Persistence pays off

Alumna’s passion for bird watching earns her top spot

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Persistence pays off

Krista Gridley, Georgia’s 2010 Top eBirder, went on a 10-day birding tour in Trinidad during February. This photo was taken in the town of Speyside on the Island of Tobago.

Photo by: Christopher Fisher

Krista Gridley grew up knowing the feeder birds in her backyard. But not until she took an ornithology course at UGA was she hooked on bird watching.

“That class (taught by genetics Professor John Avise) taught me about bird habitats, feeding habits and migration patterns,” says Gridley (AB ’79, MLA ’05). “After that, I always carried binoculars.”

Gridley’s passion for bird watching was recognized last year when she reported sighting the most species of birds in Georgia. Gridley’s count, 322 different species, was recorded on the eBird.org Web site at Cornell University’s ornithology lab. Gridley says she developed a strategy to sight as many birds as possible early in the year, recognizing that some would only be in the state during certain seasons.

“Part of the fun is figuring out where birds are going to be and getting there to see them,” she says.

Her bird watching took her across the state and she met many new friends and fellow bird watchers along the way. Some would meet her places to help her spot certain birds.

“You don’t do a big year by yourself,” she says. “I went on some awesome field trips to the barrier islands, saw places I’ve never seen before and met people who helped me by phoning or e-mailing when they saw some rare species.”

Gridley posts her sightings on Georgia Birders Online as well as on eBird.org at Cornell and uses the Georgia Field Checklist to keep track of her own sightings.

Bird watching is a quiet activity that requires patience.

“You sit and wait for birds to show up,” she says. “It’s also good physical exercise since I hike to where the birds are likely to be, and it’s good exercise in observation because I have to pick up subtle differences such as size, color, beak shape, habits, from a distance. Sunrise is prime time for seeing birds, so I get up early to be on location for a sighting.”

Gridley, a land-use planner for Oconee County, says she went to some extraordinary lengths to see unusual species.

“I was headed to the Georgia coast one time, but first drove up toward Chattanooga to see an Evening Grosbeak,” she recalls.

Luck, timing and perseverance are factors in sightings. She was on Cumberland Island for the annual Christmas bird count and spotted a rare Iceland Gull as well as Long-tailed Ducks.

“I had almost given up watching when a pair of ducks showed up. It was a moment of excitement and celebration.”

“The variety of birds in Georgia shows evolution at its best. I can see all the connectedness by being out there.”

—John W. English, a professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Georgia, is a frequent contributor to GM.