Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 24: Close doesn't count in horseshoes...

I spent the first half of the day emancipating horseshoe crabs. On incoming tides they penetrate the farthest corners of the marsh, as evidenced by their tail trails and my own observations. When the water recedes they are left high and dry, often stuck behind debris, or entangled in vegetation. I searched for survivors and returned them to the bay. But for many, the marsh is a death trap. Some were found flipped over with their gills torn out.

Seagulls are known to scavenge overturned horseshoes on the beach. But there seems to be a more enterprising horseshoe-eater in the marsh. Alongside the main channel I found a highway of raccoon tracks, here photographed to look ominous and wolverine-like.

Could it be that raccoons seek out stranded horseshoe crabs and flip them over to get at the soft bits? It seems unlikely that seagulls have the dexterity or muscle to flip a horseshoe, and there are no horseshoe-flipping waves inside the marsh. Until further evidence reveals itself the mystery will haunt Rocky Point.

A great egret made three visits over six hours. Each time it was fishing by the marshy eastern flats, where it's easier to sneak up on unsuspecting fish.

Common terns have also returned, making frequent fly-overs. Several were seen feeding at the mouth of the marsh.

Walking back from the bay I stumbled across a colony of Uca pugilator, the sand fiddler crab. Here's a particularly diesel fellow and his woman.

They feed by scooping sand into their mouths to filter microorganisms. They then spit out the ball of sand. Feeding this way they accumulate massive piles of sand balls, which betray the location of their burrows. Apparently, the females can eat twice as fast, since the male's gargantuan left pincer is useless as a sand scooper.

While cleaning out the marsh I turned around to find two pairs of binoculars staring back at me. They were locals Andrea and Cindy, who have been birding this marsh for several years. They were looking for the resident willets, which they saw nesting here last year. While they didn't find any willets, they did discover a few more stranded horseshoes, which they returned to the bay.

I finished the day in the side channel, clearing the horseshoe's escape route for the next high tide.

High of 72, average wind SE @ 6 MPH, 5.0 high tide @ 11:48 AM. Moon 85% visible.
Water level recorded at 9 inch mark.
Three horseshoe crabs rescued from the west side of marsh.
Birds seen in marsh: great egret, mallard, dove, starling, red winged blackbird, grackle, cardinal, willet, green heron, osprey, common tern, turkey vulture, oystercatcher, crow
Birds seen in bay: black brant
Other: striped killifish, mummichog, sand fiddler crab, ? sp. hermit crab. Possible green crab seen near culvert, approx. 5" wide across carapace

1 comment:

  1. Shervin,
    Great to meet you and this blog is wonderful recording your adventure of cleaning it out. We would love to help, so keep us in mind. Also later we were talking and I thought of a line from a movie. You said we were some of the first birders you had seen, so "if you clean it they will come." Okay a little corney, but I couldn't resist!