more bird photography for Lan and shorebird research for GCA happening after all …

by Lanny McDowell on May 23, 2009

All three of us had pretty much given up on getting to the Jersey shore during spring migration this year. It looked like our non-profit, Global Conservation Alliance, was going to be a blowout for 2009, which , if that did not concern Red Knots and other declining stocks of migrant shorebirds, might not be such a big deal in itself; but wasting a year would have been a real shame in this case.

In order to have a chance of carrying out work on the beaches of Delaware Bay that might result in healthier (and heavier) Red Knots leaving on the last northern leg of their annual journey up to the Arctic, certain scientific requirements need to be met.  If anyone wants to access the restricted beaches where the birds feed, or if anyone wants to physically disturb the surface of those beaches, they have to apply for and receive permits from the state powers that be to do that work.  You can’t just show up and start digging up the sand.

Norm Famous, one of our number who is a wetlands ecologist by profession, put together GCA’s application to New Jersey Fish & Wildlife to conduct two experiments both of which we intend to complete during this next week, right at the tail end of the period that the knots , turnstones,  dunlin and other migrants are still feeding on the bay shores:  within numbered plots about 6 feet by 15 feet we will rake up the beach surface where there are horseshoe crab nests, at different depths, taking core samples and counting the number of eggs before and after the surface is turned over and also observing the reaction of the feeding birds to the disturbed areas;  secondly, we will feed gulls with other food products, principally Laughing Gulls, also within prescribed plots, to assess how this distraction of the gulls reduces their competition with shorebirds for the crab eggs.

Anyway, the applications were just now, as of two days ago, approved and the permits issued.  So it’s a go!  Late maybe, but some major last minute scrambling by the three GCA partners, including Porter Turnbull flying in from Hawaii and Norm Famous coming down from Maine, will get us down to New Jersey by this Tuesday to hit the beaches running and, hopefully, get these experiments under way before the birds decide to head out, which could be quite a sight in itself, if you are lucky enough to be on site when they lift off.  At least two other hardy souls will join us for at least part of the week we are there to help with manpower and equipment.

There will be more on this subject to share with you when I get back home to Martha’s Vineyard around the second day of June.  Stay tuned.


I just had to throw in a pair of oversized shots for all the detail, even though it looks a little strange with all the print overtop.  These two are from the shores of Cape Cod Bay on Chappaquiddick Island:



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Birds are cool!  Lanny

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Daily News About Photography : A few links about Photography - Saturday, 23 May 2009 04:34
05.23.09 at 8:12 am



Deb 05.23.09 at 2:08 pm

I knew you’d persevere with your plans. Good luck with your active research and I will look forward to hearing about your observations.


Lanny McDowell 05.23.09 at 3:27 pm

Thanks so much for the support, Deb. If I did not have so much to do in the next day, I would have emailed you individually because of your continuing interest. We appreciate the “Good luck”.


Emmett 05.24.09 at 4:34 pm

Great shots…………Do not know how you do it?


Lanny McDowell 06.02.09 at 3:06 pm

Em: Sorry, I was in New Jersey until today working on this shorebird project I keep referring to… Red Knots and others. As to the closeup shots? Get really close, stay in your car when you can (on the beach), not for ethical reasons, but because the birds care a lot less about a car than a 2-legged hominid. An image stabilized lens (IS in Canon speak) is good and it let’s me get away with never using a tripod, which all the books say to do. Best & nice to hear from you.


Lanny McDowell 06.03.09 at 9:36 am

I am copying into this comment a note I got this morning referring to a previous post about Red Knots because it is pertinent to what is going on at Delaware bay vis-a-vis crabs and shorebirds …

“When my wife spotted our house, in one of the photos dealing with Red Knots @ Money Isalnd…we looked closer. We have been assisting the “up-side-down” Horseshoe Crabs around Money Island , Gandy Beach, & isolated “out-cay” Islands in New Jersey for many years. We simply enjoy the isolation, solitude, & beauty of this area. We try to assist, conserve, & contribute to the “life-cycles” of this area, one being the annual influx of shorebirds, & the dilemna of the Red Knot. Cathy & I spent hours during full & new moons during May/June “flipping” over-turned Horseshoe Crabs. Having a Kayak, boat, & waverunner, I can always find areas to observe & assist. We consistently spot “tagged” horseshoe crabs & report them to USD of Interior. This year we noticed a increase in the number of feeding shorebirbs, including more Red Knots. Of course, this is not scientific, just an observation. We will continue to support & assist the life cycles of the turtles, monarch butterflies, shorebirds, dragonflies, Eagles, & Ospreys… maybe not so much those gnats, strawberry flies, & the up-coming, dare I say it, “GreenHeads”

My reply:

That sounds very energetic, Randy, and potentially very useful. My buddies in Global Conservation Alliance were actually discussing very recently the idea of promoting volunteer groups going along the beaches to flip over stranded HS Crabs as a useful activity and as an educational tool. We had some questions about access, given that some of the principal beaches are closed to the public, but maybe that could be waived. The thing is, at the right time of year high tides are coming twice a day every day. You do what you can.

I know that I was drawn to flip over large females at least. We had some time to kill between sample taking and observations out at Moore’s Beach about a week ago. One of our associates spent the time returning crabs to the bay. I was taking photos and, as I walked past him, I said, “You know that’s more about you than the crabs, right?” He said, yeah, and kept on doing it. I guess ultimately it is all about the crabs, then the birds, then the bay and its people, so I can’t fault anyone for keeping any part of the system alive and reproducing.

Thanks for your timely comment. I got back from NJ yesterday. There will be more blog and photos in days to come, once I get settled back into the Vineyard life.

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