Delaware Bay 2007- Trapping Shorebirds on Delaware Bay
Two events dominated our third day of trapping shorebirds on the Delaware Bay.The Director of NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Dave Chanda, (left, holding a ruddy turnstone), two members of the Division’s Marine Fish Council and one member of the Fish and Game Council stood by waiting for us to catch and would join us in the processing of the birds.The second was a nasty 25 knot wind blowing against the beach.This would make an easy catch virtually impossible because we would have to set the 12 meter long cannon net perpendicular to the wind and beach assuring that the birds would have to walk across the net.The best option is normally to set the net parallel to the beach firing towards the sea at birds lined along the edge. However, the onshore wind would simply cause the net to act like a parachute and gently float to the ground, allowing the birds to fly away.Instead we had to be very aware about birds walking on the net or within the danger zone, a 6 foot strip in front of the net that that must be clear to prevent birds from being injured by the leading edge of the net.Make no mistake: this net goes out so powerfully and fast that it covers a 25’ by 40’ area in a split second and the birds are covered before they have a chance to fly.
The welfare of the birds is our number one concern; after all the reason why we are here doing this work is to protect them. We all should be concerned. Kathy Clark of the NJ ENSP conducts the yearly survey of shorebirds on the Delaware Bay and has been doing so for over 20 years. Over that time we have seen the slow decline of this once world-class stopover for shorebirds on their way to the Arctic. In 1989, there were over 90,000 red knots on the Delaware Bay and an estimated total of 1.5 million shorebirds. It was ranked as one of the top four stopovers in the world along with the Yellow Sea in China, the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and the Copper River Delta in Alaska. Imagine a small estuary in New Jersey and Delaware being in the same class as one in Alaska! Unfortunately, the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs and the consequent decline in the availability of their eggs for shorebirds has led the numbers of shorebirds using the Bay to fall, a decline that has accelerated in the last few years.
Fortunately, courageous leadership by the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection led to a two-year moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in NJ starting in 2006. Delaware Fish and Wildlife has also bravely opposed significant political opposition and imposed their own two-year moratorium on the harvest of crabs starting this year. Four of the people who helped create this sea change, David Chanda, the NJ Fish and Wildlife Director, Gil Ewing of the NJ Marine Fish Council as well as Fran Puskas and John Messerol of NJ Fish and Wildlife Council, were among the group watching while Clive Minton, Dick Veitch and I sat in the dune grass getting ready to catch shorebirds. We wanted to give them a first hand experience with the birds they helped protect. But first we had to catch them!
Clive and I stared through our binoculars watching several hundred ruddy turnstones, sanderlings and red knots walking across the long net and into danger zone. Three feet in front of the net we had laid a thin cord with small swatches of material spaced every couple of feet known as a “jiggler”. We can pull the jiggler from the firing position to scare the birds just enough to encourage them to walk out of the danger zone. But each time Clive yanked the jiggler it scared the birds to the backside of the net and when he stopped they would walk back across into the danger zone and spread out into the catching area. We were in a bind. So we decided to wait it out until a natural change occurred in the birds’ behavior. Minutes seem like hours when your decision to fire can mean a good catch, a poor catch or no catch. In a flash the danger zone cleared, we fired and within seconds the team went to work calming the birds by covering them with a shade cloth and moving them into the keeping catches. We caught and processed 78 turnstones, 62 sanderlings and 1 red knot. We were please to have the Director and Council members join in the processing of the birds.
The cannon net firing in sequence