Originally created 12/14/01

Artist helps raise funds for conservation



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Lydia Thompson figures it took her years to draw the picture of three types of birds that appear on The Nature Conservancy of Georgia's T-shirt.

"A lifetime" is the way she describes it.

Ms. Thompson's been watching and sketching birds for 25 years, and the information she has amassed all went into the picture of American oystercatchers, red knots and a Wilson's plover that appear on shirts being sold to benefit The Nature Conservancy. Ms. Thompson drew many of the sketches while on birdwatching trips with the Coastal Audubon Society or in her work as a master bird bander licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A native of Natchez, Miss., she has an art degree from the University of Mississippi but adds, "I come from a school of experience, too."

She went to experience class again recently, traveling from her home on St. Simons Island around the dividing sound to Jekyll Island, where she does weekly "birding rambles" and takes along visitors for a fee.

"That's what birders do, we just ramble," she said.

She and Anna Ashwood Collins, a mystery writer who relocated from New York, went to the island's northern tip to look for scoters - sea ducks that can be seen bobbing in the ocean swells most mornings.

Ms. Collins, who has accompanied Ms. Thompson for three years, says she's learned a lot.

"When I started, I knew 'seagulls' and 'not seagulls,"' she said. They saw few scoters but plenty of gulls and a few pelicans.

Ms. Thompson uses the trips for a weekly survey that helps predict what sorts of birds participants might see on her rambles.

Ms. Thompson makes a living from the bird paintings and drawings she sells, and from working part time at the Wild Birds Unlimited store on St. Simons. Her collection of greeting cards includes drawings of the American oystercatcher, hummingbirds, painted buntings and the brown thrasher, Georgia's state bird.

Her drawing for the shirt has an oystercatcher in flight behind six others, three red knots below that and a single Wilson's plover at the bottom. To the left is an outline of the Altamaha River delta where the three species stop each year on Little St. Simons, Wolf, Egg and Little Egg islands to rest and refuel during migration.

Recognition of the delta as an important nesting and migrating habitat for shore birds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and Audubon Society brings international recognition to the area, The Nature Conservancy said.

Although she considers herself an ambassador for all birds, Ms. Thompson said she especially likes shore birds.

"Shore birds have always fascinated me. Some are long-range travelers," she said. "I love to travel. There's a common relationship there."

Ms. Thompson's is the third piece of donated artwork used by The Nature Conservancy's Altamaha River Bioreserve for its winter fund-raiser. Each year the series focuses on a rare or endangered species found in the river's watershed.

Ms. Thompson said it was important to show the Altamaha, one of the few undammed rivers, and to illustrate its importance.

"We have an opportunity to watch a natural river do a natural thing," she said.

The Altamaha River Bioreserve tries to preserve important habitat along the river and has ownership, among other things, of a huge tract of an uplands longleaf pine forest, cypress swamp and other areas along the river.

"We are so fortunate to have someone as talented and knowledgeable of shore birds and the Altamaha River community as Lydia help us convey our conservation message," said Christi Lambert, the project manager for the bioreserve.

Her work communicates the importance of the Altamaha delta and all Georgia beaches to the future of the shore birds, Ms. Lambert said.