at Thompson's beach while Hugh, Peter, Ron, and myself took the boat and covered the entire bayshore from Reed's Beach north to Fortesque. Clive would do Fortesque itself and pick us up at the local marina.

The bayshore from Reed's Beach to Fortesque has to be of the most beautiful places on the east coast. For the entire 25 miles of shoreline, there is only one small community, East Point, home to the famous East Point Light House. Two towns, Moore's Beach and Thompson's Beach, no longer exist after being purchased, torn down, and removed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife and Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG). In the 1980's, the main thrust of protection for the Delaware Bay stopover was to purchase as much bayfront as possible. Back then crabs were abundant.

The plan has been wildly successful. As we cruised along the shore, nearly all of the land now lies in the hands of Fish and Wildlife, PSEG and managed by the Nature Conservancy, or Natural Lands Trust. This land will provide a rich heritage for our children.

Our count was routine, but the sea was rough. A stiff 15-20 knot wind forced itself against an incoming tide creating a choppy sea that thrashed our 16 ft aluminum boat. Peter recorded and Hugh, assisted by Ron, did a noble job of counting an amazing and diverse number of birds. We saw less than a thousand knots until we reached Straight Creek at Egg Island and were treated to the site of a beach in pandemonium. Over 2,500 red knots fed or roosted on the beach. Crabs cobbled on the shore. It was feast for everyone.

In total, we counted 11,800 knots while the team in Delaware counted about 17,000 on the bayshore. They may have seen more in the distant marshes, but these could not be counted because they were not verified and were not on the bayshore itself. We could only include birds on the bayshore proper so that we could compare it to the count performed two years ago.

The preliminary count of just over 37,000 birds is lower than the 55,000 birds counted in 1999. We will attempt a second count later in the week, and Kathy will fly the bay tomorrow. She will also check on the back marsh in Delaware to check for additional birds.

In the Evening, we were stunned with news from Humphrey. He stayed at the roosting site and counted 3,500 knots suggesting that perhaps the 11,000 birds seen the previous night were additional to the birds we had seen on the bayshore, especially the birds at Fortesque. But when he returned in the evening and surveyed the roosting flock with a receiver he heard " a cacophony of signals" coming from the flock. The signals from the birds that were radio tagged in Fortesque were all on the same frequency, a convenience made for the Arctic work.

The find, however, meant that the roosting birds were actually the birds feeding in Fortesque. In other words, birds were flying over 25 miles between feeding and roosting areas. Although there are comparable flight distances in other stopover and wintering areas, this was stunning news. Obviously, the birds need and prefer the safety of the Atlantic Coast probably because of the absence of ground predators. But to do so they must fly a 25-mile commute to food.

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

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