Fauna: Eudocimus albus

Photo by Samarra Mullis

Eudocimus albus
White ibis

The white ibis is a wading bird that lives in coastal areas, marshes, wetlands, riverbanks, and swamps. With long pink legs, it stands about 2 feet tall. Its plumage is nearly entirely white, with a small bit of black on the tips of its wings. The black wing tips are generally only visible when the ibis is in flight. 

White ibis feed by dragging their long bill in shallow waters and mudflats. Their diet is a variety of small crustaceans, fish, frogs, insects, and other small creatures. In the 1830s, John James Audubon noted some people hunting and eating white ibis. The flavor was reportedly fishy.

White Ibis by John James Audubon

White ibis live in large colonies, usually building their nests in trees. They typically lay 2-4 eggs and the parents take turns staying with their young. As their habitat has changed, particularly in their Floridian breeding locations, white ibis are likely to be seen in neighborhood canals and golf course water features.

Photo by Samarra Mullis

They are also common in the lower part of the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers. Though they may be seen in coastal areas, they feed and live in freshwater habitats. Native American folklore assigned it to be the symbol of danger and hope, as it is said to be the last animal to take refuge before a hurricane, and the first to emerge after a storm. 

RELEASE: Ogeechee Riverkeeper, City of Savannah Vernon River Restoration Project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
05/03/21
Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director
meaghan@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

OGEECHEE RIVERKEEPER, CITY OF SAVANNAH LEAD VERNON RIVER RESTORATION PROJECT

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) and the City of Savannah are partnering to lead a long term project to protect the water quality and ecology of the Vernon River. The Vernon River receives a significant amount of the stormwater leaving the City of Savannah, via Wilshire Canal, Harmon Canal, Casey Canal, and Hayners Creek, all part of the Ogeechee River watershed. The goal is to improve water quality, restore ecological habitat, and “Protect The Vernon River” from current and future threats.

The canals and tributaries that feed the Vernon River are highly impacted by urban development. When stormwater runs across parking lots, through streets, and off of other impervious surfaces it doesn’t have a chance to be filtered through soils before reaching the marsh. This, along with aging sewage infrastructure, failing septic systems, and disconnected riparian habitats, has negatively impacted the canals and creeks of the Vernon watershed.

In 2001 a group of citizens came together to focus on protecting the Vernon River from urban pollution when it was listed as ‘impaired’ by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD). This allowed ORK and the City of Savannah to apply for grant funding and conduct further testing to trace causes and share the results. In 2012 the committee expanded to a group of stakeholders to create a Watershed Management Plan (WSMP). The plan was released in 2013 and a number of recommendations have been enacted. 

This year, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, the City of Savannah, and other stakeholders are updating the WSMP with new data and recommendations with the goals to: restore the waterways in the Vernon River basin to the point that it can be delisted as an impaired waterbody by GA EPD; and to reduce the amount of litter and plastic pollution entering the waterways.

“All of Savannah’s stormwater infrastructure flows into a public waterway,” says Laura Walker, Water Resources Environmental Manager for the City of Savannah. “These waterways are lifelines to Savannah’s environmental and economic health. We work hard every day to try and keep them fishable and swimmable. But we need everyone to treat the storm system with care. We need everyone to protect the storm drains, ditches, and creeks and keep them clean.” 

The steering committee includes representatives from:

  • The City of Savannah
  • Cuddybum Hydrology
  • Ogeechee Riverkeeper
  • Savannah State University
  • Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (UGA)
  • Town of Vernonburg
  • Concerned residents from neighborhoods throughout the watershed

“With its gorgeous views and vibrant wildlife, the Vernon River exemplifies why our coastal rivers are such jewels and worthy of our protection,” says Damon Mullis, Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Executive Director. “We are so grateful for the broad group of stakeholders working with us to minimize the threats that urban runoff, and litter and plastic pollution pose to this special waterbody. Local residents are encouraged to volunteer for litter cleanups, citizen science programs, educational events, and more in the coming months.”

Sign up to volunteer, view data, and read the 2013 WSMP at: https://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/vernon

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. At 402 miles long, the Ogeechee-Canoochee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles of land across 22 Georgia counties. ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

Membership Drive

Becoming a member of ORK allows us to continue the important work of testing water quality, sharing stories from the watershed, fighting legal battles, providing recreational guidance, and coordinating cleanup efforts in our 5,500 square-mile territory across 22 Georgia countries.

Anyone who becomes an automatically renewing member in the month of April will be entered in a drawing to win one of the following items:

  • Salt Marsh By Land & Sea Wilderness Southeast (WiSE) trip
    • The WiSE discovery trips include expert naturalist guides, logistics, and equipment to illuminate the magic of the Low Country and encourage lifelong stewardship.
  • A customized river outing with Damon Mullis, Ogeechee Riverkeeper
    • Damon will organize a personalized, guided outing on the river for up to two people.
  • “The Never Believers” by Raven Waters
    • Original painting of a pair of barn owls. 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. Unframed.

Make a monthly, recurring donation|Become an annual member


In addition to the various members-only perks, adding your name to our membership list is critical to our legislative efforts and grant applications. Having a strong team behind us shows that our constituents support our work.

Despite the limitations of the pandemic, ORK has successfully:

Riverkeeper Damon Mullis collects samples.

 Please consider becoming a member, for any amount, today. ORK has options for automatically recurring monthly or annual giving as well as one-time donations and corporate sponsorships.

In a year when ORK has not been able to hold fundraising events or participate at environmental gatherings, your financial contribution is critical to ORK’s continued success. If you are already a member, thank you for your support.

ORK is also acutely aware that some may not be able to give at this time. There are many ways to support ORK through advocacy, volunteering and engagement. It takes efforts on many fronts to maintain the successes of our organization.

Not sure what your membership status is? Send us an email and we’ll be happy to look you up in the database.


ORK is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a Platinum Star rating from Guidestar and is able to accept donations from donor-advised funds. Please contact staff for more information.

Birding Basics

Do you want to learn about birds but don’t know where to start? Do you often see or hear birds but don’t know how to identify them? Are you looking for a safe, different outdoor activity?

More than just pretty animals, birds are an important part of the ecological system, including the Ogeechee River basin. Various species inhabit different layers of the food web — from birds that eat seeds and insects to the most expert hunting predators. They keep populations in check. They also help spread seeds and pollen which is vital for plant growth. Maintaining a healthy environment for birds to thrive is crucial to the balance of ecosystems locally and globally.

Red-shouldered hawk. Photo by Chris S. Wood, Macauley Library

What is “birding”? 

Birding is the act of birdwatching for either recreational, research or citizen science reporting purposes. Also known as ‘birdwatching,’ it’s the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby or an amateur activity.

Wood Storks. Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski. Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

I see birds all the time, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. 

Learn what to look or listen for when birding starting with color, shape, flight pattern, body size, bill or beak shape, calls and more. 

Check out these sites for bird guides. 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birdwatcher’s Digest

Rare birds in our watershed

Northern parula on red twig. Photo by Dan Fein.

I’m enjoying this. How can I get better?

Consider purchasing a pair of binoculars (aka “bins”) and searching out local birding trails or sites. You might also join a local chapter of the Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to protecting birds and sharing resources for enthusiasts.

Audubon Society

Ogeechee Audubon Society

Coastal Georgia Audubon Society

Georgia Audubon Society

Birding trails in Georgia

Always follow the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics

American Goldfinch. Photo by Adam Jackson, Macauley Library.

I want to share some of the amazing things I’ve seen. Is there a way to do that?

Engage in citizen science. Download the eBird app for free. It’s a digital way to keep track of the birds you see or hear while birding. This type of citizen science reporting — the collection of scientific data by amateur scientists — benefits the people participating as well as researchers.

Read about Isaiah Scott, birding enthusiast and local student

Adult male Barn Owl. Photo by Shlomo Neuman, Audubon Photography Awards

ORK Birding Activity

  • Plan a birding trip in your backyard or neighborhood park, near a waterway or in a city greenspace.
  • Download eBird and record what you see/hear. If you aren’t sure how to ID a certain bird, you can search through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website by characteristics. 
  • Share your checklists with Ogeechee Riverkeeper through eBird by searching “Ogeechee Riverkeeper” or via ORK’s eBird profile

You may also share your findings and photos through email at info@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

Tag us on social media with your research adventures and use #ORKOutside.


Additional Resources:

This activity is compatible with Project Wild “Bird Song Survey” activity which is geared towards middle and high school students in science and environmental education. Birding in general can be a fun family/friends outing for all ages, abilities, and environments. 


 

Dr. Sue Ebanks

Sue Ebanks, Ph.D.,  is a local through and through. She grew up on these rivers, creeks, marshes, and beaches. Her father took his kids shrimping and crabbing and fishing from an early age. While attending Jenkins High School, she and her best friend started a marine biology club so they could explore the estuaries. 

She wants young people to engage in their environment, like she did. “We live in an amazing coastal environment but most just drive by it. They don’t understand our dynamic with it.” And it would be a meandering path to lead her back home to her beloved lowcountry.

A couple of weeks after graduating from Savannah State University (SSU) with a double major in marine and environmental sciences, she went to Japan for three years. Her husband, a graduate of the NROTC program, received his orders to serve there as a meteorologist for ships at sea. Ebanks did lots of exploring, learned Japanese, taught English but knew she needed to go back to school to really study the environment like she wanted to. 

The young family returned to Savannah and they both earned master’s degrees in marine science at SSU. Then came the step of finding a doctoral program. “It’s a huge commitment and it’s really hard to find the right fit,” Ebanks says. “You have to find someone researching what you want to study.” She found a project at University of Miami studying the biology of freshwater snails and the contaminants in them.  “They form their shells from the material around them, including calcium, which [to the snails] can look chemically similar to contaminants, like lead.”

Ebanks shows a graduate student how to prepare testing equipment.

When asked about being a person of color in a predominantly white field, “I was really fortunate,” she recalls. “I was so busy, I didn’t really notice it, but I have heard about the negative experiences. I wonder how many students I might have had, that have been lost along the way, because they were discouraged.” 

 As an associate professor of marine and environmental sciences at her alma mater she is continuing to study how things like the waste products of combustion effect the ecosystem. Ebanks and her students have looked at seastar wasting, a spiny lobster virus, and now microplastic pollution. And she makes sure they know their voices are important. “The more angles there are, the more likely we can find a solution. Sustainability can’t only be legislated. We have to change hearts and minds.” 


This is the fourth in a series of posts about Black environmentalists. Read the previous stories of Colonel Charles Young, the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, and Isaiah Scott.