L to R, top to bottom: Beth Blalock, Michael Chriszt, Colleen McEdwards, Sally Sears
Birds Georgia welcomed four new directors elected by members to the Board of Directors at their annual meeting on December 3. Beth Allgood Blalock, Michael Chriszt, Colleen McEdwards, and Sally Sears were elected for three-year terms beginning January 1, 2024. In addition, Joshua Andrews, Robert Cooper, Marc Goncher, and Susan Maclin will return to the Board of Directors for a second three-year term. Marc Goncher, Senior Legal Counsel, Environmental, Safety and Sustainability for The Coca-Cola Company, will succeed Paige Martin as Board Chair when her term ends on December 31.
Beth Allgood Blalock is an attorney with Gilbert Harrell and has a wide range of experience working on land-based environmental issues. Her primary practice areas include environmental regulatory, compliance, and permitting issues, and the acquisition and redevelopment of properties with environmental impacts. She serves as a lecturer on brownfields and regulatory issues in Georgia, sits on the board of the Georgia Brownfield Association and the Georgia Environmental Conference Steering Committee and is currently an adjunct professor at the Georgia State University College of Law. Beth is the lead facilitator of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and a 2016 IGEL graduate. She and her husband reside in Atlanta with their two children.
Michael Chriszt is vice president and regional engagement officer in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Corporate Engagement Division. In this role, he serves as the Atlanta Fed’s lead public engagement officer focusing on smaller cities and towns in the Sixth District. Mike has served on several boards, most recently as Chair of the Georgia Council on Economic Education and on the executive committee of Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. He is a member of the National Association of Business Economists and the Atlanta Economics Club, where he served as president from 2015 to 2017. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Mike is married to Maxine and they have five children and three grandchildren.
Colleen McEdwards is an online instructor with the University of Florida’s renowned distance-learning graduate program in communication and media studies (CJC Online). She designs and delivers online courses in video storytelling. After a 30-year career in international media at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CNN International, Colleen transitioned to academia, helping new generations of communicators discover what’s next for digital media. She has taught at the Sam Nunn School of International affairs (Georgia Tech), Georgia State University, and Kennesaw State University. Prior to her transition to academia, Colleen spent almost 20 years as an anchor and correspondent for CNN International. Colleen earned a Ph.D. in Education while working at CNN International, partnering with CNN’s international affiliates throughout the process. She is a United States/Canadian citizen, a former competitive athlete and an avid sports fan.
Sally Sears, an award-winning news reporter and author, is a founding director of the South Fork Conservancy. The Trust for Public Land named her its 2015 Trail Blazer for her leadership of the vision of linking communities with low-impact trails along the South Fork and other tributaries of Peachtree Creek. Her environmental and community work is an outgrowth of decades of news reporting in growing cities across the South. Special televised reports on solutions to north Georgia’s growth issues of water, land use, and traffic helped her find the broader community connections to create cooperation among partners. Sally covered politics and suburban growth for metro Atlanta television stations, including WAGA and WSB TV, since 1984. She served as the founding chair of the DeKalb County watershed oversight committee in 2009. Sally is a native of Montevallo, Alabama, and a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Richard Belcher, and their son, Will.
“We are excited to welcome Beth, Michael, Colleen, and Sally to the Birds Georgia Board of Directors,” says Paige Martin, outgoing board chair. “These individuals bring a wealth of talents and experiences to the Board that will help Birds Georgia fulfill its mission of building places where birds and people thrive.”
Additional Birds Georgia board members include Paige Martin, Scott Porter, Esther Stokes, Joshua Gassman, Laurene Hamilton, Gus Kaufman, Mary Anne Lanier, Jennifer Johnson McEwen, Ellen Miller, Jon Philipsborn, Marlena Reed, James Renner, LaTresse Snead, Amy Beth Sparks, and Ayanna Williams.
For more information on Birds Georgia visit https://www.birdsgeorgia.org/.
About Birds Georgia: Birds Georgia is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement. Founded in 1926 as the Atlanta Bird Club, the organization became a chapter of National Audubon in 1973, and continues as an independent chapter of National Audubon Society today. We look forward to celebrating the 100- year anniversary of our organization in 2026. Learn more at https://www.birdsgeorgia.org/.
by Sarah Tolve, Coastal Conservation Coordinator for Birds Georgia
The sun has yet to rise, but staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Birds Georgia are gearing up for the chance to shine a light on the wintering habits of one of Georgia’s state-listed species of concern — the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus).
Launching from Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA DNR Biologists Tim Keyes and Chris Depkin were joined by Birds Georgia's Coastal Conservation Coordinator, Sarah Tolve, for a chilly day on the water. Tim hopes to survey the salt marsh and adjacent shell rakes (elevated oyster shell ridges along the marshside) for non-breeding American Oystercatchers and report banded birds back to their home states.
Over the course of the winter, Tim’s team will survey Georgia’s entire 100-mile coastline for Oystercatchers. Sounds easy? Not when you consider that Georgia holds approximately 368,000 acres of salt marsh in those one hundred miles. On the Atlantic seaboard, Georgia is surpassed in acres of salt marsh only by South Carolina.
Nestled between the Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers, the salt marshes of Liberty and McIntosh Counties support countless numbers of birds, fishes, invertebrates, and marine mammals.
During the winter (non-breeding) season, as the tide approaches peak high tide, large groups of American Oystercatchers congregate on marsh islands, sandy beaches, and oyster rakes -- making it slightly easier to observe large numbers of birds and survey for bands. As the tide recedes, birds begin to disperse to feed on intertidal mudflats and shellfish beds, and waterways become increasingly difficult to navigate (due to Georgia’s six to eight foot tidal fluctuation).
In a typical winter, Georgia’s American Oystercatcher population numbers 900 to 1,100 individuals. During the breeding season, Georgia supports approximately 120 breeding pairs, mostly on undeveloped barrier islands and shell rakes.
Tim and team choose to survey two hours on either side of high tide to yield the best results. This gives a survey window of 4 hours -- enough time to cover a few known roosting sites. If conditions allow, and the birds are present, Tim surveys the group for bands using a spotting scope or a camera equipped with a long lens to prevent disturbance to the flock.
After a quick scan and count of the flock, he estimates the ratio of subadults to adult birds in the group. Subadult birds will have a dusky brown tipped bill, while adults will be vivid orange with a faint yellow tip. Last, he looks for colored field-readable leg bands -- the color of the band corresponds to a certain state’s banding program. Florida and Georgia bands are red, South Carolina uses dark blue, North Carolina uses green, Virginia uses black, New York and New Jersey use orange, and Massachusetts and Connecticut use yellow.
Whew! That’s a lot to remember. Good thing there’s a comprehensive resource for all things American Oystercatcher -- the American Oystercatcher Working Group (amoywg.org/.) We resighted red, yellow, green, black, and dark blue bands while on this survey.
Why band birds?
Bird banding data is useful in both scientific research and management and conservation projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth (USGS). By applying bands pre-fledging, an individual bird can be resighted over its lifetime without the need to capture it again. Typically made of metal or durable plastic, the bands are built to withstand the elements without being too cumbersome for the birds to carry over their lifetimes.
Mark-resight (banding) studies coordinated by the American Oystercatcher Working Group have provided critical information, including linkages of breeding and wintering sites, rates of adult and juvenile survival, and relative importance of migration and wintering areas. These efforts are sustained through a long-term coordinated monitoring program (like Tim is leading here in Georgia) and help to inform management decisions and strategies.
Although it has taken persistence and the commitment of many partners from Massachusetts to Texas, the North American population of American Oystercatchers has risen by approximately 50% -- an increase from roughly 10,971 birds in 2003 to roughly 14,735 in twenty years. (S. Shulte, Manomet, 2023)
Predation of eggs and chicks, habitat loss or degradation due to sea level rise, and human disturbance continue to be major hurdles for oystercatchers population-wide. In a time when shorebird populations are on the decline globally, conservation successes such as this deserve praise.
An adult American Oystercatcher stands on a shell rake composed of oyster shells with Spartina alterniflora (Smooth Cordgrass) in the background. Its bill is solid, vibrant orange, and its iris is lemony-yellow. It has a black head, dark brown wings, pink legs, and white chest. It towers over the nearby Least Sandpipers. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
How Can I Help?
You don’t need to be a wildlife biologist to make a difference for Georgia’s birds.
If you live on the coast, you can join Manomet in advocating as a Shorebird Steward on one of Georgia’s barrier islands. From Tybee to Saint Simons to Cumberland, Shorebird Stewards station themselves along areas where both birds and people congregate. Their priorities include, but are not limited to efforts to reduce human and pet disturbance on beach nesting birds and to build awareness through education and outreach. Manomet’s Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative hopes to inspire public appreciation and awareness of not only American Oystercatchers, but all shorebird and beach-nesting species we #ShareTheShore with.
Visit the coast from time to time? While visiting Georgia’s (or any state’s) beaches, be mindful of the inhabitants and the journeys they endured to be sitting alongside you. Some, like the Red Knot, are simply stopping for a quick meal before continuing on their twice-yearly 9,000 mile migration.
Coastal Connections - The Story of Red[AMC] and Blue[8X]
In the photo above stand three American Oystercatchers — two with bands, one without. The bird on the left stands on one leg, with a red band coded [AMC]. This bird was banded by GA DNR Biologist, Tim Keyes, on Raccoon Key (near Ossabaw Island) on June 6, 2018. It has been seen seven times since, all in Georgia. It breeds on Saint Catherine’s Island Bar, where it was seen on November 30 during this survey.
Conversely, the bird to the far right is banded with a dark blue band coded [8X]. This bird was banded in South Carolina in 2008 near Capers Island (north of Charleston) and has been resighted and reported just 10 times in the 15 years since.
Since the third (middle) bird is unbanded, it is unknown where it hatched, where it breeds, and any other details of its life history.
Thanks to information gathered by band-resight data, the lives of American Oystercatchers are beginning to be understood. An oystercatcher that was among the first banded in Georgia in 2001 was resighted in November 2022 by Sarah Tolve — making that bird over 20 years old today. It is even still paired with a mate and maintaining territory on Cumberland Island. Every band resight and report helps further the knowledge base of imperiled species like American Oystercatchers.
Although the salt marsh provides abundant food resources for the American Oystercatcher, it also provides the perfect perch for this Peregrine Falcon, who is known to prey on shorebirds. This bird's crop appeared very full and had likely just consumed a large meal. We also noted 4 adult Bald Eagles while on the survey route. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
Not only do American Oystercatchers enjoy roosting on the oyster shell rakes, American White Pelicans do as well! They have recently returned to the Georgia coast to winter, after spending the breeding season in California, Colorado, or Canada. Marshes are magnets for migrating birds and support birds from the smallest species, like Least Sandpiper, to the largest, like these White Pelicans and the Bald Eagle. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
Birds Georgia was delighted to present long-time volunteer Melinda Langston with the 2023 Scottie Johnson Spirit Award at the Holiday Party and Annual Meeting on Sunday, December 3.
Melinda has been a volunteer with Birds Georgia for many years. For several years, she managed the Wildlife Sanctuary Program before it was turned over to staff position. During her tenure as volunteer coordinator for that program, she revamped the requirements for certification, created a best practices document, and was a fantastic ambassador for the program bringing many new properties into the program AND spreading the word about the program to other organizations and to our members.
She later joined the Birds Georgia Board of Directors, where she served for several years. In recent years, Melinda has worked closely with the conservation program coordinator to certify properties that were due for certification visits, including properties further afield that are more difficult for our Avian Advocate volunteers to visit. When Birds Georgia's staff person left the organization, Melinda stepped in to catch up a backlog of certifications and is currently working with conservation program staff to update and modernize the certification process so that it can better address properties across the state. Melinda is a Birds Georgia Master Birder, a Master Naturalist, and a fantastic volunteer for Georgia Audubon!
About the Scottie Johnson Spirit Award
In 2018, Georgia Audubon lost an incredibly dedicated volunteer and dear friend, Eleanor Scott Johnson. "Scottie", as her family and friends called her, was an avid birder and long-time volunteer for Georgia Audubon. There wasn’t a task that Scottie wasn’t up for, whether that was giving educational presentations, walking a Project Safe Flight route, certifying wildlife sanctuaries, or writing the Ask Chippy column. Scottie always raised her hand to help us out. She was a nurse, a mother, a Master Birder, and a wonderful human being with an amazing spirit. Although we lost Scottie to cancer in 2018, we continue to celebrate her spirit, kindness, and perseverance annually by honoring an outstanding volunteer with the Scottie Johnson Spirit Award. Anne McCallum, a long-time volunteer with Georgia Audubon received the inaugural award in 2019, Charles Loeb was the 2020 recipient, Steve Phenicie received the award in 2021, and Mary Kimberly was recognized in 2022.
Birds Georgia commissioned a watercolor painting of a Red-headed Woodpecker by Amanda Woomer, Birds Georgia Board Member, to present to Melinda in recognition of her service to the organization.
By Sheridan Alford, Director of Community Engagement
The perfect wildlife guide for your young birder and explorer. Critters of Georgia, by Alex Troutman, is a great companion to the fun adventures that await in our Georgia backyards. The book features 63 critters from the Peach State. Each species is showcased with a professional-quality photograph paired with neat details such as habitat, range, and preferred food sources. Illustrations of the critter’s tracks complement the information, and a “Did You Know?” paragraph provides fascinating trivia. Critters of Georgia includes important-to-know mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Alex Troutman is a Fish and Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Educator passionate about sharing and immersing the younger generation in nature. Having grown up dreaming of being a wildlife biologist, Alex knows how pivotal it is to have representation within any field. Through his studies at Georgia Southern University, Alex has been able to focus on Conservation Biology and learn the best ways to communicate the need for Georgia’s beloved species. With a passion for nature that started when he was young, Alex was always amazed by the Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead when he went fishing with his family. He looked up to conservationists like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin. Now, he has made a career out of that passion and curiosity. You can find him camping, exploring nature with his dog, and birding in his spare time.
The way this pocket guide breaks down key information for each species with gorgeous photos to reference characteristics is perfect for any budding biologist. The “Bird” section even includes information about migration and nest sizes so children can understand the differences that make all of our Georgia species unique.
To learn more or purchase copies, visit the Adventure Keen Shop.
Birds Georgia is building places where birds and people thrive.