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Aug. 14, 2020
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Elachee Nature Center offering birding by boat

By Jane Harrison
 
A different population from the summertime crowd on Lake Lanier has flown in for the winter. Migrants from the north are showing their white spots, silvery silhouettes, and red eyes in floating platoons around the lake. A new opportunity to see the winter visitors – waterfowl seeking respite from frozen northern climes – is available January 18 in “Birding by Boat.” 
 
The morning cruise, offered through Elachee Nature Science Center, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and Hall County Parks & Leisure, will travel southward from Keith’s Bridge Park to Buford Dam through the lake’s prime winter habitat for migrating water birds.
 
“The lake is a magnet for migrating birds to overwinter,” said Peter Gordon, Elachee education director and birding expert. He and Elachee naturalist Wes Hatch will lead the excursion aboard the Chota Princess II, a 40-foot catamaran that doubles as a floating classroom.
 
The first-time program aims to give about 30 participants a chance to see graceful spotted loons, swooping silvery terns, and, if they get close enough, the red eyes of grebes foraging for minnows or crustaceans. “There’s quite a diversity, but you never know what you’re going to see,” Gordon said.
 
“They’re coming down here from the north. In the colder winters up north, bodies of water tend to freeze,” he said. “They have plenty of food and habitat” on Lanier. The more moderate climate of the southern lake offers winter meals not on the season’s menu at the birds’ warm-weather homes.  
 
Gordon, who often leads birding tours on shore, has viewed loons “en masse,” hawks and ospreys over Lake Lanier. The boating tour allows birders to see and hear the winter migrants floating and feeding on the water. The trip might render unforgettable sights and sounds, such as an eagle diving for a catch or a loon’s tremulous high pitched almost-sorrowful wail.
 
Gordon reported several of Georgia’s “finest birders” had already signed up for the tour in December. “We encourage folks of all birding abilities to register while space is available,” he added. The cost is $30. Participants must be 14 or older. Register at www.elachee.org.
 
The group will meet at River Forks Park at 8:30 a.m. for orientation and depart at 9 a.m.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper provides the boat and captain. Lifejackets are also provided. The Chota Princess II is docked in a covered two-slip boathouse at the county park. “In winter, we’re at the mercy of the weather,” Gordon noted, so participants are advised to dress for a chilly three-hour voyage. Those missing the boat this time can venture out on their own before the winter visitors fly back home in April.


Posted online 12.26.19
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