Gloucester. Page one. Paragraph one.
From Deborah Cramer’s exceptional book, The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and Epic Journey:
“I used to go down to the edge of the creek near my home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to look for spawning horseshoe crabs, their unfailing arrival sign that a hard winter was turning to spring. There were never very many; at most I’d find six or eight…”
“At the turn of the 19th century, hunters shot at least 5 million ibis, heron, and snowy, reddish and great egrets every year, taking their beautiful cascading plumage to adorn the hats of fashionable women. The nation’s first Audubon societies, the American Ornithological Union, and legislation prohibiting the hunting of migratory birds were born from this excess. Aristocratic Boston socialite Harriet Lawrence Hemenway found the carnage appalling. Over tea with her cousin Minna B. Hall, these mothers of conservation, poring over the Boston Blue Book with its list of Boston’s elite, enlisted 900 women of wealth and power to boycott feathered hats and formed the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The gorgeous birds are still with us. Often, on an early autumn day, when the marsh by my home is turning a golden yellow and the air and water are still warm, I paddle by 20, 30, sometimes 50 or 60 or even 100 snowy egrets standing in the golden grass. Their absence now would leave a quieter, sadder landscape.” (p.26)
The tugging your heart set-up:
Among them were a few thousand russet-colored sandpipers, red knots. They raced along the shore, frantically grabbing scattered horseshoe eggs. Where had the knots come from that they were so desperately hungry? And how could a diet of tiny eggs, each the size of a pinhead, take them where they were going? They wasted no time: they’d flown more than 7,500 miles to get here, and in two weeks, they’d be flying 2000 more. And that was only half their journey…” p.2
On birds vs. people, joggers, dogs
“Nearby in Rio Grande, Argentina, where Harrington and Morrison found their largest concentration of knots more than 35 years ago, the birds are disappearing. By 2012 only 300 remained—a staggering loss of 94 percent. Rio Grande, growing out toward the sea and the edges of the Rio Grande River, crowded out the birds, leaving them fewer places to roost. They feed amid congestion, constantly interrupted by the commotion of off-road vehicles, dogs and people. Forced to take flight repeatedly, they lose precious refueling time. Minutes lost during one ebb tide on one day accumulate into hour upon hour as the season continues. So many times I’d walk the beaches at home, unconsciously flushing flocks of sandpipers at the tide line, taking pleasure as they circled out over the water and then landed farther down the beach, never thinking that disturbing them might make a difference.” Guilty.
New Jersey being nice:
“One of the greatest challenges for knots is on their home ground. Niles began his career working for the State of New Jersey, helping acquire land to protect shorebirds. Today, long stretches of New Jersey bay beaches and wetlands are protected wildlife refuges. In the spring, the state closes most bay beaches for a few weeks when horseshoe crabs are spawning and shorebirds are feeding. ATVs, dogs, and throngs of bathers frighten the birds, who don’t always return and then can’t find the food they need. Before shorebirds arrive and after they depart, the beaches are open, but during May and early June, tape is strung across the entrances. Signs explain why. I have to admit that after driving to three closed beaches and wistfully gazing at long stretches of sand I couldn’t walk, I was tempted to duck under the tape. Instead, I accompanied a couple of local anglers who, like me, were making their way up the coast looking for a beach. They were hoping to catch mullet for lunch. Longtime residents, they understood and accepted the closures. A 2013 study of compliance at New Jersey beach closures found that most people cooperate with and support them, with cooperation lowest among some joggers and dog walkers, who proceeded onto the beach anyway.” (p.80)
Don’t miss Kim Smith’s gorgeous Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach coverage. We’ve gone many mornings with binoculars and cameras. Don’t bother–nothing matches her series! I’ll add in links.