Friday, February 11, 2011

Homeward Bound

It's the last day of the NAI conference, and our first session is a bird walk with Lydia Thompson, local birding enthusiast, artist, and author of the Coastal Georgia Birding blog. Lydia explained that in this neighborhood, you go birding by the condition of the tides, not the time on the clock. Shore birds won't be feeding when the water is too high, and southern Georgia has some of the highest tides on the east coast. We managed to go when the tide was changing (although I'm still not sure if it was going out or coming in) so we had pretty good luck right there on the hotel grounds. One of our first sightings was a group of Avocets, who flew in flashing their black and white wings, then settled down to feed. I couldn't tell if they were swimming or walking, they moved so quickly. Lydia says they all move in unison to stir up the prey and send it to the open beaks of their neighbors, so everyone gets to eat.
A little later on, we checked the exposed oyster beds, and found some (you guessed it) Oyster Catchers. They have particularly strong beaks and feet to walk on the sharp oyster shells without getting hurt, and to open them for the juicy morsels. I like their bright red bills.
A park ranger said that the oyster is the most important thing on the coast. Everyone and everything likes to eat it, it filters the water to clean it, and the shells are used for construction, as tools by the Native Americans, and to build up the shoreline itself. When it was time to go back inside for the last session, I decided to play hookey and continue birding for a while, especially when a brilliant orange Oriole flew into a nearby tree, glowing in the sunshine! Before we left the island, Lydia directed us to a small fresh water pond we hadn't found before. Hooded Mergansers shared the shore with Egrets, Herons, Vultures, turtles and an alligator!
In the evening, more birds come in for a choice roosting spot for the night, but we couldn't stay any longer, and finally headed down the road towards home. As we drive up I-95, we notice red flower buds swelling on the maple trees. Have faith! Spring will come again! Next year the Region 3 conference will be in Nashville, TN, a mere three hours from Louisville. We are planning to go again to reconnect with our interpreter friends.

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