Friday, May 27, 2011

More about the Horseshoe Crabs and other creatures... 2011

breeding pair of Horseshoe Crabs
In the previous post, I included a picture of a crab pileup and quite a bit of information about the Horseshoe Crabs... this first image in today's post is of a breeding pair who are working their way to shore (although here, the waves seem to be carrying them out) so the female can lay the eggs (she's the front, larger one) and the male can then fertilize them. The female pulls him along behind her so he can do his part after she finishes laying the eggs.

young crab underbelly
This is a young Horseshoe Crab before it has developed the front claws which allow us to know whether it is male or female. Males have front claws shaped roughly like boxing gloves, the better to grip onto the rear of the female's shell as seen in the previous image. When a Horseshoe Crab gets turned upside down, it uses its long, spiny tail to flip itself upright. We assisted this one in righting itself at which point it headed for the water. When upside down, the crab is extremely vulnerable to predators. Also, its gills will dry out quite rapidly which means it will certainly die unless it rights itself and returns to the bay.

young crab crawling toward water
This is the same young crab, heading for the water after we turned it back upright to assist it. You can certainly see why they are referred to as living fossils... and they have been around since prehistoric time.

sanderlings on the beach
Sanderlings on the beach... a possible caption for this is "you go this way and I'll go the other way" as they search for crab eggs and/or the tiny creatures deposited as the waves recede from the shore.

young gull
I think this is an immature Herring Gull but am not certain. I'll have to do more research but it's almost 1:00 AM and time for bed so I want to wrap up this post soon!

sea cucumber on the beach
The oddly shaped "rock" in the center of this image isn't a rock at all... it is a Sea Cucumber! It was spotted by one of our group and we weren't at all certain what it was. Our naturalist guide told us a bit about these strange creatures, most of which I've forgotten already. The one thing that stuck in my mind is that when it feels threatened, it will puff itself up and expel its stomach. A predator will then eat the stomach instead of the Sea Cucumber and the "cuke" will go merrily on its way and simply grow a new stomach.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Horseshoe Crabs and the birds that depend on them...

horseshoe crabs on the beach
Although the first image is crabs, crabs and more crabs, the rest of this post (scroll down) will be birds who love to dine on their eggs. If I haven't missed the cutoff, I'll be posting this to World Bird Wednesday shortly. (am posting here instead of my other blog because this blog is where I post when the images tell more of a story than I want to tell on my photo blog... am WAY behind returning visits from last week but will be catching up before the weekend)

My cousin Jane, friends and myself went to Slaughter Beach, Delaware (and a few nearby spots) to view the annual mass breeding of the Horseshoe Crabs. They breed and come to shore, riding high tide in to the beach, in great numbers to deposit and fertilize vast numbers of protein rich eggs over a two week period (+/- a few days) every May. One of the best places to view this spectacle is Slaughter Beach on the Delaware Bay.

Blue Ridge Workshops provided a photography instructor and a naturalist guide for our "day at the beach" and some of us even got to try out HUGE lenses on our Nikon cameras. I failed miserably to get the hang of using a 600mm prime lens fitted with a 2x converter and think my Sigma 120-400mm zoom is much easier to use! (also would need someone to carry the rig for me if I were to use such a huge and heavy lens assembly) Too bad I forgot to pack the 1.4x converter for my Sigma lens.

And now for a few of the birds who dine on the eggs laid by the crabs...

Sanderlings and Turnstones
Sanderlings with a few Ruddy Turnstones mixed in (look closely and you might spot the Turnstones)

Sanderling with crab egg
The foreground Sanderling has a crab egg in its mouth. (larger view)

laughing gull
Laughing Gull, aptly named if you've ever heard them! Note Horseshoe Crabs on the beach too.

Willet with tail of Horseshoe Crab visible, sticking out of the water on the left.

ruddy turnstones
A few Ruddy Turnstones with some blurry gulls on the water behind them.