Many Horseshoe Crabs and Birds on
Delaware Bay
Between about mid May to the first week of June every year, huge number of horseshoe crabs come up on
the beaches along Delaware Bay (between Delaware and New Jersey, USA) to mate and to lay eggs under
the sand. The number of mating horseshoe crabs on the beach peaks at the night of full moon (or new moon)
and at the time of high tide during the spring tide (i.e., the higher-than-normal tides that occur at the new and
full moons) when the water level is the highest.

I took these two pictures on the night of May 12, 2006 with full moon at about 10 PM, the time of high tide, on
Pickering Beach in Delaware.
The huge number of horseshoe crab eggs
attracts many laughing gulls to converge
along the Reeds Beach in New Jersey
competing for the annual feast on the eggs
of horseshoe crabs. These gulls are called
“laughing gulls” because they make a lot of
very loud noises that sound like they are
laughing very loudly. These laughing gulls
are especially noisy on such beaches
because they are fighting against each
other for the prime real estate on the beach
front so that they can feast on the
horseshoe crab eggs. To hear the noise of
these laughing gulls, please see the movie
with sound that I took at the following
YouTube website:

<http://
www.youtube.com/watch?
v=kwkuyKFj1ig>
As visitors stroll along the Pickering Beach, many birds get up in the air temporary from their busy task of
eating horseshoe crab eggs on the beach.
On the daytime, there are still many mating horseshoe crabs on the beach even though the number may not
be as high as that on the night of full moon.
There are many shore birds in addition to seagulls eating horseshoe crab eggs on the Reeds Beach, New
Jersey.
Four male horseshoe crabs surrounding a female horseshoe crab which is sunk in the sand to lay eggs under
the sand on Reeds Beach.
However, the big and powerful waves on the beaches facing Atlantic Ocean tend to turn the horseshoe crabs
upside down on the beach, giving them hard time and making the upside-down horseshoe crabs vulnerable to
attacks by seagulls and other predators. Therefore, horseshoe crabs prefer more secluded and calm beaches
without those big and powerful waves.

The four beaches that I visited to watch horseshoe crabs and birds are Pickering Beach on Delaware side of
Delaware Bay, Reeds Beach on New Jersey side of Delaware Bay, Plum Island in Sandy Hook, New Jersey
and Conaskonk Point near the mouth of Chingarora Creek in Union Beach on Raritan Bay in New Jersey. The
locations and directions to these four beaches are:

(A) Pickering Beach on Delaware side of Delaware Bay is at 19 S. Sandpiper Road, Dover, Kent County,
Delaware 19901 and is about 5 miles southeast of Dover downtown.

Direction:

1.  From New Jersey follow New Jersey Turnpike south
2.  Cross Delaware Memorial Bridge, stay at 2nd right most lane.
3.  Merge onto US-13 S toward Dover, stay at left lanes
4.  US-13 becomes DE-1 South.
5.  After Dover Air Base, pass the first traffic light, watch for Rt. 9 sign.  Turn left,  cross US 1 north onto Kitts
Hummock RD
6.  Turn left onto DE-9/Bayside Dr North
7.  Turn right onto Pickering Beach Rd (County Road 349) for 2 miles
8.  At end of Pickering Beach Road, turn right into S. Sandpiper Dr.  

There is a narrow (2 feet) public access path for public to access the Pickering Beach. This narrow access
path is near the intersection of S. Sandpiper Dr and Pickering Beach Rd.

Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Pickering Beach


(B) Reeds Beach on New Jersey side of Delaware Bay located at 299 N. Beach Avenue, Cape May Court
House, NJ 08210.

1)        Take Garden State Parkway Exit 13,
2)        At the end of Exit Ramp, Turn Right (West) on Highway 601(i.e., Avalon Blvd.)
3)        Go west on Highway 601 to Rt. 9
4)        Turn Left (South) on Rt. 9 and go for 0.6 miles
5)        Turn Right (West)) onto Highway 646 (i.e., Goshen Swainton Rd.)  and go for 2.5 miles
6)        Turn Left (South) onto Rt. 47 and go for 2 miles.
7)        Look for Reeds Beach Sign (Green Color), Turn Right into Reeds Beach Rd. and follow road west to
end (i.e., to the Beach)..
8)        Turn right (north) into N. Beach Avenue along the beach. (There are some houses on the beach and
the narrow road is N. Beach Avenue.) Keep going north on N. Beach Avenue for about 1 mile until the end
9)        The marina parking lot is at the end of N. Beach Avenue. (This is near the mouth of Bidwell Creek
flowing into the Delaware Bay.). Visitors park in this marina parking lot for watching spawning horseshoe
crabs, seagulls and shorebirds on the beach.

Two Observation Areas on Reeds Beach: (I) A designated Viewing Platform on sand beach from the parking
lot, and (II) A stone/cement jetty from the parking lot into the water for you to walk near the water edge of
beach for another view of mating horseshoe crabs and feeding shorebirds. The left side of the jetty is the
beach to watch horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. The right side of the jetty is the outlet of Bidwell Creek
flowing into Delaware Bay where one can see other birds such as cormorants, tern, etc.

Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Reeds Beach


If Pickering Beach in Delaware and Reeds Beach in southern New Jersey are too far away for you, Sandy
Hook in Middletown, New Jersey may be closer and easier for you to get to. However, the number of
spawning horseshoe crabs and of feasting birds in Sandy Hook are usually substantially smaller than those on
Pickering Beach and on Reeds Beach. On the other hand, there is no restricted, protected areas on Plum
Island such that visitors can get much closer to the spawning horseshoe crabs for closer views.

(C) Plum Island in Sandy Hook in Middletown in Monmouth County along east coast of  New Jersey.

Direction for Plum Island in Sandy Hook is available near the end of my Travelogue web page at:

http://
www.shltrip.com/Spring_Bird_Watching_at_Sandy_Hook.html

(D) The location and direction for Conaskonk Point near the mouth of Chingarora Creek in Union Beach on
Raritan Bay in New Jersey are available at the end of my web page at:

http://
www.shltrip.com/Spring_Bird_Watching_at_Sandy_Hook.html
With the limited coverage range of the built-in flash light of my small compact digital camera, you can see that,
practically every inch of the Pickering Beach is fully occupied by big crowd of mating horseshoe crabs on the
night of full moon. Since Delaware Bay has many miles of beaches including Delaware side and New Jersey
side, the total number of mating horseshoe crabs on the beach is huge during the night of full moon or new
moon and at high tide.
Normally the female horseshoe crabs bury their eggs in the sand. However, some of these laughing gulls use
fancy footwork on the sand to get at those buried eggs. When the waves come in, some of these laughing
gulls stump their two feet successively at very fast pace to stir up the sands which are then washed away by
the waves so that some of the buried eggs become exposed. Then these laughing gulls and shorebirds feast
quickly on these exposed eggs. Some of the shorebirds have longer beaks to dig deeper into the sands to get
at the buried eggs.
Close up bottom view of a
horseshoe crab in Sandy Hook,
New Jersey
A smaller male horseshoe crab behind the bigger female horseshoe crab on the beach on Plum Island in
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Shore birds eating horseshoe crab eggs on the beach in Delaware
Millions of migratory shorebirds have been migrating between southern tip of Argentina and the arctic tundra
breeding ground in Alaska during change of Season. The Delaware Bay (including southern seashore of New
Jersey) is one of the  important re-fueling stops of these millions of migratory shorebirds in their long-distance
migratory flight.

After 4-day nonstop long distance flight from South America, the migratory shorebirds lost a lot of body
weight and are starving when they arrive at Delaware Bay. These migratory shorebirds stop in the Delaware
Bay to eat a lot of eggs of horseshoe crabs to double their body weights in about two weeks for two
important reasons: (1) for their next nonstop long-distance flight from Delaware Bay to Alaska, and (2) They
must breed immediately upon their arrival at arctic tundra breeding ground in Alaska so that their baby birds
will have enough time to grow up and be ready for the long-distance migratory flight south before the severe
arctic winter sets in. While at Delaware Bay, these shorebirds eat about 9,000 horseshoe crab eggs per bird
per day.

The spring mating of large number of horseshoe crabs on the beaches in Delaware Bay and the associated
spring migration of millions of shorebirds through Delaware Bay is one of the world’s most magnificent wildlife
spectacles. The Bays’ beaches are essential spawning habitat for the world’s largest concentration of
horseshoe crabs. The beaches also attract the Western Hemisphere’s second-largest spring concentration of
shorebirds, which feed on the eggs of horseshoe crabs.

The global map of the long migration routes of these shorebirds, such as Red knot and Rudy Turnstone, are
available at the following websites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Knot

http://www.ocean.udel.edu/horseshoecrab/Shorebird/migratory.html
Outside of Delaware Bay, one of several other places to see horseshoe crabs and birds eating horseshoe crab
eggs is the beach on the Plum Island in Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area, New Jersey, although
the numbers of horseshoe crabs and birds here are not as high as those along Delaware Bay.
As visitors approach to take photos, many seagulls took a flight temporary from their busy task of eating
horseshoe crab eggs on the beach on Plum Island in Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Shorebirds, laughing gulls and horseshoe crab clusters on Reeds Beach, New Jersey
In addition to Delaware Bay, two other well known major refueling stops for migratory shorebirds are Copper
River Delta in southern Alaska and Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada. In Delaware Bay, the main attraction for
large number of shorebirds is the huge number of eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs.

In Copper River Delta in southern Alaska, the main attraction is the huge number of roe/eggs of spawning
herring. In Bay of Fundy, the main attraction is the large number of exposed mud shrimps on the large areas of
mud flats at low tide.  The vast expanses of mud flats are rich in food for shorebirds. Twice each day, when
the mud flats are uncovered by the world famous Fundy tides, shorebirds disperse across the mud flats to
feed on small invertebrates, especially the mud shrimp Corophium. Fat reserves built up on these feeding
stops fuel their remarkable long distance migration flight.

Photos of millions of migratory shorebirds at Copper River Delta in Chugach National Forest near Cordova,
Alaska can be seen at the following website:

http://
www.wildnatureimages.com/Cordova.htm
Please see the movie clips of large number of migratory shorebirds concentrated at their refueling stops at the
following YouTube websites:

http://
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykvOtW7PEJ8  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X6A6yplOhc&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Cfhz2tRwDA&NR=1
Note 1 - The spawning horseshoe crabs do not like the big and powerful waves on the beaches facing the
Atlantic Ocean on Sandy Hook, but prefer the calm and peaceful beaches on the Bay side of Sandy Hook
Bay. The big waves on the beaches tend to turn horseshoe crabs upside down on the beach and are
troublesome for horseshoe crabs. Therefore, make sure that you go to the Bay side instead of the Atlantic
Ocean side of beaches to see the spawning horseshoe crabs.

Note 2 - Do not confuse the Plum Island with Horseshoe Cove in Sandy Hook. Please look at the map of
southern part of Sandy Hook on my Travelogue web page listed above to make sure that you go to the Plum
Island, instead of Horseshoe Cove, to look for spawning horseshoe crabs.

When to go: Large number of horseshoe crabs usually come up to the beaches on Delaware Bay to spawn
in the 3-week period from about mid-May to about the first week of June. The number of spawning horseshoe
crabs on the beach peaks at the night of full moon (or new moon) and at the time of high tide during the
Spring Tide (i.e., the higher-than-normal tides that occur at the new and full moons) when the water level is
the highest during this spawning period. However, during day time and during days not on full moon or new
moon, there are still many spawning horseshoe crabs on these beaches. But the number is not as large as
those on the night of full moon or new moon.
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For people living in New York City, Queens and Flushing areas, May Lee suggests that Jamaica Bay Wildlife
Refuge is also a good place to see horseshoe crabs. The information, location and direction to Jamaica Bay
Wildlife Refuge are available at its website at:

http://
www.nyharborparks.org/visit/jaba.html

According to this website - Shorebird & Horseshoe Crab Walk: Join NYC Audubon on a hike through the
Refuge and to the Addabbo Bridge to see shorebirds and horseshoe crabs (during the mating season of
horseshoe crabs.)  
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