Happy New Year! (2014 round-up, and 2015 preview)

Dear friends and supporters of Delta Wind Birds,

Happy New Year! 2014 was an exciting first year for us. I’m writing to thank you for your support, to give you an update on our progress, and to give you a preview of some of our plans for 2015.

As you know, many migratory shorebird (or ‘wind bird’) populations are declining, and a key factor is thought to be a lack of adequate stopover habitat on which they can refuel during their arduous migrations. Our top goal is to address this problem for shorebirds migrating through the Mississippi Delta, helping to boost populations of conservation concern (such as Stilt and Semipalmated Sandpipers, both Audubon Watchlist species) and make sure the common species (such as Least Sandpiper) remain common.

In 2014, significant financial and organizational support from our partners at Audubon Mississippi and Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, along with the support of many individuals across Mississippi, Tennessee, and surrounding states, helped us get off the ground. During the fall 2014 migration, we contracted with two different private landowners in the first iteration of our Habitat Incentive Program, providing more than 40 acres of high quality habitat for fall migratory shorebirds in Humphreys County, MS. We estimate that this habitat was used by upwards of 4,000 migratory shorebirds, plus hundreds of wading birds, including herons, egrets, Wood Storks, and Roseate Spoonbills. One of the landowners donated his expertise and equipment to set up a Wind Bird Cam, which allowed us to create a live online stream showing bird activity on one of the ponds, and which also facilitated a student research project on shorebird foraging behavior in managed ponds. Recent gifts from the Hummer Bird Study Group, the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, ongoing support from our Audubon partners, and the continued support of many individuals will allow us to expand these efforts in 2015.

An exciting fundraising development for us in 2014 was gaining the support of renowned bird artist and field guide author David Sibley, who created a custom painting representing our mission (depicted below). Mr. Sibley is generously donating to DWB a portion of the proceeds from sales of limited edition prints of this painting, which can be purchased on Mr. Sibley’s website (link). If you can support our efforts with an additional (and tax-deductible) donation, we would be very grateful—please see our website for more information or to donate.

A second key aspect of our mission is education. We want to spread the word about how amazing migratory shorebirds are, how they are in trouble, and how we can help them. We also want to promote birding and ecotourism in the Mississippi Delta and surrounding areas, providing opportunities for birders to improve their skills and study a wide diversity of birds in a variety of habitats. From December of 2013 through 2014, DWB conducted six bird identification workshops and guided field trips, including two on shorebird identification (spring and fall), one on sparrow identification, one on gull identification, and two winter birding trips to the northern Delta. These events provided many birding highlights, and lots of fun—you can find some photo highlights on our Flickr page (and please also follow us on Facebook). Your participation in these events provides crucial grassroots support for our conservation activities.

Our lineup of events for 2015 will be similar to 2014, but at each event we’ll try to do a bit of something new, so we hope we’ll see many of you as repeat participants. In the next two months, we have several events planned, about which you can find information (and register online) at our website (link).

A central event in our educational mission happened in late September 2014, when DWB co-hosted the fall meeting of the Mississippi Ornithological Society in Greenwood, MS. We focused the meeting on the identification and conservation of migratory shorebirds, and our special guest for the weekend was shorebird expert and photographer Kevin Karlson. Kevin taught two birding workshops, including a hands-on field workshop on shorebird ID, and more than 40 people (from four states) participated. Field trips to catfish farms near Greenwood allowed participants to study more than a dozen species of wind birds, plus hundreds of waders such as Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills.

A key administrative accomplishment for our small organization in 2014 was the achievement of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. This was an expensive and time-consuming process, and we are relieved to have it behind us. This landmark means that your donations to DWB are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law, including any donations made since our founding in October 2013. If you’ve made such a donation (thank you!), you should receive a receipt documenting your contribution by late January or early February 2015. If you are expecting such a receipt, and you don’t receive one by then, definitely let us know. Please note that registration fees for events such as field trips and bird identification workshops are not tax-deductible.

Besides expanding our Habitat Incentive Program, and continuing to lead field trips and bird ID workshops, we also plan to expand our educational efforts in 2015 by conducting a symposium on shorebird habitat management. This event will take place in fall, and we plan to engage managers of both public and private lands in our region who can make a difference for shorebirds, providing a forum for education and exchange of information on shorebird management in the Delta. This effort is greatly needed, so that we can take full advantage of potential shorebird habitat on both public and private lands in our region.

Whew! If you’ve read this far, I’m impressed, and want to thank you for taking the time. On behalf of the DWB board of directors (myself, Gene Knight, J.R. Rigby, Wayne Patterson, Philip Barbour, Nick Lund, and Nina Rifkind), I want to thank you for your financial support, for your help conducting field trips, for your scientific input, and for your generous support in a variety of other ways. So far, Delta Wind Birds is an all-volunteer effort, and your help is much appreciated. We’re excited for what the future holds, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Sincerely,

Jason Hoeksema

President, Delta Wind Birds