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Visitors flock to bird watching event at St. Catherine Creek

Erik Johnson, right, and Katie Percy, left, look through binoculars to identify some of the many birds at the St.Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge’s Backwater Bird Blitz Saturday. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

Erik Johnson, right, and Katie Percy, left, look through binoculars to identify some of the many birds at the St.Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge’s Backwater Bird Blitz Saturday. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The only sound Saturday morning was birdsong — punctuated by the occasional click of a camera.

The sounds and sights of water birds were part of the St. Catherine’s Creek National Wildlife Refuge’s Backwater Bird Blitz, an event showcasing the birds which frequent the refuge during the season.

Refuge Wildlife Biologist Nick Wirwa said when the Mississippi River recedes, food sources are left behind for the birds.

“The birds come to basically have a feast here at the refuge,” Wirwa said.

Visitors began touring the area at 7 a.m., driven out in trucks and vans by the refuge’s employees. The tour, Wirwa said, centered on the refuge’s impoundments, or shallow water ponds, which are maintained by the refuge.

Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana Erik Johnson said many of the birds had stopped by on their migratory route.

Shore birds of all shapes, sizes and colors were feeding in the shallow waters of the St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

Shore birds of all shapes, sizes and colors were feeding in the shallow waters of the St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

“These wetlands are a huge draw for birds that depend on shallow water,” Johnson said. “It’s just a habitat that’s not available in a lot of places.”

Visitors could stop at different points around the impoundments, where bird experts, such as Bob Strader, were stationed.

“It’s just relaxing, watching,” Strader said. “Your mind gets engrossed in watching birds rather than just the day-to-day grind of work.”

Strader is the refuge’s former manager, but on Saturday he was there as a volunteer to answer any questions visitors had.

New bird watcher Bennie Boone was keen to learn.

“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to begin my learning birding experience,” she said.

Boone said she took notes on the birds she saw throughout the day so she could look the birds up at home. One particular pink water bird — a roseate spoonbill — caught her eye.

“To my knowledge I’ve never seen one before and their colors are so pretty,” Boone said.

Visitor Leslie Bruning was also taken with the roseate spoonbill, and said she had come to the refuge enjoy the refuge to see birds in their natural habitat.

“You’re not going to see a wood stork on the street, so this is where you come to see them,” Bruning said.

Johnson said the entire sight was special.

“This is something you don’t see everywhere,” Johnson said, gesturing to the birds in the water.

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