Mid-winter waterbird survey

Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:32pm
By: The Citizen

Mid-winter waterbird survey of Georgia’s barrier islands set for Monday, Jan. 22

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Jan. 19, 2007) — Hawk-eyed birding experts will canvass the shoreline of Georgia’s barrier islands Monday, Jan. 22, to record observations of waterbirds for a survey coordinated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and Atlanta Audubon.

The Mid-Winter Waterbird Survey is a team effort that will involve partner organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Georgia Ornithological Society, the Audubon Society, the St. Catherines Island Foundation, and Little St. Simons Island.

Armed with scopes and checklists, a group of seasoned birders will scan or comb the beaches of each of Georgia’s barrier islands. The surveyors will compile data that serves as a snapshot of waterbird populations in mid-winter. Waterbirds include shorebirds, seabirds, wading birds and waterfowl.

“Georgia’s coastal beaches, marshes and barrier islands are rich wintering grounds for many birds, including several rare or uncommon species like the piping plover, red knot and American oystercatcher,” said Brad Winn, WRD Coastal Nongame Program Manager. “The undisturbed portions of our barrier islands provide excellent habitat, with food sources and roosting areas for migrating and wintering waterbirds.”

The bird count will be conducted at high tide, when waterbirds are most concentrated on smaller areas of prime beach or shoreline habitat. Observers will count individuals of every species that depend on Georgia’s outer barrier coast for survival. All sections of beach will be scanned through spotting scopes and binoculars as expert birders cover the prime waterbird habitats on the Georgia coast over a four-hour period.

“This survey provides critical information about what is happening with our wintering shorebirds and seabirds,” said Jim Wilson, the Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area Coordinator for Georgia. “Conservation measures aren’t likely to be effective without knowing the size of the waterbird populations and where they are located.”

Special emphasis will be placed on observing rare piping plovers in conjunction with a broader study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The population of piping plovers breeding in the Great Lakes area — one of three distinct populations of the species in North America — numbers only about 200 individuals, and is listed as endangered. Many of the plovers that come to winter on Little St. Simons Island, or stop in on their travels between other wintering and breeding grounds, are from this small group that breeds on the beaches of the Great Lakes.

Even for experienced birders, identifying species from afar can prove tricky on occasion. Some participants in the Mid-Winter Waterbird Survey will head to the DNR office in Brunswick on Sunday, Jan. 21, for a refresher birding session. The office is located at One Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA, 31520. The refresher session will take place at 2 p.m.

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