The coronavirus pandemic has shattered most routines, forcing many to stay home, limit visits with loved ones and wait the virus out.
Shorebirds and other wildlife haven’t really noticed.
Many of the natural rhythms of spring continue, including the northward migration of shorebirds headed for the Arctic.
Wilson’s Plovers have begun to stake out nesting sites on Georgia’s coasts. Other shorebirds, like Dunlin and Sanderlings, are also stopping on the state’s beaches during their journey north from South America.
Biologists from the environmental group Manomet, the St. Simons Sea Turtle Project and state Department of Natural Resources are monitoring the beaches to maintain information about how local beaches are used by wildlife.
The work is crucial because the research helps scientists understand how to best manage habitats to ensure threatened species like shorebirds and sea turtles are able to thrive.
“The Georgia coast is very important for nesting shorebirds, and birds could be nesting on any of the beaches from about March to August,” said Abby Sterling, a shorebird biologist from Manomet who monitors the local beaches.
The monitoring aims to study how birds and people use the beaches and to keep tabs on nesting that’s occurring this season.
Symbolic fencing in the form of ropes and signs shows beachgoers where nests are, so they can avoid damaging the nests and prevent dogs from harming the nests.
“The best way to protect nesting shorebirds when you’re on the beach is to stay below the high tide line and keep your activities below that line,” Sterling said.
The pandemic has temporarily halted the usual volunteer programs available this year that allow community members to serve as stewards and help protect nesting shorebirds.
“This spring, we’re not able to do that,” Sterling said. “Hopefully, as things progress with this, there will be some opportunities in the future.”
Some of the data collected through ongoing beach monitoring is included in a long running data set on international shorebirds. This data paints the larger picture of shorebird population trends, Sterling said.
The data also highlights how important places like the St. Simons beach are for nesting shorebirds, some of which are declining rare species.
“They depend on the habitat that we have here in Georgia,” Sterling said. “… We have to make sure we’re doing a good job.”
For more information, please visit the Georgia Shorebird Alliance Facebook page or website.