Thursday, February 19, 2009

Waterbird Census Reveals Positive Numbers Along Coast

Dedicated bird watchers braved cold temperatures and in some cases 25 mph winds to search Georgia’s barrier island beaches for birds Jan. 16. The objective: Count and identify every waterbird they could find while roaming the chilly beaches.

This midwinter survey is an annual census done since 1996 and valued for the information gleaned on waterbird populations and roosting areas. Participants, many of them volunteers, counted more than 104,000 birds representing some 30 species this year. Of the total, an estimated 99,293 were shorebirds.

The numbers look positive, especially for species such as dunlins, marbled godwits and American oystercatchers. Totals included nearly 67,000 dunlins, 303 marbled godwits, 383 American oystercatchers, and more than 1,700 red knots.

Rare species such as red knots and marbled godwits highlight the Georgia coast’s importance as a haven for wintering and migrating waterbirds.

Participants also recorded several banded birds, including piping plovers, red knots and American oystercatchers. GPS locations for the species sporting leg bands will be noted and referred to researchers.

Waterbirds include shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds. The survey led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is joined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Georgia Ornithological Society, Audubon Society, St. Catherines Island Foundation, and groups representing Little St. Simons and Little Cumberland islands.

“We rely on the best birders in the state to help us out,” said Brad Winn, coastal program manager for Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section.

At high tide, when most waterbirds are concentrated in smaller areas, 68 birders packing scopes and checklists ventured out to Georgia’s 14 barrier islands for about four hours to scan sand, sea and sky. Data collected will serve as a midwinter snapshot of waterbird populations.

The survey meshes with Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy for wildlife conservation in the state. “The beaches are very fragile habitat, and many of the (waterbird) species we’re surveying are in our Wildlife Action Plan,” Winn said.

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