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Georgia DNR e-news; photo of outcrop plants
April 2009
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Also in this issue
* Best sites for nest boxes
* Rock outcrops in bloom
* Bats under siege
* Jekyll’s new eco-community

WILD Facts
Turtles may crawl out of their shells in cartoons, but not in real life. A turtle’s backbone is built into the top of its shell, which is called the carapace. When threatened, a turtle often pulls in its head, tail and legs for protection. In some species, the bottom part of the shell (called the plastron) is hinged, forming such a tight closure that not even a knife can pry the two halves open. This adaptation helps many turtles to live 50 years or more in the wild. In captivity, turtles can live even longer. Some reach more than 100 years old.
In education
Children watch TV 14 hours a week, on average. Want to tear you kids from the tube and get them outside? Here’s how three Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologists introduced their children to the great outdoors, and why the effort is important to them. There’s also summer camp at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield. All sessions feature fishing, wildlife-themed games, live animal programs, hikes, wilderness skills, and arts and crafts. Day and overnight adventures are options. Other activities include the annual JAKES Day Festival on May 16 at Charlie Elliott. For inspiration, Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” is speaking April 23 in Atlanta and April 25 in Athens. Free e-newsletters such as Wildlife Resources Young Birder or State Parks & Historic Sites’ Junior Ranger can help spark an outdoors interest in children.

D.C. talk
Nearly 90 U.S. representatives
, Democrats and Republicans, signed a letter backing a State Wildlife Grants appropriation of $85 million for the federal fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The amount matches this year’s budget for the program central to states preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. Six of 13 Georgia congressmen signed. A push is underway to enlist support among senators. Meanwhile, the Teaming with Wildlife Act would provide states a steadier and increased flow of funding – $350 million annually for five years – for wildlife conservation and restoration. S. 655, now in a Senate committee, devotes a portion of revenue from on- and offshore oil and mineral development to State Wildlife Grants. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies endorses the measure.

painted bunting photo
Up close
Painted bunting
Passerina ciris
Big on looks: Stunning or gaudy, breeding male painted buntings are without doubt one of the most colorful bird in the U.S. Males have an iridescent blue head, matching green back, and red chest, belly and rump. In contrast, females and first-year males are a drabber green, from olive to yellow shades.
Small on stature: Adults are about 4.5 inches long and weigh one-half to six-tenths of an ounce. But the birds are long on broods, raising two to four a year.
Growing up: The bright coloring of males takes two years to develop.
Dining out: Primarily eats seeds. Also eats insects, even plucking some from spider webs.
Breeding groups: A southeastern population breeds along the seaboard from North Carolina to Florida. A western population breeds in the south-central U.S, from Missouri to northern Mexico. The western group winters in Mexico; the southeastern in Florida, the Keys, the Bahamas and even Cuba. There is debate as to whether the groups are different species.
Habitat: Along the southeastern seaboard, painted buntings favor scrub/shrub, maritime forest and even backyards. Research in Georgia including the Eastern Painted Bunting Population Assessment and Monitoring Project shows some range expansion inland from barrier islands and coastal areas to as far north as Augusta along the Savannah River drainage and Macon on the Altamaha/Ocmulgee drainage.
Conservation status: While still fairly abundant in good habitat, painted bunting numbers have been in decline since at least the mid-1960s. One estimate marks the decrease from 1966 to 1995 at more than 60 percent. Problems include habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, capture in Latin American and Caribbean wintering grounds for the pet trade, and predation by house cats. Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan lists painted buntings as a high-priority species. Partners in Flight WatchList marks it as a species of special concern.
Research continues: On the heels of a pilot survey with Florida and the Carolinas in 2007, Georgia Wildlife Resources is surveying distribution, habitat preferences and breeding densities. The Southeastern Atlantic Painted Bunting Conservation Initiative, a cooperative effort among agencies, was formed in 2001 to address research and management needs involving painted buntings in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.
Sources: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, USGS, Georgia Conservancy

Nongame in the news

* CNN: “Paddle enthusiasts save money and rivers,” about Georgia River Network’s fifth annual Paddle Georgia event. (April 8)
* Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Flint River No. 2 on endangered list,” about American Rivers listing ranking Flint among U.S.’ 10 most imperiled rivers. (April 7)
* Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Georgia might close caves to protect bats,” about cautions for cavers regarding spread of white-nose syndrome. (April 6)
Also: Chattanooga Times Free Press: “Pits of despair: Cavers asked to suspend hobby, save bats.” (April 4)
* Savannah Morning News: “Whale watching just 25 miles off our coast,” about right whale season wrap-up, with whale-watching perspective from a survey flight. Video (with narration by DNR biologist Clay George) and photos. (April 5)
* The Daily Citizen (Dalton): “Seed packets will spruce up backyards for nectar-feeders,” DNR release about new, free packets of native wildflowers that benefit nectar-feeding wildlife. (April 1)
* Nature Conservancy Web feature: “Altamaha River Delta attracts flocks of imperiled birds,” about Georgia coast’s diverse habitat and wildlife, including American oystercatchers.
* CNN: “Ninety years of birdwatchers' notes going online,” about effort by USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to put online a database of more than 6 million note cards recording observations by birders dating to the 1880s. (March 26)
* The Associated Press: “Hundreds of killer whales seen in Gulf of Mexico,” about the long-known presence of the whales in the Gulf. (March 25)
* Columbus Ledger-Enquirer: “Spring hummingbirds arrive in Georgia,” about the hummingbirds migrating back to the state from Central America. (March 24)
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Bald eagles thrive again in Georgia,” about DNR annual aerial surveys tracking eagle comeback in state. Online photo gallery. (March 22)
* “Statewide winners announced in Give Wildlife a Chance poster contest,” DNR release naming 12 elementary school-aged children as winners in the annual competition held with The State Botanical Garden of Georgia. (March 23)
* Macon Telegraph: “Georgia DNR manager follows eagle numbers from the sky,” about aerial bald eagle nesting surveys done twice each year by nongame program manager Jim Ozier. (March 21)
* blog: “Prescribed fire will mean new life for rare mountain bog,” DNR release about use of fire to restore bog. (March 19)
* The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.): “Folly begins burning trees on island hit by fungus,” about destruction of redbay laurel trees infested with fungus from ambrosia beetles. (March 19)
* Macon Telegraph: “Federal loan could preserve Oaky Woods,” about state’s draft report listing the popular 14,000-acre middle Georgia  WMA among projects eligible for federal loans to buy and protect land. (March 18)
* The New York Times: “The fall and rise of the right whale,” about research showing renewed hope for the endangered whale. Includes audio slideshow, podcast, 2005 video. (March 16)
* The Outdoor Wire: “Advisory board bans 'gassing' of wildlife burrows,” about Alabama Conservation Advisory Board unanimously passing motion March 7 to make it illegal to use gas or other “noxious chemicals” into wildlife burrows. (March 16)
* Chicago Sun-Times: “American chestnut ready to reign again,” about use of blight-resistant chestnut seedlings grown in Georgia in cooperation with the American Chestnut Foundation and planted in three Southern national forests. (March 16)
* (Gainesville): “Southeast songbirds dying from salmonella,”  about disease outbreak seen at feeders in many Southern states. (March 13)
* The Associated Press: “Some fear Navy sonar may harm Fla.'s right whales,” about concerns over possible impact from two sonar training projects, one at Kings Bay. (March 13)
* GPB News: “Tybee Island beach fine for sea turtle nesting,” about deeper look at data by DNR that shows replenished beach is OK for turtles. (March 10)
* Coastal Courier: “Fitzgerald chicken fest next weekend,” about the city’s annual Wild Chicken Festival, a former rattlesnake roundup regenerated as a more wildlife-friendly event. (March 6)
* The New York Times: “A knack for hooking the longest rattlers,” about a renowned Texas snakehunter and a West Texas rattlesnake roundup. (March 6)

April 22: Earth Day.
April 24: Nature Conservancy in Georgia’s Hoochie on the Coochie 7 p.m. Tophat Soccer Fields, Atlanta.
April 25: Kickoff to highlight new exhibits, including amphibian display, Georgia Southern University Center for Wildlife Education. (912) 478-7482.
April 25-26: Youth Birding Competition. Ends at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Mansfield.
April 27-29: Georgia Water Resources Conference, UGA Center for Continuing Education, Athens.
April 28-29: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (1 p.m. April 28), monthly meeting (9 a.m. April 29), DNR board room, Atlanta.
May 10: 8 a.m. bird walk at Buford Trout Hatchery, Buford. Pat Markey, (770) 781-6888.
May 15-16: Wet and Wild Amphibians workshop (four sessions) 6:30-11 p.m. May 15, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. May 16, Georgia Southern University Center for Wildlife Education.
May 16: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. CEWC’s 13th annual Outdoor Festival & JAKES Day.
June 20-26: Paddle Georgia 2009 (Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers).
putting up owl box photo
Parting shot
Once a fairly common breeder in Georgia, barn owls are now considered rare to uncommon. During the Breeding Bird Atlas survey, only 12 nests were confirmed statewide. While these secretive owls have nested off and on for years in Atlanta’s Grant Park, there have been several nest failures, perhaps because the available sites were exposed. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Power and the Grant Park Conservancy recently teamed up to provide a better site: a nest box about 40 feet up a post oak near where the birds have nested before. It may be too late for barn owls to use the box this season, but the hope is they will in years to come. A similar box was installed at Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area. Wildlife Resources will likely continue to add boxes on WMAs and state parks with open hunting habitat for the owls. Send us your favorite photo of nongame wildlife and conservation.

Photo credits (from top):
** Plant diversity at Arabia Mountain (photo in masthead). Tom Wilson
** Red knots flying along beach. Brad Winn/Ga. DNR
** Loggerhead shrike. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
** Eastern phoebe. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
** Male painted bunting. Bob Churi
** Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome. Al Hicks/New York Department of Environmental Conservation
** Outcrop pit filled plants at Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Rick Lavender/Ga. DNR
** Carolina chickadee carrying straw to a log nest site. Terry Johnson
** The jumping spider Habronattus sabulosus at Camp Meeting Rock preserve in 2004. Giff Beaton
** Georgia Power worker puts up a barn owl nest box at Grant Park. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
** Student Conservation Association burn crew. Ga. DNR

Georgia Wild
volume 2, issue 4

Georgia Wild is produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species, those not legally trapped, fished for or hunted. The newsletter is delivered free to subscribers. Subscribe or see archive issues.

Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section conserves and protects Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. The section receives no state funds, depending on grants, donations and fundraisers such as nongame license plate sales, the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff and Weekend for Wildlife. Call (770) 761-3035 for details on direct donations. The nongame plates -- the bald eagle/U.S. flag and ruby-throated hummingbird -- are available for a one-time $25 fee at all county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms or through online renewal.

State coping with trends

shown in U.S. bird report

DNR scientists work to stem declines, restore habitat

   Like other wildlife biologists, Todd Schneider of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources wasn’t surprised by the report showing almost a third of the nation’s 800 bird species as endangered, threatened or in decline. “I think what we’re seeing in a lot of cases are very similar declines,” said Schneider, head of efforts to create a Georgia breeding bird atlas.
loggerhead shrike photo   The U.S. State of the Birds, released last month by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as the first comprehensive look at U.S. bird populations, ranges from dismal to hopeful. Grassland, arid-land and ocean-dependent species have slipped 30-40 percent in recent decades. Yet, some wetland bird populations such as ducks have increased sharply, with conservation partners protecting 30 million acres of wetlands.
   Many trends described in the U.S. State of the Birds are mirrored in Georgia. Schneider, with the DNR Wildlife Resources Division, listed as examples loggerhead shrikes, grasshopper sparrows and bobwhite quail. Each has declined in large part due to habitat loss. But snowy and great egrets, decimated by a late-1800s and early 1900s hat trade that sometimes priced the birds’ plumes higher than gold, have rebounded, though still dogged by habitat loss and disturbance of nesting sites.
   Trends can mislead. The Piedmont region’s gradual return to forest from early 1900s cotton farms favors forest-dwelling birds anew over grassland species. Also, development across Georgia means more nest sites for Carolina wrens and phoebes, species that adapted to using buildings and other manmade niches for nesting, substantially boosting their numbers and ranges.
eastern phoebe photo   Habitat work led by Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section is having an impact.
   Guided by the State Wildlife Action Plan’s focus on species and habitat of conservation concern, researchers have surveyed state lands for Bachman’s sparrow and Swainson’s warbler ("Eye on the sparrow," December 2008). The Georgia Ornithological Society is helping state biologists and others convert bermudagrass pasture to native grasses at Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area in Meriwether County and Panola Mountain State Park in Rockdale County ("Restoring grasslands, canebrakes," January 2009). The changes have attracted grassland birds such as eastern meadowlarks and sedge wrens.
   Canebrakes, favored by Swainson’s warblers, are being restored at Panola and Riverbend Wildlife Management Area in Laurens County. On the coast, marbled godwits, a high-priority species in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, are being followed by satellite after researchers attached miniature transmitters to the birds in December ( "Project tracking marbled godwits takes wing," January 2009). Later this month, the annual Youth Birding Competition will help a new generation appreciate the importance of birds.
   Part of the U.S. State of the Birds analysis banks on data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Schneider is doing the same, including Georgia breeding bird survey trend data as part of the state atlas. In Georgia, about 50 skilled birders run the 25-mile survey routes each May and June.
   Expected out early next year, the atlas will document the more than 170 species that breed in the state and where. Schneider described the book as a springboard for conservation, providing distribution details for the very work needed to improve the future for birds.

Also see

Bat deaths, cautions trail disease
   In winter 2006-2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologists began getting calls about bats flying erratically outside their hibernacula during the day. The bats were supposed to remain in the hibernation areas until spring and the insects that sustain them returned. But they were leaving the caves in extreme cold, and some were dying.
   Inside, biologists discovered that clustered, hibernating bats had moved near the entrance instead of farther in, where temperatures are more stable. There were also scores of dead bats, and a strange white substance on the noses of some still alive.
bat with WNS photo   Since, white-nose syndrome has killed more than 400,000 bats, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In some instances, entire cave populations have been lost. Species affected include Eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus, pictured at left), Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii) ("Up close," October 2009) and the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). All are found in Georgia. The small-footed myotis is a state species of concern.
   Another federally endangered species, the gray bat (Myotis grisescens), shares the same genus and an overlapping range with the Indiana bat. Researchers worry that as white-nose syndrome, or WNS, spreads south, gray bats may be affected.
   “The impacts to the Indiana bat are devastating,” said Katrina Morris, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. “If gray bats are also impacted, two endangered species could be lost and many other common species could become uncommon.”
   The cause of WNS is unknown, despite continuing research. The recent identification of a cold-loving fungus in the genus Geomyces could help provide an answer. But whether the fungus is the culprit or a secondary effect is unclear.
   With the syndrome spreading rapidly – up to nine states and as far south as Virginia and West Virginia – the Fish and Wildlife Service called in March for a voluntary moratorium on caving and other cave activities in WNS-affected and adjacent states. The service also advised cavers elsewhere to avoid using clothing and gear that had been used in those states.  
   Georgia is considering a moratorium on access to caves and mines on state lands as a precautionary measure. Researchers are also suspending scientific activities in caves.  “We encourage all cavers and researchers to take this issue very seriously,” Morris said.  “WNS hasn’t been found in Georgia yet, but it is likely only a matter of time.”
   Click for more information, including advisories and updates on affected sites. Map of WNS spread.

Arabia plants photo
Life in the pits

In April, rare plant life blooms at Piedmont rock outcrops
   On an April afternoon fresh from heavy rains and swept by steady winds, Mary Terry asks a question atop Arabia Mountain in Dekalb County: “Why can’t everybody see this?”
   What Terry, a wildlife biologist and state Project WILD coordinator with Wildlife Resources, sees is more than a miles-wide view and 200 acres of rock. The former ranger and overseer of Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve is also referring to mats of tiny plants and layers of lichens and moss that cling to the sloping shoulders of gneiss, Arabia’s dominant rock.
   “When you get closer and start examining, that’s when you really start seeing the true, true beauty,” Terry said.
   That beauty is harder to miss in April, when shallow pools of rainwater sprout “vegetation islands” with colors ranging from pink and red to yellow, green and blue on rock outcrops. But the zoom lens approach fits outcrops all year. Georgia is home to almost 90 percent of the known granite outcrops in the Piedmont. The best known is Stone Mountain. But much smaller outcrops are found in forest and pasture across the region.
   Outcrops support a stubborn yet fragile web of life. Four federally listed plants are connected to these microhabitats: little Amphianthus, also known as snorkelwort and pool sprite (Amphianthus pusillus); black-spored quillwort (Isoetes melanospora); mat-forming quillwort (Isoetes tegetiformans); and Harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum). Many outcrop plants depend on vernal or seasonal pools. The lineup of life also includes lichens, mosses, wildflowers, pine trees, shrubs, frogs and, in some pools, even miniature crustaceans called fairy shrimp.
   All are geared to outcrop extremes: searing heat, icy cold and the barest of soils.
   Terry explained that the diminutive red and white diamorpha (Diamorpha smallii) carries its seeds high, lifting them away them from heat that shrivels pools and plants, and toward fall rains that knock the seeds loose into the shallow soil, where they germinate. According to botanist Lisa Kruse of Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, some outcrop plants can tolerate the hot, dry summers. Others “live their full life cycle in the spring months when moisture collects in the pools,” Kruse said.
    “When the water dries up in late spring, they have already set seed for next year.”
   The outlook for outcrops is as tenuous. Threats vary from quarrying to ATV traffic and shading from trees. Even foot-traffic can harm the plants. Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan, the state strategy for conservation, rates granite rock outcrops a priority habitat. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review found that the number of snorkelwort sites in Georgia and Alabama has shrunk from 61 to about 40, black-spored quillwort sites from 15 to about five, and mat-forming quillwort sites from 13 to 10. Only six granite rock outcrops are protected in Georgia.
   The Nongame Conservation Section is researching the effects of land management on outcrop vegetation communities, seeking the best methods for caring for the fragile plant groups. The Nongame Section, Fish and Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy also monitor rare plant sites, collecting seeds in emergencies to preserve the species’ genetic diversity. Seeds from the endangered Harperella have been grown in greenhouses and re-planted at a protected granite outcrop.
   Minus human intervention, change on outcrops occurs at glacier speeds. Lichens dissolve rock to dirt over thousands of years. The spread of plants is measured in inches and centuries. Terry said most life on outcrops is described as in the pits.
   But in April, when the color on outcrops peaks, life in the pits can be a mountaintop experience. Even for those who, unlike Terry, have never been hired to guard a rock that became a devotion.

Public outcrops and education

** Options include Stone Mountain Park, Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, Panola Mountain State Park and lesser-known Eatonton Outcrop on Oconee WMA (PDF) near Eatonton.
** If you go, don’t take pets, walk around pools not through them and stay on marked trails (if there are trails).
** Spring is the peak season, but some plants will bloom throughout summer. One showy outcrop plant in fall is the Confederate daisy.
** Special spiders: Naturalist Giff Beaton and Malcolm Hodges of The outcrop jumping spider photoNature Conservancy photographed this distinctive jumping spider at the conservancy’s Camp Meeting Rock preserve in Heard County in 2004. Experts later confirmed the spider was Habronattus sabulosus, a species described in 1902 in south Georgia and not documented since. Beaton and Hodges have since found the spiders at Heggie's Rock near Appling and Almond Outcrop in east Alabama’s Randolph County. More photos, including a sequence of Habronattus sabulosus ambushing a fly.
** Lichens poster and workshop: Lichens of Georgia, a new addition to the Georgia species poster series, will help students develop a liking for lichens. Educators can obtain a poster by contacting the Melissa Hayes of the Nongame Conservation Section, (478) 994-1438. There’s also a suite of classroom materials, plus the annual Likin’ Lichens Workshop for educators July 12-15 at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

chickadee in log nest photo

Out my backdoor
Location key for bird homes, too
By Terry W. Johnson
   In real estate, it’s often said that property value is determined by three things – location, location, location. The same holds for nesting boxes. Where you erect a bird house determines what bird will nest there, because all cavity-nesting birds prefer to nest in certain habitats and will rarely nest anywhere else.
   For that reason, try as we might, it is difficult to get an eastern bluebird to nest in a heavily wooded backyard or a screech owl to use a box in a large open yard.
   In Georgia, some 30 birds species nest in tree cavities. If you know what you are doing, you can coax some to nest in artificial sites in backyards. Let’s look at the preferred sites of 10 birds that nest in yards across the state (five here and five in the complete version of this column online).
   Brown-headed nuthatch: Measuring only 3-and-a-half inches long, this nuthatch is Georgia’s smallest cavity nesting bird. It will nest in boxes erected only five feet high in backyards with medium to large pines or hardwoods. You'll know when this feathered sprite has moved in because it will stuff bits of pine needles and other materials in cracks between boards of the box.
   Carolina chickadee: The Carolina chickadee (pictured above) shares the same nesting habitat with the brown-headed nuthatch. Many a homeowner has been startled when, on peeking into a box occupied by a Carolina chickadee, they’re greeted with the bird’s snake-like hissing (listen).
   Eastern screech owl: Often mistaken for baby great horned owls, the screech owl will nest in wooded backyards, particularly those within a stone’s throw of streams and swamps. Boxes should be attached to trees 10 to 30 feet above the ground, closest to the lowest branches on a tree.
   Great crested flycatcher: If your yard borders a woodland or has a few mature pines or hardwoods you might attract this noisy flycatcher to a box placed 8 to 20 feet high. Great crested flycatchers have a habit of placing discarded snake skins in their nests.
   Eastern bluebird: More nest boxes have been built for eastern bluebirds than for any other bird.  Eastern bluebirds prefer to nest along fence lines or open yards bordered by woodlands. Boxes should be erected 4 to 6 feet above the  ground.
   If you want birds to nest in a box close to your home, choose a box designed for the birds you have the best chance of attracting to that habitat. Erect the box at the proper height, then sit back and wait. With a little luck, birds will soon be moving in.
   Read more species and site advice in Terry’s full column.

Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, a noted backyard wildlife writer and expert, and executive director of TERN, the friends group for Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section.

New habitat documented on Jekyll
   Beyond the beaches and bike trails at Jekyll Island, a new natural community has been discovered tucked within the island’s iconic maritime forest.
   On the southern tip of Jekyll, a boardwalk leads through a relic dune swale. The low-lying area is dominated by Carolina willow, swamp rose mallow and dotted smartweed. To the untrained eye, the patch of vegetation may look like anywhere else on Jekyll. But for two botanists, the area is a rare find – a previously unclassified ecological community.
   An ecological community is a group of interacting plant and animal species that live in the same place. The communities are bound by the influences the species have on each other. The main species in the newly described community on Jekyll are common separately but uncommon combined.
   Ecological communities are grouped according to the U.S. National Vegetation Classification system maintained by NatureServe, a non-profit conservation organization considered a leading source of information about rare and endangered species and eco-systems. Although extensive, the NatureServe database has limited examples of communities potentially found on the Georgia coast. The Jekyll community discovered by Eamonn Leonard and Jacob Thompson of the Wildlife Resources Division has been added as a new ecological association called the Southern Atlantic Coastal Plain Carolina Willow Dune Swale.
   This community may be unique to Georgia. Leonard and Thompson, natural resources biologists with the Nongame Conservation Section, documented it as part of a three-year project that involves extensive vegetation mapping in 11 coastal Georgia counties. The work will result in a detailed picture of the ecological communities in the counties, including the 25 high-priority habitats marked by the State Wildlife Action Plan.
   “Currently, our understanding of the locations and extent of ecological communities on the coast of Georgia is somewhat limited,” Thompson said. “Our mapping effort will help us know more about the status of known natural communities and describe new community types like the one on Jekyll Island.
   “This knowledge is critical in order to preserve the valuable natural resources on our coast.”
   The mapping project is part of the larger Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative, a collaborative between the DNR, Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to preserve critical coastal lands and promote sustainable growth and development ("New coalition charts course for coast," March-April 2008).
   The ecological communities of the coast represent a diverse set of natural resources and provide habitats for many rare plant and animal species, as well as basic ecological functions on which people rely. For example, the barrier islands and associated inter-tidal salt marshes reduce the impact of storm surges, which can damage homes and roads.
   “This project will give local governments, conservation organizations and city planners a baseline map of the critical and imperiled communities and important resources within each county,” Leonard said.
   “With this in hand, coupled with technical assistance from the other organizations involved in this project, coastal counties can plan for future development more sustainably by keeping natural resources in mind and ensure (their) existence in the future.”

   Friends and co-workers celebrated Noel Holcomb’s DNR career and retirement as commissioner with a cookout at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center April 4. Holcomb began work with the agency in 1978 as the first wildlife technician on Ossabaw Island Heritage Preserve, rising by 2004 to the commissioner’s office. The Gordon County native helped start Arrowhead Environmental Education Center in Floyd County and played a key role in land acquisitions including Pigeon Mountain, Paulding Forest, River Creek and Silver Lake ("Silver Lake, golden site," May-June 2008). In honor of his dedication to conservation, Holcomb received a pair of Swarovski binoculars at the picnic. New Commissioner Chris Clark took office this month.
   The number of bald eagle nesting territories in Georgia soared higher this year, with 123 occupied nests and an estimated 160 young fledged compared to 112 nests and 134 eagles fledged in 2008. Surveys found 13 nests not documented before, including Lake Blue Ridge’s first nest. Survey photographs.
   American Rivers rates the Flint River the nation’s second-most endangered river. A pitch by two Georgia congressmen to study the environmental impacts of  building one or more dams along the Flint catapulted the river into the Washington nonprofit’s annual top 10.
   A window into the lives of two downtown Atlanta peregrines is open again. Online since late March, a webcam outside the high-rise offices of the McKenna, Long & Aldridge law firm is watching the raptors’ nest and  young.
   Begin Mother’s Day the natural way: Join Buford-area bird expert Karen Theodorou for a bird walk along Buford Trout Hatchery's Lincoln Sparrow Trail at 8 a.m. May 10. Expect  neotropical migrants such as indigo buntings, summer tanagers, orchard orioles and numerous warblers on the half-mile walk.
   Final estimates on the record-breaking calving season for North Atlantic right whales include almost 200 whales spotted, 39 mother-calf sets, five entanglements (four disentangled), no adult mortalities recorded and two calf deaths. Both the whales seen and mother-and-calves are new highs.
   Another bright spot: The entangled right whale calf freed of fishing gear in this NBC news video was seen feeding March 10 in Cape Cod Bay.
  The Interagency Burn Team involving Wildlife Resources has added Thunder to its prescribed fire work. The type 6 wildland fire engine bought with federal funds to restore rare species habitat features a 300-gallon tank, special equipment for conservation burns and a loud engine.
SCA burn crew photo  In almost four months of burn season work with the Nongame Conservation Section, four students from the Student Conservation Association helped burn nearly 7,700 acres, build miles of miles of firebreaks, repair drift fences, plant longleaf pines at Moody Forest Natural Area and cut down almost 15,000 sand pines in Taylor County.  Pictured from left, and looking no worse for the wear, are Chris Lezama, Erin Driver, Carly Monohan and Katie Wiedman.
   The travels of marbled godwits that had small transmitters attached at Little St. Simons Island in December are online. Click here -- or go to -- to follow these shorebirds, part of a continent-wide study.
   Sapelo Island manager Fred Hay received a Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation Stewardship in March. Hay, a Wildlife Resources Division employee, was nominated for supporting the Sapelo Island Archaeological Research Consortium, a network of universities that cooperate in researching the island’s archaeological sites.
   President Barack Obama recently signed into law land and water conservation measures that, among other changes, designate more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. The 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act, a bundle of more than 160 separate legislative proposals, creates 21 wilderness areas and enlarges 19 others in 10 national forests.
   This month, the last of the Class of 2008 ultralight-led whooping cranes left Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida for their spring migration north – minus the aircraft. Fifty-four birds were back in Wisconsin as of April 5, and weeks ago the first whooper nest of the season was confirmed at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.


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