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Veteran traveler spotted again

For those who have been following the plight of the rufa subspecies of red knots, there's good news.

The birds have one of the planet's longest migrations, flying from their winter territory at the southern tip of South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.  Along the way north, they arrive at Delaware Bay every May, exhausted and depleted of reserves.  There, they depend on the lipid-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab to refuel. They have to do it quickly so they can get north, breed and get out before the snows begin again.

In recent years, the numbers of red knots have declined sharply -- from nearly 100,000 in the 1990s to less than 30,000 today. Biologists blame the harvest of horseshoe crabs, which are used as bait for conch, which is sent to Asia as a dietary delicacy.

Biologists have spent years following the red knot along its path, catching whatever birds they can to band them and gather vital data about their weight, their condition and much more. Then they try to spot previously banded birds to track, among other things, how long they survive.

Earlier this month in Argentina, researcher Patricia González and her team spotted B-95, considered a red knot superstar because it was banded in 1995. They think it is at least 17 years old.

Meanwhile, in the absence of getting the bird listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act -- officials have ruled that the bird needs the protection, but not bad enough to bump it in line in front of other species -- an international "working group"  of academic, government, and non-governmental scientists and conservationists is working with the philanthropic community to see what can be done to protect the birds and reverse the downward trend.

The current newsletter of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network reports:  "Convened by Drs. Lawrence Niles (Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey) and Charles Duncan (Shorebird Recovery Project of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences), the first-ever meeting of the Red Knot Working Group was held on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, from 17-20 November 2009. The specific goal of the meeting was to develop the basis of a "business plan" to recover rufa knots. Such a business plan is requisite for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), co-sponsor of the meeting, to advance Red Knots as a "keystone species."

"A reflection of the breadth—and challenges—of the meeting is the fact that the 30 participants came from seven nations and speak four native languages. Led by NFWF's Daniel Petit and Matthew Birnbaum, the group used the Miradi methodology ( to build a conceptual model of conservation targets for knots, and identify the threats these targets face as well as the factors contributing to the threats. Strategies to abate the threats and "results chains" ("If we do X, then Y will result") for each strategy were developed for stopover sites and wintering grounds across the enormous range of the subspecies. A small group comprising Annette Scherer (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Larry Niles (CWF), Charles Duncan (Manomet), and Humphrey Sitter (International Wader Study Group), as well as Petit and Birnbaum, agreed to compile and polish the group's work into a draft business plan to be reviewed and revised by the larger group."