Friday, June 3, 2016

S.C. Shoreline Vital for Spring Shorebird Synergy

Red Knot synergy photo by Fletcher Smith
Birding is not for everyone, but if one possesses a curiosity about avian life, then looking out for migratory birds each spring becomes a ritual. The coast of Georgia and South Carolina are now the focus of a study by the Center for Conservation Biology, tracking the shorebirds that stopover for rest and food. A strong horseshoe crab spawning event in 2016 provided a banquet of sustenance to visiting shorebirds, which come alive and sing nature’s symphony with renewed vigor at the break of each day.
Red Knot with tag photo by Fletcher Smith
At dawn on May 14 on Edisto Beach I was witness to a synergy in nature that is truly rare. Though only a half-moon was visible overnight, the landscape was lit up with a luster that was remarkable. The high tide associated with the moon triggered horseshoe crabs to come onto the beach in the early morning to spawn and leave eggs buried on the beach. Remarkably, some of these same horseshow crabs chose not to crawl back into the ocean, but rather lay prone on the beach waiting for the next high tide cycle.
All around these stalled out horseshow crabs, a swarm of shorebirds were looking for an easy meal. No one else was on the beach that morning to see the juxtaposition between the slow-moving horseshoe crabs and the lightening quick shorebirds. At first a large number of ruddy turnstones were probing a gulley that still held a bit of water after the ocean had retreated down the beach. But when they hit pay dirt and found the horseshoe crab eggs, their calling set off a feeding frenzy.
All in a matter of 15-minutes or so around dawn, the shorebirds and the seagulls joined in a cacophony of sound that was so loud it was exciting even to humans. Other birds began showing up, flying in from all directions, upon hearing the sound of successful feeding. Some of the last shorebirds to show up were the endangered Red Knots, with dunlin and semi-palmated sandpipers also present. Having witnessed this event in awe, I reached out to research biologist Fletcher Smith to seek out more details about the study in S.C. and Georgia.

Horseshoe Crab on Edisto Beach on May 15
“My impression from the spring of 2016 is that we saw a big horseshoe crab spawn early in May, and the Red Knots were right on it,” said Smith.  “The full moon in late May did not see much horseshoe crab spawning, but by then the Red Knots likely had moved up to Delaware Bay. Kiawah Island and Bull Island each reported large numbers of migrating Red Knots this year. Another observation this year is more human disturbance where shorebirds are stopping over, so we’ve got to do a better job of education regarding this small two-month window each spring.”
Horseshoe crab eggs
South Carolina is home to some shorebirds year round, but Red Knots and others only migrate though. In time, one comes to know a good day versus any other when it comes to wildlife sightings. This same morning I saw a painted bunting in the sand dunes shrub zone and a leatherback turtle just beyond the surf zone. All of these species were on a journey of spring migration, making protected properties along the S.C. coast vital today, and priceless for the future.

To read the feature article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

To view past blog entries about Red Knots click on Moonbird book - Endangered Species Act - The Narrow Edge

To view past blog on avian conservation click on Cornell Lab of Ornithology - International Crane Foundation - Manomet 

For past blog entries on World Shorebird Day click 20152014 

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