Monday, May 21, 2012

Wall Street Journal Brings Even More Attention to Cape May

[GARDNER]David Speiser for The Wall Street Journal
Red Knots in flight at Cape May

The Wall Street Journal sent a writer to Cape May to write about Red Knots, horseshoe crabs, and life.  Here's a link to the whole article: 
and here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Red Knots migrate more than 9,000 miles each spring and fall—from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America all the way to the Arctic, and back again. Cape May is a crucial way station: It's where they gorge on the tiny pale-green crab eggs, doubling their body weight over the course of 10 days before continuing their journey to the top of the world.

[GARDNER]David Speiser for The Wall Street Journal
Birder Richard Crossley with a horseshoe crab. The Red Knots feast on the crabs' eggs.

So on Friday morning we met up at Cape May's Virginia Hotel with Richard Crossley, a famous birder who is the author of "The Crossley ID Guide," and Curtis Bashaw, the CEO of Cape Resorts, who'd invited me down. Mr. Crossley sometimes leads birding expeditions for Mr. Bashaw's guests.

But first a word about birding guides in general, and Mr. Crossley in particular. The uninitiated might think that one birding book ought to be sufficient. But as far as I'm concerned, you can never have enough. The problem is that when you see a bird for the first time, one book's illustrations or photographs may be better able to confirm the sighting than another's, and using several in tandem might be best of all.

Varied perspectives is the theory behind Mr. Crossley's book. Rather than, say, the famous "Sibley Field Guide to Birds," which offers meticulous illustrations, Mr. Crossley's book may employ a dozen photos of each breed—large and small, perched, flying, stabbing an insect out of the air—and against the typical habitat where you might run across them.

"People feel they have to learn the name straight away," said Mr. Crossley, a Brit who has birded the world but settled in Cape May, as have several other of the world's great birders. "They feel like they failed" if they can't. "It's personality—where it lives and what it does. It's learning the bird and not the name."

The Red Knots we saw at high tide on an unimprovable spring morning at Reed's Beach, several miles north of Cape May, would have been easy to spot in any case—even among an avian crowd that included Laughing gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Willets. Red Knots are barrel-chested, salmon-and-gray-colored birds. (The Peterson guide described them as "dumpy," a description Mr. Crossley took issue with, if only because of its imprecision.) As we peered through binoculars at a couple hundred of them hunting for the crab caviar among a shoreline littered with horseshoes, both alive and dead, in a protected, roped-off area, he explained that the birds' bodies are made for storing energy, and their short, pointed wings for speed and power to travel great distances.

"This is as good as it gets for Red Knots," he stated. When he started visiting Cape May in the 1980s, he said they were so numerous they obscured the beach.

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