Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Delaware Bayshore Is an Important Bird Area

New Jersey's Delaware Bayshore has now been designated as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area.
To achieve the “Globally Significant” label, [New Jersey Audubon] and National Audubon submitted years of annual shorebird and waterfowl survey data to a panel of nationally and internationally recognized experts. The panel found that four species were present in numbers that met or exceeded the quota required to trigger the “Globally Significant” designation: The Bayshore is a crucial stopover site for migrating Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones, and provides critical winter habitat for large concentrations of Snow Geese and American Black Ducks. The survey data was collected in annual surveys by wildlife biologists from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

Stretching along approximately 50 miles of coastline, from Fairfield Township in Cumberland County to Cape May Point in Cape May County, the Delaware Bayshore IBA includes about 50,000 acres, much of which is protected conservation land, including 13 state Wildlife Management Areas and the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge....

Awareness of the Delaware Bayshore’s importance began to grow in 1982, when staff at the New Jersey Audubon Society began the first aerial shorebird surveys to quantify the number and species of shorebirds using the Bayshore. These aerial surveys were later assumed by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, which has performed them annually since 1986. The state also performs the annual winter waterfowl surveys that led to the inclusion of American Black Ducks and Snow Geese in the “Globally Significant” designation....

Of the four species named in the Globally Significant announcement, the plight of the Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone is the best known and lends a bittersweet note to the designation. While recent surveys show significant numbers of birds refueling at the Bayshore during spring migration (12,000 to 16,000 Red Knots and 17,000 to 37,000 Ruddy Turnstones), they are lower than numbers of 95,000 Red Knots and 80,000 Turnstones recorded in the early aerial surveys. A precipitous decline in these populations began in the mid-1980s, when horseshoe crab harvesting rose dramatically for use as bait. The horseshoe crabs’ eggs are essential food that allows these long-distance migrants to make it to their summer arctic nesting grounds to breed.
I am actually surprised that this area was not designated as an Important Bird Area sooner since the importance of the area for migratory shorebirds (especially Red Knots) has been known for some time. Much of the area is already protected, so I am not sure whether this designation will lead to further conservation measures.