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Red Knot Reunions
WHSRNews: 07 February 2014
The famous migratory shorebird, B95—named for the code on his orange leg flag—has made the arduous journey from wintering grounds in southernmost Argentina to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, and back, at least 20 times. The oldest rufa Red Knot known to science, B95 has become the international face of shorebird conservation and quite the rock star to those who follow him.
In early December 2013, we joyously breathed a sigh of relief when he was seen again in Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, amid a flock of some 110 Red Knots. For scientists Patricia González and Luis Benegas of Argentina, and Allan Baker of Canada, the resighting was also a happy reunion; all three were on the team that first banded B95 in Río Grande some 19 years ago!
What is it like to spot this iconic orange band again? “My hands were shaking and my heart was beating fast,” recalls González.
Guy Morrison, shorebird scientist and WHSRN pioneer from Canada, knows the feeling. On 27 January he delivered more great news to the shorebird community: “B95 is still here in Río Grande! Yesterday afternoon I had a good sighting of him at low tide, in a flock of about 150 other rufa knots. What a thrill!”
B95’s wintering grounds include the Atlantic Coast of Tierra del Fuego Reserve, a WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance. He was originally banded there in February 1995 at just 2 years old. He has since flown the distance from the Earth to the Moon and halfway back, earning him the nickname “Moonbird.”
The award-winning book by Phillip Hoose, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, shares the amazing story of this resilient bird and the heroic international efforts underway to conserve his and other species of shorebirds
Nearing 21 years of age now, B95 truly is the great survivor who inspires and gives us hope for the rapidly declining population of rufa subspecies.
Whereas the famous rufa Red Knot B95 is known for his stamina, species-mate H3H became an overnight sensation in 2010 for his speed. H3H, likewise named for the code on his orange leg flag, amazed scientists when he was photographed in Florida that year in May by Patrick and Doris Leary just 9 days after being seen by Patricia González and team in Argentina—some 8,000 kilometers south. Not only did H3H fly fast, he flew nonstop. His point of departure was San Antonio Bay WHSRN Site of International Importance, where González and Allan Baker (Canada) first banded him in 2008. The local student environmental group “EcoHuellas” near San Antonio Bay celebrated H3H’s Florida feat by adopting him as a symbol of their own energy and commitment to shorebird conservation.
H3H made headlines again in May 2012 when researchers recaptured him at Delaware Bay WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance (New Jersey/Delaware, USA). That time, he impressed them with his weight—170 grams. For Larry Niles (New Jersey), Guy Morrison (Canada), and their team, this bird’s portly condition meant he not only found enough food at San Antonio Bay to get him to Delaware Bay, but also enough at Delaware Bay to likely ‘fuel’ the rest of his northbound journey to Arctic Canada, to breed.
We know now that H3H survived that journey, twice. On 18 December 2013, he was seen again on his wintering grounds, this time at Bahía Lomas WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance in southeast Chile. For researcher Petra de Goeij (Netherlands), the sighting was a chance meeting; for Allan Baker, a reunion. Patricia González described the moment: “It was very difficult to resight flags, as the winds were incredibly strong and birds did not show their legs, so this was a fantastic achievement.”
These treasured encounters with birds like B95 and H3H, as they return year after year to critical sites across the Americas, are a tribute to the WHSRN concept in action. How these sites continue to fortify such high-energy travelers, amid some major conservation challenges, is a tribute to the site partners.
For more information, contact Patricia M. González (email@example.com), Fundación Inalafquen, San Antonio Oeste, Argentina; or Larry Niles (firstname.lastname@example.org), Conserve Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey, USA.