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April 29, 2010

Shorebird Workshop draws 85

Managing coastal wetlands for the benefit of migrating shorebirds was the topic of a recent workshop that drew 85 participants, including property managers and state and federal agency staff to Nemours Plantation on the Combahee River in the ACE Basin.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Brad Andres, US Shorebird Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, explained that most of the 51 species of shorebirds that breed in North America migrate each spring along the Atlantic coast as they move from wintering areas in South America to the Arctic. By lowering water levels in waterfowl impoundments to expose mud flats at this time of year these migrants can probe for the abundant invertebrates available, Andres said. Andres added that an estimated four and a half million shorebird pass through the Southeast each spring on their long migrations, stopping to feed along the way.

Since South Carolina contains 60 percent of the diked wetlands in the Southeast, proper management of wetlands can be critical to this group of birds, 38 percent of which are currently decreasing in population. Andres said the state needs at least 2400 acres of wetlands managed each spring for shorebirds.

"Wetland managers are the same as farmers who grow food for livestock," Andres said. "By manipulating water levels, managers can produce crops for waterfowl during the winter, and shorebirds in the spring, getting the maximum benefit to wildlife from these important habitats."
On field trips to Nemours Plantation wetlands, S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologists Dean Harrigal and Jamie Rader detailed management approaches to lower water levels over a period of time to expose mudflats one after to another.

"Select a pond where you can quickly move water in and out, then adjust water level daily as necessary," Harrigal said. "You might not be able to manage all your wetlands easily, so get the maximum shorebird benefit from those ponds you can best manage."

Rader added that exposing mudflats in the early spring can also benefit waterfowl that feed heavily on invertebrates before migrating to their breeding grounds.

Later, workshop participants traveled to the southern portion of the Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge where refuge manager Mark Purcell discussed additional techniques to manage coastal wetlands for multiple species.

Other speakers detailed the technical and cost-sharing assistance available to landowners through state and federal agencies.

South Carolina's natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state's economy. Find out why Life's Better Outdoors.

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