Originally created 01/25/03

Survey documents species, population on Georgia's coast



JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. - Buffeted by 30 mph, ice-cold winds that whipped waves into froth and slammed sand into their eyes, a small band of college students scoured the Jekyll Island shoreline in a mission strictly for the birds.

The 10 students from Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville and their biology professor, Chris Skelton, were participating in this week's midwinter seabird and shorebird survey conducted by wildlife biologists from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The annual survey, conducted around one tidal phase, is intended to document populations of native and migrating birds on all of Georgia's beaches, barrier islands and sand spits, said Brad Winn, the department wildlife biologist heading the project.

"We're essentially taking a snapshot of the bird population along Georgia's coast," Mr. Winn said. "We're looking to see which species are here, how many are here and where their populations are concentrated. We also will be checking to see which species have been here in the past but might not be here now."

The students were among about 75 people, including state and federal biologists, environmentalists and avid bird watchers, who braved Thursday's cold in search of coastal birds.

Mr. Skelton, a former department aquatics biologist, said they had recorded 15 species on Jekyll Island by noon. Among the birds sighted were a lone piping plover, which is a threatened species, and some dunlin, sanderlings, willets and least sandpipers, he said.

"We're getting a tremendous amount of data. You can see how the population fluctuates," Mr. Skelton said, noting he was disappointed that only one piping plover was seen. "All told, we're looking for 50 species of birds."