Virginia Barrier Islands Shorebird Technician


Virginiaís Eastern Shore was completely unknown to me until coming out to work for Virginia Tech. After a month of exploration of the islands and the marsh I now hold this ecological gem in high regard. During the month of May and some in to June, the red knot uses this area as well as the Delaware Bay as their major stopover during their migration from South America on their way to the Arctic to nest. Migration stop-overs for birds are vitally important to their health. In early May red knots show up to the eastern shore emaciated and unable to digest food. During their long journey north from as far as Tierra del Fuego they shut down many of their internal organs, focusing their energy reserves on their wing muscles, heart, and liver. After a short period of physiological changes their body is ready to receive food again. Their feeding frenzy roughly lasts 3-5 weeks, in which they can double their weight. Red Knots are now on the Endangered Species waiting list as their population has been found to be in decline. The principal researchers of this project, Jonathan Cohen (Post-doc) and Dr. James Fraser sought out to understand the Red Knotís habitat use of the Barrier Islands. With little known and much in speculation, research is much needed.


Barrier Islands are known as shifting landscapes. From decade to decade and even year-to-year these islands undergo massive morphological changes.




Getting out to the Islands was not always easy.

Looking for the best canon-netting spot.




The Red Knot- being a good patient

My wife assisting Dr. Fraser with a radio-transmitter backpack.

Scientists love measurements

Red Knot Food- Donax (Small-Clams)


Attaching the first satellite transmitter to a Red Knot. With hope we will be ableto watch this bird via the computer fly north to the arctic to its breeding area.


The Banding

The Waiting

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Myself, holding two Red Knots ready for release.

The release is always an anxious time.




We caught these birds with a canon propelled net. After securing them in a shaded keeping cage we started in on the process of banding, measuring, and radiotagging. Once we got some birds radiotagged, we then started flying an aerial telemetry transect over the Virginia coastline and the Delaware Bay in order to locate the birds. With radio-telemetry antennas attached to both sides of a Cessna SkyHawk II, we flew along the coast listening to our radio receivers, marking on a map whenever we found a bird.


The marsh behind the Islands and our antenna

The shadow of our plane flying over flocking shorebirds

A view from the sky




Piping Plover Project


As a side project Jonathan Cohen and Dr. Fraser tested a similar piping plover radio-transmitter backpack. This little shorebird is listed on the Endangered Species List and thus heavily managed all along the east coast. The Piping Plover belongs to a family that is known for their broken-wing displays. This behavior developed as a means to lure predators away from their nest.


Jonathan Cohen, Securing a Piping Plover. An exclosure around the nest reduces egg

mortality from gulls and foxes

Camouflaged Eggs

The mate doing a broken wing display



The adroit handling of Jonathan Cohen and James Fraser

Walking Away


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