The Georgia Important Bird Area Technical Committee recently designated the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and Whitehall Forest, both owned by UGA, as an IBA.
The IBA program is a global effort, managed by the Audubon Society in the U.S., to identify areas that are most important for maintaining bird populations and focus conservation efforts at protecting these sites. IBA designation recognizes properties that are critical to birds during some part of their life cycle (breeding, wintering, feeding and migrating) with the hope of minimizing the effects that habitat loss and degradation have on bird populations, according to the Audubon Society.
Karla and Bill O’Grady, members of the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society, the local chapter of the national organization, began collecting data on birds two years ago.
The couple heard others complain that the Botanical Garden was not IBA designated, and after reviewing several resources they discovered there was little mention of the Athens-Clarke County area, so they became determined to achieve the designation for the Botanical Garden.
The O’Gradys soon discovered the acreage at the garden resulted in too limited a number of bird species to meet the IBA specifications, so nearby Whitehall Forest was added to the total area before the application was submitted.
“We were so pleased with the incredible variety of birds in Whitehall Forest,” Karla O’Grady said.
The couple gives much credit to fellow ORAS members Ed Maioriello, board of regents network support; and Alison Huff, director of publications at UGA; who they say “have amazing ears for bird calls and have been a tremendous help” identifying the multiple species present at these locations. Combined, the group spent more than 700 hours watching and listening for birds and recording their findings on the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory’s e-bird Web site.
Once their bird counts reached pre-determined IBA standards, they submitted their information to the Georgia IBA Technical Committee for official designation.
“The strengths of this nomination were that the area is excellent for birds, particularly those that use riparian habitat,” said Jim Wilson, Georgia’s IBA coordinator. “Many migrant bird species follow rivers during their migrations, and this area is perfect for them to stop and use for feeding, nesting and breeding.”