Does life ever get you down? Ever feel discouraged and ready to give up? Read about the Moonbird, a gutsy, plucky red knot, who has flown the equivalent mileage of traveling to the moon and back in his twenty years of migrating from Patagonia to upper Hudson Bay and back every year.
23 May 2013
· The Philadelphia Inquirer South Jersey edition
· By Sandy Bauers
It looks as if B95 — a shorebird that has attracted both popularity and paparazzi — is continuing his publicity tour of South Jersey.
B95 is a red knot, and the name refers to the identifying letter and number on his leg band. But he also has the nickname Moonbird because, in his long life, researchers figure he has flown the equivalent distance to the moon and halfway back.
A week ago, the famed bird was spotted on the Delaware side of Delaware Bay. On Friday, he was spotted on the Jersey side, at Cooks Beach. Then — where’d he go? To Fortescue, still on the Jersey side, it turns out. Several observers spotted him there Sunday. He was spotted again on Monday by Yann Rochepault and Cristophe Buidin.
Luckily, Buidin was able to get a photo of B95, adding incontrovertible proof to the growing number of sightings.
On Wednesday, Rochepault spotted B95 again, this time at Kimbles Beach.
“Oh, my gosh, that little guy’s getting around,” said Charles Duncan of the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Buidin and Rochepault are from Quebec and are part of an international team of bird researchers on the bay, led by Amanda Dey of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Larry Niles, an independent consultant.
Every year, the researchers crowd into a Reeds Beach shorebird house, rev up their computers, post their charts of bird weights and sightings, and spend a month immersed in all things shorebirds.
Praise for the spotters is coming in from worldwide — Canada, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Switzerland, even Bangladesh, said Duncan, director of Manomet’s Shorebird Recovery Project.
Biologists scan flocks of birds to find ones that have been banded, which provide population data. B95 was first banded 20 years ago, and spotters began to see him regularly.
Whenever they don’t see him, they fear he has finally died. But then he shows up again. B95 is now the oldest red knot they know of, and he’s become a conservation icon for shorebirds, which are in decline worldwide.
Last year, Nature Conservancy staffer Phillip Hoose wrote a book about him, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95. Two statues have been erected in his honor.
This is shaping up to be a good year for the birds, which once numbered as many as 100,000 on the bay.
They declined to about 16,000 before rebounding a bit in recent years. Researchers blamed the harvest of horseshoe crabs, which are used as bait in other fisheries.
The birds, which migrate from the tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic, arrive on the bay every May emaciated. They depend on the fat-rich eggs of the crabs to regain bulk and strength.
Crab harvest restrictions were enacted, and last year the birds numbered closer to 24,000.
On Wednesday, red knots were still arriving, Niles said. He guessed they numbered from 5,000 to 6,000 between Reeds Beach and Fortescue alone