Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Red Knot shorebirds visit Lowcountry

Red Knot with leg bands
It’s easy to get carried away talking about the great blue heron and the other large and remarkable birds in our wading bird flock. Equally easy is to rave at the bounty of colors on our Neotropical songbirds like the painted bunting and the summer tanager. Shorebirds can easily be overlooked, though they deserve to be marveled at just as much for their great migrations and stamina despite a compact size.

Birding on Edisto Island recently I saw some Dunlin shorebirds in a freshwater impoundment. They had a special patch of breeding feathers on their belly that was black in color, and they were simply stopping by for some rest and food before heading on to the North. These birds are so small that their black bellies were just about in the inky waters they were feeding in, requiring a second look to correctly identify their presence.
Click here for a link to Moonbird by Phillip Hoose
That’s how it can be for most shorebirds, since they are small birds that fly fast in small packs up and down the beaches, and along and around our marshes. To throw out a blanket ID or general term like sandpipers when witnessing these flocks is perfectly understandable for the novice birder. But upon closer review, just like the Dunlins, some of our shorebirds are well famous and gaining notoriety every day.
The Rufa Red Knot shorebird is the subject of the Phillip Hoose book titled Moonbird, which was published in 2012. Hoose is a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Services, and served 37 years as a staff member for The Nature Conservancy. Another book he penned, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, is about the now-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Moonbird is about one particular Red Knot but it raises awareness that their species is in decline and is now protected as an Endangered Species.
Red Knots migrate from the tip of Argentina, called Tierra Del Fuego, all the way to the Mingan Archipelago in Quebec, Canada. When flying the northbound leg they use the East Coast as a stopover point to rest and replenish their energy via food sources. Delaware Bay is the main stopover but Jacksonville, Florida will see some Red Knot traffic and so will a few precious spots in South Carolina.
One such spot is Harbor Island beach on St. Helena Island just south of Beaufort. Ornithologist Dr. Sid Gauthreaux counted 59 Red Knots there on May 9, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation (SCWF) saw more of them on the weekend of May 17 and 18. Hoose was the SCWF guest of honor for a Saturday night social at the Penn Center that weekend for members of their Pro Birder Series. 

To view this article in its entirety in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view other bird sightings click on Birding Journal Observations.

Ben Gregg is the Exec. Dir. of the S.C. Wildlife Federation and he shares these remarks: 

The SCWF "Red Knot Rendezvous" was one I had been looking forward to for over a year.  It was our biggest Palmetto Pro Birder weekend since we first started the Outdoor Academy three years ago.
What an inspiring weekend it was - inspired by the people involved and the shorebirds we focused on.  The setting was the St. Helena area of Beaufort County.  We designed the whole weekend around the anticipated peak of shorebird migration and in particular the red knot, which has received so much attention in recent years. 
Some areas have seen declines in the Red Knot population of up to 75% due to losses of quality stopover areas along their migratory route. Development, beach erosion, sea level fluctuations and potential changes to arctic tundra due to climate change are all affecting these wonderful birds that circumnavigate the globe.  Our planning (and of course a little luck) paid off as the red knots showed up in amazing numbers and we observed them feeding profusely on the eggs of the spawning horseshoe crabs. 
The epicenter of the red knot/horseshoe crab relationship and its importance has been Delaware Bay north of us, but thanks to the dedicated work of scientists from the SC Department of Natural Resources, everyone is realizing the SC coast is one of the vital nursery grounds and fueling spots for red knots and other shorebirds.  
To protect this crucial habitat, we need to offer continued protection of beaches deemed important spawning sites for horseshoe crabs (the eggs of which are vitally important to knots and a long list of other shorebirds), ensure proper harvesting of horseshoe crabs in an effort to keep their populations stabilized, and educate the public on how things as varied as coastal development and keeping dogs on leashes while on beaches impact the survivorship of migrating and breeding shorebirds.

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