Ospreys and gulls and egrets; sandpipers, herons, and terns…
Every year we check out our two favorite osprey nest sites when we go to the Delaware shore. This year on the Salt Pond one of the nests held two young birds. We didn’t see any activity at the second nest, but it was too far away to determine without binoculars, which I’d forgotten at home. I was in for an extra treat, however, when my friend Helen took us to see this nest in a nearby neighborhood.
Not a great spot if the weather turns cold early and the occupants in the house want to build a fire in the fireplace. Osprey nests can be 3-6 feet in diameter and deep enough to hold a person. Someone is going to have a big clean-up job to do once the babies leave the nest.
Every day on our way to the beach and back the gulls patrolled the shoreline. This one had a bird’s eye view from his perch on the fence post, and it looked as if he was enjoying doing a little people watching. He must wonder why humans coming to the beach need to bring a plethora of colorful stuff with them — umbrellas and chairs and coolers and bags. We sit for awhile and then walk the beach or go in the water or head to the snack shop or to the restroom or back to the car for something forgotten. And then we fold it and bag it and pack it all up again at the end of the day.
Every spring the Delaware Bay is the site of an incredible bird exhibition that isn’t seen anywhere else in the world. The Bay is a major rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds that have left their winter homes in the southern climes — some from as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America — and are enroute to their Canadian Arctic nesting grounds.
The Eastern Shore is merely a food stop. The Delaware Bay’s beaches are the site of the largest horseshoe crab spawning in the world and these crab eggs provide the nutrients the birds need to fly nonstop every spring to the Arctic. Over a lifetime the sandpipers, specifically the tiny red knots, can fly a distance equivalent to a trip to the moon and back. And they can eat a lot of crab eggs — as many as 25,000 eggs per bird each day! (According to Smithsonian Magazine, this is like a person eating 700 chicken eggs in 24 hours.)
The number of birds stopping over, however, has been declining the past few years and a project has been initiated to help protect the health and habitat of migratory birds. Check out the Delaware Shorebird Project for more information and volunteer opportunities.