The story of a red knot known as the Moonbird -- because researchers figure he has flown the equivalent distance of all the way to the moon and partway back -- keeps getting more and more amazing.
The bird, also known as B95, the designation on a leg tag he wears, was spotted earlier today in Canada.
"This just in: B95 seen 30 minutes ago!!!!!!" announced Charles Duncan, director of the Shorebird Recovery Project for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
He passed along a brief email from Canadian researcher Yves Aubry: "Hi guys and shorebird enthusiasts. Yann Rochepault just located (13h45 EAH) our now super-athlete B95 on Quarry Island. He was among a group of a few hundreds other ked Knots. Our bird seems to have adopted the Mingan islands archipelago as stop-over site on its way to Tierra del Fuego. B95 was first reported from Mingan archipelago in 2006 and was seen almost every year."
The bird has had statues built in its honor and even has a biographer, Phillip Hoose, a Nature Conservancy staffer in Maine who wrote "Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95," was beyond excited. "This means he made it through another breeding season in the Arctic, and, given the date, it means he’s probably a dad once again," he said in an email. "Now those are genes worth having!"
Red knots are small shorebirds -- about the size of a robin -- that have one of the longest migrations on the planet, from the tip of South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Every spring, on their way north, they stop at Delaware Bay for a crucial refueling. They have about two weeks to double their body weight -- by eating horseshoe crab eggs. In one of those elegant moments of nature, the crabs are coming ashore to lay their eggs jsut as the birds are arriving.
The birds have declined precipitously -- due to a shortage of crab eggs becaues of overharvesting, biologists say -- but seem to have rebounded somewhat, now that there are limits on the harvest. Horseshoe crabs are used as bait to catch whelk and eel, Asian delicacies.
B95 is at least 20 years old, biologists figure. He's the oldest red knot they know of. And every time they see him, they regretfully acknowledge it might be their last. He hadn't been seen for a while when, last spring on Delaware Bay, he was spotted several times. One of the spotters was Rochepaul. And a colleague, Christophe Buidin, got a photo.
After breeding in the Arctic, many red knots stop at the Mingan archipelago at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in northern Quebec. Researchers are often waiting for them, hoping to spot known birds and glean data about survivorship and other important clues about the red knot population.
It is known as "a bellwether site -- the first indicator of trends," wrote Hoose. "The knots that fly into Mingan offer the year's first clue as to whether the ... breeding season has been a success, a disaster, or something in between."
Seeing B95 -- yet again -- is another chapter in a dramatic, heartwarming tale.
"Amazing how this 4-ounce bit of the universe spreads joy throughout the hemisphere," Hoose said.