It is one of those unspoken rules for the Winter Bird Survey. Pick any day at the end of January during the week with the tide high in the middle of the day and it will be the worst day of the year. There is no way to predict the weather for this day is chosen back October/November. But there have been survey days where we have been so wet and so cold and all the optic are useless and still there we are trying to count shorebirds. Now for all that tirade this year was the exception. The sky was a beautiful blue not one cloud could you find for miles. It was a mild winter day with temperatures in the 50’s.
Traditional I am assigned Little Cumberland. Wait! I should back up and tell you about these neat surveys. It started as a Piping Plover survey around the end of 1980’s or early 1990’s. Please excuse my foggy memory I can’t exactly remember when it was started. The idea is to have teams of surveyors out at the same time on all the sandy beaches along the 99 mile long Georgia coast. It needs to be high tide when the birds are pushed out of the marshes and up on the beaches. This insures that there is little if any overlap of birds counted. To sum it up it is a snapshot of the winter birds along our coast.
Now this year I was teamed up with Kate Sparks of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. She is fairly new to our coast, but as we all do, she fell in love with the stunning beauty the coast offers. She moved into this job in October. She is mainly working on marine mammals. Her job keeps her on her toes. For example on Sunday she was examining a whale stranding and today she is taking out a bird crazy person to go count shorebirds.
Kate picked me up at the Jekyll Marina and off we went to the next island south, Little Cumberland. Now Little Cumberland is a private island. It has a good homeowner association and they keep it as natural as they can. There is a land manager who is an outdoors man with a real appreciation for the island. It is always a pleasure getting to talk to him about this little natural jewel of an island.
We got the logistic out of the way and the survey began. This is a small sandy beach so there aren’t a lot of shorebirds but there are a good number of gulls. So with the great weather, good company and a few good birds this was a good exception to the rule.
If I may I would like to say that last Thursday’s ramble was fun. There were American Avocets that we waited for at the southend of Jekyll. I ran into Wes, a winter birder on Jekyll, later in the day. He told me he had been out on the southend around 8 am and had starting to study the birds. He had been watching a Marbled Godwit, the same 31 avocet, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings and the assorted gulls and terns when some of the kids ran through the birds. They all flew off leaving him with a few gulls to watch. That explains why when I got there at high tide falling I had to make my group stand a while for the avocets were not there. About the time the avocets flew back, there was a couple walking toward them. They were going to make the birds flying again. We flagged them over to show them what we were watching.
Today when we were coming back from the survey we went by that southend and sure enough there were lots of kids running through that area. I have an idea that might help us and the birds. It is a docent plan. I have started talking to a few people about this idea. I love some help making this idea happen. It involves just some volunteers who will engage the public about the birds resting. Want to help me? Email me for details and let’s see if we can make this idea a reality.
In the meantime Good Birding!