bird patrol

A Least Tern flies over a nesting area in the dunes off Gould’s Inlet on St. Simons.

Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News

An scientific research and outreach organization dedicated to shorebirds across the Western Hemisphere recently recognized the Georgia barrier islands as a place of significance.

The island group, which stretches the length of Georgia's coast, became the 100th place so designated by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. All islands except the state-owned islands Sapelo and Jekyll and inhabited parts of St. Simons Island, received the designation. Musgrove Plantation, Cannon's Point and Fort Frederica are areas on St. Simons Island included in the designation.

The recognition comes primarily thanks to the islands’ ability to serve as migratory stops for more than 30 percent of the population of red knots and piping plovers.

The network also noted the islands hosting more than 10 percent of oystercatchers, short-billed dowitchers and black-bellied plovers, along with a large spring concentration of whimbrel among other birds.

Brad Winn, a former state Department of Natural Resources nongame program manager, is now the director of shorebird habitat management at Manomet, of which the WHSRN is a part.

“The WHSRN recognition should be celebrated by everyone who knows and cares about this state’s land, water and wildlife,” Winn said in a statement. “Whether you live in Atlanta and have a second home in Richmond Hill, grew up hunting and fishing in McIntosh County, or spend just a few weeks visiting Jekyll Island as a tourist from New York, this coveted recognition should make you smile with pride for a job well done.

“Business leaders, land owners, tourism boards and nature lovers alike should celebrate the fact that Georgia’s coast supports and protects the habitat used by so many shorebirds for all to see and enjoy.”

Also, the birds are not simply finding places to stay on their own. Regular work by DNR staff helps track area shorebirds and keeps an eye on developments that could affect their populations. For instance, DNR wildlife biologist Tim Keyes said during a Conservation Donors Roundtable on St. Simons Island in March that donated equipment would go toward monitoring activities of oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers and least terns.

“We have relatively low oystercatcher productivity in the state of Georgia generally, so putting cameras on these nests will obviously allow us to target, or to figure out exactly what’s going on in the nesting,” Keyes said at the time.

The WHSRN recognized the Georgia Shorebird Alliance — a group of individuals, government agencies and property owners — for helping make the islands as welcoming to the birds as they are.

“Our coast is unlike any other place on earth,” Megan Desrosiers, CEO of One Hundred Miles, said in a statement. “(This) announcement confirms to the rest of the world what we in Georgia already know: our 100 miles are a wonder of the world – worthy of our pride and deserving of our protection. It is an honor to work with the land owners, governments, and agencies involved in the conservation of our world’s most special habitats.”