Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival in Milton, Delaware May 2012

Every year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, we travel about 2 1/2 hours from PA to Milton, Delaware to attend the Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival.  This is a fun event featuring many educational and environmental organizations.  There are train rides for 25 cents, a playground, live music and food.  There are also some great vendors, including some who create environmentally friendly or recycled jewelry, pottery, and other products.   There are games and art activities for the kids, many using previously molted horseshoe crab shells.

These are horseshoe crab shells that are no longer being used by the horseshoe crab.

There are great resources given out at the festival and we have learned much about these amazing creatures from them.  You can learn from these resources at and .  There is an information tent where both children and adults can learn about local environmental efforts and about the horseshoe crab spawning and Red Knot migration.

Every Spring, the largest numbers of horseshoe crabs anywhere come ashore at the Delaware Bay to lay their eggs.   After the festival, we drive north of Milton to Kitts Hummock to get a closer look at the horseshoe crabs in action.

Horseshoe crabs are not really crabs, but are related to creatures like spiders and scorpions.  They use their claws to grab sea worms and mollusk to eat.

Spider like legs of the horseshoe crab

They have long tails to help them steer as they move.  Their tails also help to turn themselves right side up if they get flipped over in the waves.  Sometimes they get stuck in the sand and dry up in the sun before the tide rolls in.

My 5 year old son flipping over stranded horseshoe crabs
My 7 year old son flipping horseshoe crabs

The scene varies depending on the tide.  Last year, we arrived at high tide and saw many horseshoe crabs coming ashore with the waves.  This year we arrived at low tide and saw the ones who had already come ashore waiting in the muddy sand for the tide to come in.  We walked down the beach and turned over any stranded horseshoe crabs we found.  The children got hands on experience with these amazing creatures and were taught to respect them.

My daughter excited to find a baby one

Horseshoe crabs are helpful to humans as well.  They are used in medical research.  Their unique blue blood is also used to test the safety of some vaccines.  Scientists have also learned more about our eyes by studying the horseshoe crab’s eyes.

A flock of birds looking for eggs at low tide

The horseshoe crab is important to the Delaware Bay ecosystem.  The eggs laid by the horseshoe crabs every spring are food to many shorebirds who migrate from South Central America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.  Red Knots travel up to 9,300 miles.  During their spring migration, most stop at the Delaware Bay to feed on horseshoe crab eggs.

Sadly, spawning grounds are being destroyed and horseshoe crabs are also used as bait.  Their population is decreasing and so is the population of the Red Knot.

A horseshoe crab waiting for the tide to come in

Going to the beach at low tide can be a very muddy experience.  This is the kind of muddy sand that doesn’t wash off with one bath.  It will take multiple scrubbings to get the sand from this beach out of little fingers and toes, but it will be worth it.  I have learned over the years to bring a few jugs of rinse water with us on this excursion to rinse at least one layer of sticky sand off before getting in the car.  We have been taking this trip for at least five years now and it, coupled with the fact that I get to spend time with my cousin and her family who live in Delaware, is always the perfect way to kick off the summer.

This year, we added some excitement by checking out the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton.   I discovered this beer last year while in Delaware and became an instant admirer.  When we discovered the brewery was only a few blocks from the Horseshoe Crab Festival, we had to check it out this year.

Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware

The brewery, which you can check out at , boasts “Off centered ales for off centered people.”  Love the slogan and love the beer.  They have a unique variety, my favorite of which are the darker beers: Palo Santo, Indian Brown Ale and Raison D’Etre.  I have also recently tried the Bitches Brew, the Tweason’ale and the Sah’tea.  Everything I have tried from Dogfish Head has been worth trying.  If you are a fan of good beer, you can’t help but be excited by Dogfish Head.

Outside the brewery
Birch Beer tasting

I was initially uncomfortable taking three children into a brewery (it was a store too), but when we were offered a beer tasting for us and a birch beer for them upon arrival, we graciously accepted.  As the driver, my husband only took a few sips of each and dumped the rest into my glass (yes, he totally rocks).

Relaxing after her first birch beer

It was as family friendly as a brewery could be, (We weren’t the only ones with kids) but they also offered tours and we saw lots of child free people having a great time too.  The kids had a blast and we got to check out something really cool.  Hmm, maybe you really can do it all with kids!

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