Sunday, June 9, 2013

Horseshoe Crab Spawn and Jake's Landing Report

[Tagged male Horseshoe Crab at Reed's Beach, NJ last night. Click to enlarge.]

We did our second Horseshoe Crab survey of the season last night at Reed's Beach, and a pretty good spawn was underway. The survey involves taking random 1 meter square counts of crabs along the beach, and almost every count had a few crabs, often 5-10 males attached to or around 1-2 of the bigger females.

Crab eggs, tiny greenish-gray beads, were thick in places along the Delaware Bay, accumulated in mats in some areas. The shorebirds that feed on them are mostly gone, and we encountered just a single Sanderling along the bay as we made our way in the dark. Laughing Gulls will consume many of the eggs - they were thick at Norbury's Landing at sunset last night.

Shorebirds gone or not, the crabs will continue to spawn on high tides well into summer, and I sometimes see southbound shorebirds feeding on the eggs in July.

Survey protocol has us starting at high tide, which wasn't until 10:00 p.m., so we drove up to Jake's Landing Road beforehand to hear what we could hear. Both Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-wills-widows were sounding off in the first half-mile of the road, the whips quite close by and the chucks requiring careful listening to pick up farther off. Out at the end of the road, Clapper Rails, Marsh Wrens, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Ospreys, Willets, and Black Skimmers made for some fun listening. A missing voice, despite good conditions (full dark, dark moon, light wind) was Black Rail. Jake's is a traditional place for this species, but Black Rails seem on their way to being extirpated in the state. Sea level rise, and related tidal flooding of high marsh areas, could be implicated as the reason.

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