Sunday, August 2, 2015

B95 spotted once again! He made it to Argentina

The last we heard of a red knot known as B95 -- after his tag -- he was in Canada. It was August, and he was on his way south.

B95 spotted once again! He made it to Argentina

B95 (center, with orange leg band) recently in Argentina.
B95 (center, with orange leg band) recently in Argentina. Photo by Luis Benegas

The last we heard of a red knot known as B95 -- after his tag -- he was in Canada. It was August, and he was on his way south.

As usual, scientists studying red knots figured it might be their last sighting of him. No bird lives forever, they keep telling themselves.

But recently, he's been spotted -- several times! -- on wintering grounds at Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Argentina.

The word went out among conservationists: B95 flies on!

This astonishing bird has also been dubbed the Moonbird, because he's flown the equivalent of to the moon and part way back. Heck, that tally was a while ago. Maybe by now he's closer to a round trip.

He's the oldest red knot biologists know of -- going on 21 by now, at least.

He was first banded in 1995, as an adult, which meant he was at least two years old then. Admirers, which are legion, have dubbed him "the toughest four ounces on the planet."

Statues have been erected in B95's honor, and the city council of Rio Grande has named him their "natural ambassador." 

B95 even has a biographer -- Nature Conservancy staffer Philip Hoose, whose book, "Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Greeat Survive B95" was an excellent read.

Hoose has been doing a lot of school appearances, presenting "Moonbird" to students of just about all ages.

"They all want to know, 'Is he alive?' 'When’s the last time he was seen?' For the past eight months or so, we’ve been able to give almost monthly reports," he said.

"It seems almost routine, until you stop and remind yourself what an extraordinary creature this is," Hoose said. "In my literature searches the oldest reported rufa Red Knot was sixteen years and eight months. B95 is into his third decade, and perhaps well into it. Astounding."

"Isn’t it just amazing? But we say this every time. It’s hard to believe," said Charles Duncan, a bird conservationist who has followed B95's saga.

"The very fact that he’s in Rio Grande, which was where he was first banded" is meaningful, Duncan said. The population there has fallen terribly, Duncan noted. "But he’s faithful and continues to thrive, apparently."

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 -- and B95 was spotted there several times last spring.

The birds 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.

Red knots 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.

Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

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