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More shoreline at Mispillion Harbor conserved to help threatened red knot

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media

Vulnerable migratory birds can rest a little easier at Mispillion Harbor this year, after conservationists secured another victory.

The conservation and restoration of wildlife habitat along Mispillion Harbor near Milford has been going on for more than a decade. Earlier this year the national nonprofit Conservation Fund transferred two more parcels of land it bought to the state of Delaware for permanent protection.

The shore of Mispillion Harbor is a vital feeding ground for the threatened red knot bird as it migrates from Central and South America to Arctic Canada each year. One of its main food sources during that time is horseshoe crab eggs.

Blaine Phillips is mid-Atlantic regional director at the Conservation Fund. He says the two latest parcels to be conserved at Mispillion Harbor are some of the last pieces of the puzzle. 

“We are almost done 100% protection of the harbor and the shoreline,” he said. “There are a very few small pieces that are still left, but this represents getting down  to the one yard line.”

Phillips says that’s a long way from where the conservation effort started in 2006.

“None of the harbor was protected when we started,” he said. “There was aggressive horseshoe crab harvesting on the beaches. So this represents really a place now where this entire area can be a sanctuary for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs.”

Phillips says the newly conserved land will need to be restored—so it can be optimal habitat for these species.

Red knot populations have been under pressure for decades, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says climate change poses an additional challenge. The red knot’s primary threats include habitat loss due to sea level rise and coastal development, and increasing mismatches between the timing of the bird's migration and the food and weather it needs. 

The red knots are expected to arrive at Mispillion Harbor in May. Phillips describes the annual event as a “spectacle.”

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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