Give wildlife a chance * Buy a conservation license plate. * Contribute to the tax checkoff. * Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section. Each option supports the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds to conserve Georgia’s nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. Details: (770) 761-3035.
WILD Facts Planning a trip to a Georgia beach this summer? Be sure to grab your binoculars and take a self-guided tour through the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. With a wide variety of habitats across the trail’s 18 sites, more than 300 of our state’s 400 bird species have been spotted along this route. Favorites include the brightly-colored painted bunting, the majestic bald eagle, and the endangered wood stork. The Creek Indians called Georgia’s coast “The Enchanted Land” for good reason! Here's a shortcut to a Colonial Coast Birding Trail map and site details on www.georgiawildlife.com.
In education Whether it’s enjoying a birds-eye view from a 54-foot tower, watching a bobcat eat or getting hands-on with an alligator, students find a variety of opportunities for fun and learning at Grand Bay Wetland Education Center near Valdosta. The center, a joint venture by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Coastal Plains Regional Educational Service Agency, offers educational programs and field trips as well as teacher training. Students can roam a half-mile boardwalk while learning about wetland ecology, wildlife and plant identification, air quality, and plant adaptations. Grand Bay Center Director and Education Coordinator Neda Hon said the center has always been a popular place. "Since ... opening 12 years ago, we have been booked solid. ... At one point we had a waiting list of 3,500 students.” But what excites Hon is that at least 80 percent of students and teachers are repeat visitors. To Hon, that "means we are having a positive impact.” Read more.
D.C. talk All eyes remain on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. As of last week, H.R. 2454 was on track for a full House vote before Congress breaks for July Fourth. Asked about the odds of passage, House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, “I think we’ll get the votes on energy.” For a quick look at the bill's basics, see Consumer Reports’ blog. Some wildlife groups are pushing passage, citing in part the potential for as much as $1.7 billion a year for wildlife management and conservation programs. In related news, the White House and the U.S. Global Change Research Program released a region-by-region analysis of climate change impacts in the U.S. Details here.
Ranger reports Add raptors to the list: One of seven people charged in a poaching crackdown in Dodge and Laurens counties is charged with including illegal possession of raptor parts. Rangers cited William Stacy Jones of Eastman with 70 counts, most involving deer and turkeys. But Scott’s arrest also featured a charge for possessing parts of what apparently was a hawk. In all, the seven suspects totaled 113 poaching-related counts. The investigation involved seizure of computers, cell phone records and animal remains. “In my 28 years (with the division), I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sgt. Keith Byers said of the amount of evidence and scope of violations. Terrapin follow-up: It’s not looking good for the last of five juvenile diamondback terrapins stolen from Tybee Island Marine Science Center. While four of the terrapins were quickly recovered – and two suspects arrested – the fifth has still not turned up.
Up close Bog turtle Clemmys (Glyptemys) muhlenbergii Looks: Dark brown or black. Easily identified by an orange, yellow or red blotch behind each eye. The carapace, or dorsal section of its shell, reaches a maximum length of only 11.5 centimeters, or 4.5 inches. That’s tiny! The bog turtle is North America’s smallest turtle species. But don’t let the size fool you. This rare reptile is part of an important habitat in Georgia: the mountain bog, one of the most critically endangered habitats of the southern Appalachians. Status: Bog turtles are state-listed as endangered and federally listed as threatened. Range: Stretches from western Massachusetts south to extreme northeastern Georgia. A large gap in West Virginia and northern Virginia separates the so-called northern and southern populations. A small home: Bog turtles do not require a large amount of space to survive. Often, an entire population can flourish in less than an acre. While the size of the bog may vary, one constant is that deep, boggy organic soil and open, wet areas with shallow water are necessary for these turtles to survive. Diet: Feeds opportunistically on a variety of prey including insects, earthworms, snails, slugs, crayfish, millipedes, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, water snakes and the young of mice. Also eats aquatic vegetation, seeds and berries. Daily life: Bog turtles tend to be more active during spring and early fall, becoming somewhat inactive during extremely hot, dry weather. They use abandoned mammal burrows or mucky soil for hibernation in winter. Playing in the muck: Bog turtles are often seen basking in the sun or burrowing beneath a thin layer of muddy soil. Turtle in hand: Their existence in Georgia wasn’t known until one turned up in a trap set for ruffed grouse in 1979. Threats: Black market pet trade is a problem, but most of this turtle’s woes come from loss of habitat due to development and drainage of mountain bogs. Georgia has only one known natural population; it's within the Chattahoochee National Forest. Outlook: Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan lists conserving bog turtles and other rare wildlife dependent on mountain wetlands as a high priority. The Georgia Mountain Bog Enhancement Project is inventorying, restoring and monitoring wetlands. A Bog Turtle Headstart program is gathering eggs from wild turtles, raising the hatchlings and releasing them into restored habitat. Sources include: “Protected Animals of Georgia,” Georgia DNR
Photo credits (from top): * One of three peregrine falcons raised this spring atop SunTrust Plaza in Atlanta. William Patton/McKenna Long & Aldridge * Cerulean warbler. Giff Beaton * Male bluebird feeding young. Terry Johnson * Bog turtle. Kenneth M. Fahey * DNR bat interns Laci Coleman and Michael Blubaugh at Moody Forest Natural Area. Trina Morris/Ga. DNR * Don Pfitzer fishing on the Soquee River in the late 1980s. LeRoy Powell * Female ebony jewelwing. Bill Dunson * Georgia plume. Lisa Kruse/Ga. DNR Georgia Wild volume 2, issue 6
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 depends for funding 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 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.
Part 1: Long-haul conservation 7-year-old project yields hope for Cerulean warblers When surveys this spring confirmed Cerulean warblers singing in north Georgia forest openings created to attract them, the news was music to Nathan Klaus’ ears. It was also confirmation for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources senior biologist and others that some conservation efforts take years to see results. Klaus, who works with the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, and U.S. Forest Service biologist Jim Wentworth had patches of trees cut on 20 sites in two Chattahoochee National Forest areas in winter 2004-2005. Last month – four years later – the birds used seven of 10 cuts along Ivy Log Gap near Blairsville, one of two areas targeted. “This is the first real glimmer of hope we have to turn around that species,” Klaus said of Ceruleans, considered the continent’s fastest-declining warbler. The outlook would be bleaker but for some long-haul science. To accommodate breeding requirements for these small, sky-blue birds state-listed as rare in Georgia, Klaus and Wentworth, teaming with the Audubon Society’s Important Bird Areas program, worked to diversify the hardwood canopy at Ivy Log Gap, long a haven for the rare warblers, and Duncan Ridge on Coopers Creek Wildlife Management Area, which sported suitable habitat but no Ceruleans. The goal: Mimic the canopy conditions -- including small gaps -- found in mature forests and needed by the warblers, instead of the more prevalent younger tree stands that lack a diverse canopy. But they suspected the new growth needed years, maybe even decades before it became good habitat. Klaus, Wentworth and others, including volunteers, surveyed the sites for three years before – to make sure none had Cerulean warblers – and made plans to monitor them at least five years after the cuts. Such long-range looks can be critical for wildlife conservation. Nongame Conservation Section examples vary from surveying sea turtle nests, done daily along Georgia’s coast since 1989, to restoring Piedmont region canebrakes ("Restoring grasslands," January 2009). Years of data can mean more effective recovery plans and measures of management impacts. Challenges abound, though. Land ownership can change. Careers, too. Researchers must plan and set sample sizes according to expectations. They and their organization must also be committed to this longer vision, Klaus said. The payback? “There’s an opportunity to learn how the landscape works," he said. "Not all solutions are quick or easy, and understanding the issue may take time and patience.” Klaus thinks the success at Ivy Log Gap could spur more research into forest cuts to support Cerulean warblers, something a previous study with opposite results stymied. Even the lack of response at Duncan Ridge is helpful: It raises doubts about the ability to draw warblers to areas far from ones they frequent. Klaus is confident Ceruleans will continue to use the Ivy Log sites. But he may check Duncan Ridge another five years. Or more. “I’ll probably check in on this site occasionally for the rest of my career,” he said. It’s about commitment.
Next month: What long-term canebrake restoration is teaching us. Out my backdoor As the world turns ... for bluebirds Family life is, well, complex for a backyard favorite By Terry W. Johnson Watch nesting eastern bluebirds and it appears these beautiful birds have a pretty uncomplicated lifestyle. But researchers are finding that the private lives of these popular birds often seem taken from a soap opera script. Bluebirds were long considered monogamous; 91 percent of bird species are. However, one study found that 15 percent of adult female and 5 percent of adult male bluebirds cared for at least one nestling that was not theirs. In another study, 5 percent of bluebird pairs had multiple mates during the nesting season. The chances of female bluebirds mating with more than one male were higher in areas with high population densities. By the same token, male bluebirds were more likely to attend to nestlings fathered by another male when their mates spent more time away from their nesting territory during the mating season. Male bluebirds apparently had no problem caring for young sired by other males. They didn’t even show their own young preferential treatment. And – are you ready for this? – many male bluebirds discriminated against male offspring! Here is what happens. During the first few days after hatchlings break out of the egg they are fed entirely by their mothers. During this time, males supply their mates with small, soft insects such as caterpillars, which the females feed to the hatchlings. Later, both parents forage for the stream of caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and other insects needed to satisfy their seemingly insatiable young. This is when the pattern of sex discrimination begins. When males return with food, they feed female nestlings twice as often as males. Consequently, during the 16-20 days the young are in the nest, females receive considerably more food than their male nest mates. This gives them a better chance of surviving once they leave the nest. The discrimination extends beyond fledging, because both parents feed the offspring for up to a month after they fledge. Nobody knows why male bluebirds discriminate against male nestlings. Some biologists suggest it reduces chances of males having to compete with a male offspring for mates, nesting sites and food. Female fledglings may disperse up to 12 miles or more from where they are hatched. However, males often establish breeding territories within three miles or less. But some experts question this, pointing out that female bluebirds seem to shy away from young males, preferring males experienced in providing for a nest full of demanding young. Older males also often defend their nesting territory more effectively. In all, the family life of bluebirds is one example of the dramas taking place in the natural world. Turn off the TV, step outside and watch and listen. You may discover you don’t really need that new big screen. Read 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 (details below).
Caution: Wildlife crossing ahead Why did the box turtle cross the road? In spring and early summer, probably to find food, a mate or a nest site. Particularly after rain, turtles and other wildlife wander, sometimes venturing by day onto county roads and state highways that double as death traps for the unsuspecting creatures. The road-kill lineup varies from diamondback terrapins ("Diamonds in the rough," November 2008) on the coast to fledgling mockingbirds along back roads in the Piedmont. Senior Nongame Conservation Section biologist John Jensen urges drivers to be alert. “At this time of the year, be more aware of what might be in the road,” Jensen said. The potential for run-ins increases as development crisscrosses Georgia’s landscape with more roads, further fragmenting wildlife habitat. Jim Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager, said the threat posed by vehicles is not a conservation issue for most species. But drivers who are watching the road can sometimes easily avoid turning a road-crossing creature into a punch line. “We certainly don’t encourage motorists to risk human safety in any way,” Ozier said. “There’s nothing you can do if a squirrel decides to hide under your tire, but any driver should be capable of safely avoiding a turtle.”
TERN tops a milestone in giving At its spring meeting on June 6, The Environmental Resources Network’s board voted to help fund 15 nongame-related projects. In that decision, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section surpassed $550,000 in grants awarded since TERN formed in 1992. “They’re helping us do projects we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Nongame Chief Mike Harris said. TERN's financial impact in furthering environmental research and education is a hefty one. The nonprofit organization helped start the Nongame Conservation Section’s February fundraiser Weekend for Wildlife, throws its weight into projects that require the financial involvement of partners and annually supports nongame program work. The 2009-2010 list of projects, totaling nearly $62,000 in grants, includes the well-known Give Wildlife a Chance poster contest and Project WILD workshops, plus lesser-known works such as a loggerhead shrike telemetry study and new raptor mews, or cages, for Arrowhead Environmental Education Center near Armuchee.
More on TERN Contact: (478) 994-1438; 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Ga. 31029 Annual membership: student ($10), individual ($20), family ($25), hummingbird ($100), peregrine falcon ($500), golden eagle ($1,000), bald eagle ($5,000) Member benefits include a vote on which projects are funded, TERN newsletter subscription, invitations to TERN meetings, volunteer opportunities. All donations and membership fees are tax deductible. Updates: TERN has added a Web page (http://tern.homestead.com) and a Facebook page. Also, board member Don Pfitzer is a Hall of Famer (see Noteworthy).
Quick – to the bat tree! By Trina Morris Come fall, Laci Coleman and Michael Blubaugh will ace any “what I did this summer” essay assignment. As new interns with the Nongame Conservation Section, the college students are weeks into their summer job: searching south Georgia swamps for roosting Rafinesque’s big-eared bats (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) and Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius). These bats are high-priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan. Surveying where they are found across their range is part of a larger project with Bat Conservation International and other Southeastern states to develop a conservation plan for the species. With Georgia lacking time and money to complete the surveys, BCI provided funding for two interns to fill in the gaps. Laci, a student at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Michael, studying at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro, were recently wading through the swamps at Moody Forest Natural Area, learning the ropes – or at least the spotlight and mirror technique. Read more.
Georgia plume was in full bloom recently at Big Hammock Natural Area and adjacent property along the Altamaha River in Tattnall County. Nongame Conservation Section botanist Lisa Kruse and botany intern Suzi Mersmann checked out the blooms of one of Georgia’s rarest native trees (Elliottia racemosa), state-listed as threatened and known to exist only in Georgia.