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sportsmen and birders working together in SC

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My journey through the south ended at a gated community on the South Carolina coast called Harbor Island.  Like other gated islands off the SC coast, Harbor Island is exclusive to mostly homeowners and renters.   One might categorized Harbor Island as being on the low end of this narrow spectrum, Hilton Head and other nearby islands are bigger with much wealthier residents.     Regardless, the island is a wonderful place to spend time on this coast, one of the most beautiful of the eastern US.   Shorebirds, skimmers and terns on the south end of Harbor IslandI came to trap red…

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A landscape drained of its wealth

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The rural landscape in our country has changed dramatically in the last thirty years.   I saw this first hand this past week as I traveled in my pickup across the southeast US to do work in Texas and South Carolina.  I used to live in the south.  I spent two years as a technician in rural South Carolina, then five years as a game biologist in very rural southeast Georgia.   During my recent trip, I visited the town in Georgia where two of our three children were born.  It was my first time back since we left in 1982.  The path of my trip across…

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Death and Suffering on Padre Island

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  The fish kill on Padre Island National Seashore,TX. The kill was causing by a harmful algal bloom most often called a red tide. Photo by Barbara KeelerIts difficult to describe the scene of a massive fish kill.    At first it is a terrible assault on the eyes, mile upon mile of intertidal beach plastered with dead fish, the surf rolling new bodies ashore every minute for days.  At the same time you start hacking like a smoker because the same miasma killing the fish irritates your lungs, makes your eyes water and anchors a low grade headache.  Finally it…

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Hawks on the Cohansey

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The hawks of autumn have arrived on our land and all of the farms and forest that surround us.   High above us one can see slow moving kettles of vultures, sharp-shinned hawks, broad-winged hawks  even the odd eagle moving past us for some distant place.  Coopers Hawk, Photo by Kevin CarlsonThis land calls to all of these birds but especially those in need.  In the afternoon, when the migration has petered out to a few stranglers, kestrels dot the phone wires looking for the movement of migrating dragonflies in the fertile grasslands, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks look for migrant songbirds…

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Only birders can stop the slaughter of migratory shorebirds in the Caribbean

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  Take a look at this video of hunters killing shorebirds in Guadaloupe.  This is an outragous and irresponible slaugter that should offend anyone, hunter or nonhunter. These killers, sanctioned by French law, are slaugtering many of the same birds we are trying to protect including the whimbrel, Machi.  She died at the wrong end of a gun after herocially flying through Hurricane Irene.  There are conservation groups, like Monomet Center for Conservation Sciences and Birdlife International, that are trying to stop it.  But they face mountainous odds mostly because the French consider this slaugter a tradition and the Government…

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Praise for biologists of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

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Working on wildlife is a sometimes-dangerous task.  Danger is obvious when working on animals like black bears or rattlesnakes or when climbing trees to band nestling eagles.   It’s not as obvious when working on the shorebirds, probably the meekest of animals.  Yet danger exists, nonetheless, when using a cannon net to capture shorebirds along hazardous shorelines where the birds often occur. In other words, most biologists must be prepared for dangerous circumstances while they do the job of collecting of data. I recently returned from just such a trip along the south shore of Cape Cod working with my colleagues…

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The sad end of a brave bird

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Machi getting it’s satellite radio tagA great tragedy has befallen one of the few shorebirds with a personal identity.  Machi is a whimbrel made famous for flying through Hurricane Irene.   The poor bird left the Atlantic Coast, not knowing of the oncoming hurricane, with a satellite transmitter on it’s back.  The transmitter was attached by biologists Bryan Watts and Flecher Smith, of the Center for Conservation Biology at William and Mary, so that they could track Macha’s movements.  The bird muscled its way through the tumult at sea, facing headwinds that should have left it weakened and unable to make…

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There but for the grace of God go I

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Whimbrel with satellite transmitter. photo by Barry TruittHurricane Irene punished more than the people of the Atlantic coast over the last few days.  Brian Watts and Flectcher Smith of the  Center for Conservation Biology, at the College of William and Mary, released a report on a whimbrel flying into Irene, while it was a Category 3 storm, and against all odds made it to it’s wintering area in South America.  This bird was lucky, others with Brian’s satellite transmitters weren’t so lucky, the transmitters suddenly blinking out, the bird carrying it presumably lost.  I have blogged here about red knots…

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Joisey to Boise – How an idyllic Idaho wilderness is like the Delaware Bay.

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What does the perfect wilderness of Idaho have anything to do with the imperfect wilderness of the Delaware Bay?  On the face of it, not much especially after our friend and colleague, Jon Bart, took us for an overnight camping trip into the Sawtooth Wilderness of southern Idaho.  We hoisted our packs nearly 9 miles and 4,000 feet to see one of the most spectacular morning scenes one could behold — the Sawtooth Lake.  We explored the area looking for the wolves, elk and bighorn sheep that populate the gorgeous land completely protected from the schemes of man to make money.Jon Bart and…

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Two new paths to a sustainable horseshoe crab harvest

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The overharvest of horseshoe crabs on Delaware Bay is a not a story in itself, but one of many stories of overharvest on the Bay.  So the question isn’t, “why are horseshoe crabs overharvested?” but “why are most commercially-important species in Delaware Bay, including horseshoe crabs, overharvested?”.  The answer if as complex as the ecology of the Bay. Likewise, fisheries management on the Atlantic Coast is closer to market hunting than most people would like to admit.  The system is dominated by well-financed commercial interests (e.g., docks, boat/business owners, processing plants) who take much of the profit from fish harvests…

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Starting a new dialogue on shorebird conservation- come to our celebration on May 9th

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Mean horseshoe crab densities in Delaware bay from 2006 to 2010. The Delaware data excludes Mispillion Harbor which had far higher densities but also showed no increase.This January, we learned that a whole suite of artic-nesting shorebirds have plummeted in numbers including red knots, semipalmated sandpipers, ruddy turnstones and lesser yellowlegs.  The magnitude of this problem is still unknown, but real declines of 35 to 90% have been documented.  The reasons are unclear but we know Delaware Bay stopover, the lynchpin place where many shorebirds prepare themselves for breeding, is still in the same miserable condition it was 10 years…

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A Cat Ghetto

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Fuzzy lounging on the couchPersonally, I am not a cat person, but we have cats in our home because my wife, Mandy, loves them.  She rescued both of them from a brutish life that meets every feral cat.  We had a third cat which Mandy had for 14 years — a feral cat that was unsocialized to humans but got along well as an inside cat. Disease, predators, car strikes, starvation kills many but all suffer.    A tabby with an eye infection, probably conjunctivitisCat lover or not, one could not help but feel outrage over the careless introduction of…

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Out to sea: the human toll of misguided environmental policy

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Sign at Coast Guard Station proclaiming the importance of weakfish to Fortescueians. Unfortunately weakfish are another victim of overharvest.Fortescue was once the self proclaimed “Weakfish capital of the world”.  No more, even by the most optimistic reckoning.  This once vibrant town, perched precariously along NJ’s Delaware Bayshore, has suffered the twin blows of a state government that refuses to invest in the infrastructure of the Delaware Bayshore towns, and a fisheries management system that works for the fish industry and not the fishermen.  MIss Fortescue is one of the headboats carrying fishermen for 4 or 6 hour trips. Now that…

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NJ’s land use schizophrenia

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It’s no secret that the people from New Jersey have conflicting impulses when it comes to rural land in their Garden State.  The conflict can be seen as you travel down the Garden State Parkway — the real Jersey Shore (not the reality TV version) on one side and the Pinelands Preservation Zone on the other.  The clash is particularly abrupt on the drive from the Delaware Bayshore at Jake’s Landing to Wildwood on the Atlantic ocean.  We distinguish ourselves by creating the most jarring contrasts of the most garish architecture and the most preserved spaces.   Gentle transitions are not…

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Our expedition to capture Kiawah Island knots

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We just returned from an “expedition” to Kiawah Island, South Carolina.  Kiawah is a resort for the wealthy that was originally developed during the period when I worked at University of Clemson facility at the Barnard Beruch winter plantation in 1974-76.  Then the South Carolina Coast was mostly working class with resorts centered at Myrtle Beach and Charleston.  Now it is like most of the Atlantic coast, a property of the rich.  Kiawah is one of the wealthiest islands on the east coast.  The island is essentially a gated, planned community ten times the size of Wildwood NJ.  But unlike…

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