Sex, gluttony, revival and death
A monumental event takes place every year in the month of May right here on the Eastern shores of the United States. Two epic migrations come together to create a natural event seen nowhere else in the world. You could go to Africa and witness the migration of the Wildebeests and Zebras in the Serengeti or to Mexico to see the millions of Monarchs invade the forests of the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. You would have to travel far, pay a good deal of money and deal with crowds of tourists and the selfie takers.
These migrations happen on the shores of Delaware Bay. It’s not a secret but it’s not overly covered by the media or the nature programs on television. There are two migrations that come together on these shores in the month of May every single year.
One is made up of almost a million shorebirds. Mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Red Knots who are alarmingly declining in number. (In 2014 the Red Knot rufa
was listed as a federally threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the second most critical status that can be awarded to a subspecies.)
The other migration is made up of millions of Horseshoe crabs. The shorebirds are on a journey that stars at the bottom of South America at Tierra del Fuego, and ends up in the Arctic. The Horseshoe crabs start at the bottom of Delaware Bay and are looking to get to its beaches especially at high tide a few miles away.
So where is the sex, gluttony revival and death? It all comes together in a fascinating and interesting series of events.
Every May, especially at full and new moon and at high tide, the Horseshoe crabs, by the hundreds of thousands make their way as far up the beach as they can to spawn. They deposit millions of eggs on the sandy beaches of the bay. Sex
About the same time almost a million shorebirds on their way to the Arctic where they breed and nest, arrive, need to rest, feed and regain their strength on this very long journey. They need to double their weight for the last leg of the migration, 3,000 miles north to the Arctic. They will feed on the horseshoe crab eggs non stop every day till they are fat enough to resume their journey. Gluttony and revival
Of the Horseshoe crabs spawning, a large number will die on these beaches, either stranded by a storm or the high tide or are unable for one reason or another to make it back to the water. And millions of their eggs are eaten by the shorebirds. Death
I spent almost a week on the beaches of Delaware Bay witnessing this epic event at the end of May. The peak of the migrations is not always predictable and I caught the end of both. Still amazing in every way. All that spawning and feeding frenzy is all over in early June. Compared to May, the June beaches of Delaware Bay look completely deserted.
Blog post on the Red Knots here