Audubon volunteers and citizen scientists have taken to the field in the newly created Gulf Waterbird Watch program, which will place Audubon volunteers on up to 16 National Wildlife Refuges across the southeastern United States. Their goal, as requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is to monitor shorebirds, waterfowl and other birds threatened by the Gulf oil disaster.
With fall migration underway, an National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) initiative to create more inland freshwater habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl aims to lessen possible impacts of oil on some of these southbound migrants by potentially reducing their need to rely on oiled coastal habitats.
Audubon’s partnership with the National Wildlife Refuge System will yield valuable bird data that will help federal and state wildlife agencies assess the effectiveness of this and other efforts. And the Gulf Waterbird Watch surveys will complement the existing Audubon Coastal Bird Survey program now utilizing Audubon citizen scientists at more than 20 Gulf coastal sites.
The first surveyors began counting birds Sep. 23 at Reelfoot NWR in Tennessee and at Holla Bend NWR in Arkansas. Additional teams of volunteers are beginning surveys at other refuges, including Wheeler NWR in Alabama.
Surveyors are experienced birders with strong skills in shorebird identification. The program uses a survey protocol developed by Audubon specifically to count birds and monitor habitat use by migrant shorebirds and other species. Data will be collected in eBird, where it will be available immediately to Audubon, USFWS, and other federal and state agencies for analysis; it will also be accessible to the public.
Gulf Waterbird Watch surveys are planned for the following 16 refuges in six states. All but one of these sites are also Important Bird Areas, and several are globally significant, which is a scientific designation indicating importance for a significant percentage of a species' global population.
Alabama: Wheeler NWR
Arkansas: Holla Bend NWR and Bald Knob NWR
Florida: St. Marks NWR
Louisiana: Southwest Louisiana Refuge Complex (Lacassine NWR and Cameron Prairie NWR), Central Louisiana Complex (Grand Cote NWR and Catahoula NWR), Bayou Cocodrie NWR and Red River NWR
Mississippi: Coldwater NWR (part of North MS Refuge complex), Theodore Roosevelt complex (Yazoo NWR, Panther Swamp NWR, Morgan Brake NWR) and St. Catherine Creek NWR
Tennessee: Reelfoot NWR (part of West Tennessee Refuge complex), Cross Creeks NWR and Tennessee NWR