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June 25, 2002


For more information contact:
Al Ivany at 609-984-1795

Internet users will again be able to take a virtual trip to the Canadian Arctic during the next few weeks as State biologists tracking endangered shorebirds file daily updates during their 19-day expedition to the birds' northern breeding grounds. Researchers from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP's) Division of Fish and Wildlife will trek to the cool, Canadian terrain for the second year to locate and study breeding red knots, a shorebird that feeds on horseshoe crab eggs along the Delaware Bay in May before heading north to breed.

Beginning Friday, June 21 through Wednesday, July 3, biologists from the division's Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) will file daily updates and photographs and will make the reports available to researchers, residents, birders and others interested in the findings via the division's home page at

The red knots, which winter in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, essentially double their weight during their Delaware Bay stopover before embarking on a non-stop 2,000-mile flight to their breeding grounds on the edge of the Arctic north of Hudson Bay. During their New Jersey shore stopover, the tens of thousands of birds create a spectacle that attracts numerous ecotourists and generates millions of dollars for the State and local economies.

"This is essential research that will help determine if the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs for bait is reducing crab numbers and threatening the supply of crab eggs that the red knots and other shorebirds, such as ruddy turnstones and semipalmated sandpipers, depend upon for survival," said Division Director Bob McDowell.

To measure what effects such an egg decline might have on the red knots' ability to reproduce, the 14-person expedition plans to locate the nests of red knots and track their nesting and hatching success. Last year the team recaptured a nesting red knot that had been banded in Delaware Bay in May.

"With the decline of horseshoe crabs and their eggs in Delaware Bay, this research will document the effects the decline in food has on the subsequent nest success of knots," says ENSP Chief Larry Niles, who is co-leading the field trip with Mark Peck of the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto. "The possible consequences of insufficient crab eggs include some red knots failing to gain enough weight to make the flight to the breeding grounds. Others could get there late or fail to breed, and still others might not produce as many chicks."

Based on a statistical analysis, ENSP estimates that the study area probably harbors 5,000 pairs or 10,000 adult red knots -- one-sixth of the estimate of red knots that travel from South America through New Jersey and into Canada.

The 14-person expedition includes four Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists, a Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) biologist, a shorebird ecologist from England, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, a Rutgers University ecologist, an Inuit guide, and an educator who will establish a sister-school relationship between an Inuit school on Southampton Island and a southern New Jersey school. The expedition has been funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Dodge Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. DEP's ENSP receives no direct state funding. It is supported through the wildlife check-off option on state income tax returns, the "Conserve Wildlife" license plate and other donations.