The Amazing Flight of Red Knot 1E7

December 26, 2013

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

My Christmas present arrived one day late this year. While walking on the beach at Knight/Palm Island on Dec. 26, I encountered a flock of 32 red knots feeding in the surf just after dawn. I scanned them carefully since these are now considered birds of special interest since some migrate more than 9,000 miles from Argentina to the northern shores of the Arctic tundra. North American populations are highly dependent on regaining weight lost during this extraordinary migratory trip by feeding on horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay. Horseshoe crabs are in decline due to over harvesting and there is concern about the shorebirds that are dependent on their eggs for food. To gain a better appreciation of what coastal way stations are needed to support their heroic journey, some have been marked with leg bands and flags. Sightings can be reported to and information obtained on the history of the individual.

This time I was very fortunate to find a bird marked with a lime green flag on its upper left leg as number 1E7. This red knot was banded April 12, 2012, on Deveaux Bank, SC. It has since been spotted twice in May 2012 and 2013 in NJ and SC, and four times in the fall and winter in September through January, 2012 to 2013 on the western coast of Florida.

I am always amazed and dumbfounded by such records. First it is remarkable that any of these tiny (about 1/3 of a pound) marked birds are ever re-sighted. They are moving over large distances annually and subject to many dangers. Apparently the obvious problems of such a long migration were offset during their evolution by advantages of breeding so far from their wintering grounds. We can only hope that their courage in the face of so many dangers will be rewarded by years of successful breeding. Let’s resolve to help them while they are in Florida by protecting their resting and feeding areas on local beaches and mud flats.

Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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