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All you can eat buffet is for the birds on Delaware’s bay shore

The Red Knot standing at the entrance to the Dupont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor is considerably bigger than its namesake, which is about the size of a Peppermint Patty. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
The Red Knot standing at the entrance to the Dupont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor is considerably bigger than its namesake, which is about the size of a Peppermint Patty. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Delaware has rolled out the welcome mat for some interesting marine and avian tourists: the horseshoe crab and a celebrated bird, the red knot.

It's more than likely that neither of those nor the hordes of other shorebirds that flew and paddled (and yes, screamed) in the nearby waterways were aware of the notables gathered at Mispillion Harbor, near Milford, De., to celebrate the completion of restoration work at the junction of the Mispillion River and Cedar Creek.

The restoration created habitat for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs and shields the area from storms and waves by installing shoreline improvements and restoring 7.5 acres of sandy beach and dunes.

A long view of the restoration at Mispillion Harbor. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
A long view of the restoration at Mispillion Harbor. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Superstorm Sandy did her worst here in 2012, and along with the impact from other storms, the previous beaches were devastated. With a combination of federal and state dollars, along with state and non-profit elbow grease and knowhow, the nearly $8 million spent will attract not just those wildlife visitors, but tourists from further afield to witness one of nature's fascinating shows: how the horseshoe crabs laying their eggs in the millions on the shores of the Delaware Bay provide the rich proteins that the migrating red knots need to replenish their stores for the last leg of their annual journey from South America to the Arctic.

"Tourism is a big part of our state's economy, " said U.S. Senator Tom Carper, noting that the state's policy of tax-free shopping is a big draw, but so is the state's wildlife, calling the birds and the crabs a "tourist magnet."

Awaiting turns at the podium to celebrate the Mispillion Harbor restoration: Eric Schwaab, vice president for conservation programs at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; U.S. Senator Tom Carper; U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester; Wendi Weber, regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and U.S. Senator Chris Coons PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Awaiting turns at the podium to celebrate the Mispillion Harbor restoration: Eric Schwaab, vice president for conservation programs at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; U.S. Senator Tom Carper; U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester; Wendi Weber, regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and U.S. Senator Chris Coons PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

U.S. Senator Chris Coons praised the teamwork that the completed project represented: federal, state, NGOs and private individuals banding together to get the money needed and the work done. "If you want to go fast, go alone," he quoted. "If you want to go far, go together."

Though the restoration was appreciated by all sorts of critters, human and otherwise, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn M. Garvin pointed to a grander mission: to protect against the imminent storms to come as climate change starts to take a toll on his low-lying state.

"Delaware has the lowest mean elevation of all 50 states," he said. (Check here for more info) 

In the coming years, as climate change takes its toll, resiliency will be a goal for many projects on Delaware's shores."This project will protect this harbor from coastal storms, but it benefits the (nearby) locals of Slaughter Beach," Garvin added.

Mispillion is just north of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and south of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, so the harbor restoration here adds to a triple resiliency barrier to fierce storms that wreck havoc on the state's bay shore.

On the opposite New Jersey shore, it's easy to see how the water is slowly eating away at the shoreline in places like Gandys Beach and Fortescue, rendering homes and communities unfit for human habitation.

Interested? Here's a previous Delaware Currents story about exactly that.

"This is about creating a better world for our children," said U.S.Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, who talked about Moonbird -- the nickname for a noted male red knot who was first banded (as B95) in Argentina in 1995. He could have been to the moon if you totaled the number of miles he traveled in his annual journeys. His last known sighting was in 2007.

"This is awesome," said Wendi Webber, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as she gestured with wide arms -- and a big smile -- to include the harbor as well as the guests.

"This is what you get to do when you have terrific partners," she said echoing a theme reiterated at the presentation.

On board for a tour of the harbor: Eric Schwaab, vice president for conservation programs, National Fish and Wildlife Service; Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control;  and Wendi Weber, regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
On board for a tour of the harbor: Eric Schwaab, vice president for conservation programs, National Fish and Wildlife Service; Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; and Wendi Weber, regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

"This is a really special place, and a special project," said Eric Schwaab, vice president for conservation programs, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

"Thank you to Delaware, and thank you to everyone in D.C.," he said, "I've never encountered a delegation more conversant with these issues than you three."

And while the speechmaking continued, the stars of the show went about their flying, paddling and screaming business.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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