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Ga. Wildlife Resources Division logo

August 2009
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Also in this issue
* "New" salamanders
* Heavyweight hummers
* Kite roost insights
* Cane coming through

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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
If you have rotting logs, stumps or rocks in your yard, you probably also have five-lined skinks. After breeding in the spring, the female lays four to 14 eggs and guards them until they hatch in early summer. The young have bright blue tails with five white or yellowish stripes down the length of their black bodies. At maturity, this species reaches 5-8½ inches long and the whole body turns gray or beige, with faded lines. To escape predators, skinks run fast and have tails that break off when necessary. The lost-tail survival technique works but means a loss of stored fat and protein until the tail grows back.In education
When teachers experience a "light-bulb moment" at Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, Brooke Vallaster gets excited. "You see kids have it, that moment when they really get it, and that's great," said Vallaster, education coordinator for the reserve. "But when a teacher has it, you know they are going to take that back with them and who knows how many kids they will inspire." Administered by NOAA and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Sapelo's education center is open year-round and receives more than 6,000 visitors annually. There are nature trails, guided tours and an educational facility with a 40-seat classroom and a lab. Programs exploring the ecological significance of Georgia's fourth-largest barrier island are geared for grades 5-12 and can be customized based on a teacher's curriculum and preferences for the students. Read more.
Also: Sapelo as a "sentinel" site.

For the kids
Speaking of eureka moments, here's a nighttime activity that's fun and educational. Take an ultraviolet (or black) light, shine it on tree trunks and watch as a host of DayGlo colors appear! What is it? Lichens. Lichens are symbiotic organisms made up of a fungus and an algae component. They are nonparasitic (don't worry if they are on your trees) and they are everywhere. Lichens can be tiny and crusty or large and leafy. They may even resemble moss, hanging from tree branches and growing more than 3 meters long. Don't be surprised if other things fluoresce, too. Many bugs and spiders also emit a glow under UV light. So grab your light and get outside!

D.C. talk
Despite the congressional recess, debate simmers over climate change and other conservation-oriented legislation. Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Sheldon Whitehouse are backing a proposal for natural resources adaptation, calling on Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer to pack a national adaptation strategy into the climate bill she's drafting. Both lawmakers emphasized threats to their home states. Whitehouse mentioned the impacts of sea-level rise and ocean acidification on Rhode Island. Baucus said global warming is damaging fishing and tourism in Montana. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity reported that more than 460 business and interest groups joined the crowd lobbying Congress on climate change in the three months before the June vote. The total count: about 1,150 companies and advocacy groups.

Photo of pine snake.
Up close
Pine snake
Pituophis melanoleucus
Also called: Bull snake.
Description: Heavy-bodied non-venomous snake. Grows to nearly 6 feet (7 feet, 4 inches is the longest on record), one of Georgia’s largest snakes. Tan to white with dark brown to reddish-colored markings. Front is more gray, black or brown flecked with lighter colors. Coloring changes from mountains to Coastal Plain populations.
Range: Found across the Southeast. There are three subspecies; two live in Georgia. The northern subspecies occurs in the Blue Ridge and upper Piedmont. The Florida pine snake is found in the Coastal Plain.
Habitat: Active aboveground only by day. Spends most time under rocks and logs or underground, using root and stump holes and burrows, such as from gopher tortoises. In Coastal Plain, often found in sandhill and other dry longleaf pine and turkey-oak habitats.
Eats: Small mammals and birds that nest on the ground, as well as their eggs.
Breeding behavior: Breeds April through May. Lays eggs in clusters underground in June and July. Hatchlings appear in September and October.
Sounding off: One pine snake defense is to hiss loudly (Pituophis means “hissing snake”). Listen.
Fighting back: They also vibrate their tails, inflate their bodies, rise up and sometimes strike with mouth closed or open, though they seldom bite.
Tunnel master: Can excavate hibernacula (or hibernation site) and summer dens in sandy soils. In some areas, females dig nesting chambers, which other females also use.
Status: In Georgia, the pine snake is considered a species of concern. The pine snake’s secretive nature works against a solid assessment of its conservation status. May be in decline in some areas because of habitat loss and fragmentation, and road mortality. Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, rates as a high-priority species.
North Georgia encounter: Details below.

Sources include: "Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia," “Protected Animals of Georgia,” Georgia DNR

From the field
Hall County resident Merrill Frazier was driving along Clarks Bridge Road on May 30 when she saw a snake that had been run-over. Frazier is familiar with the area’s snakes and this brownish-colored one more than 4 feet long stuck out as being unusual. She collected the find and it was later identified as a 56-inch-long pine snake. This marked only the second pine snake documented in Hall County. Pine snakes are unusual in Georgia generally and most commonly associated with the sandier soils of the Coastal Plain. These relatively large upland snakes feed on rodents and other prey, killing by constriction. Although they can put up a fearsome front (see above), pine snakes are not venomous and they are protected by state law. They fill a natural role and will keep local rodent populations in check. So remember: You don’t have to be an expert to find something unusual. Just be observant and know when you see something different.
-- Scott Frazier, WRD wildlife biologist

Sea turtle icon.
Tracking sea turtles
A Georgia sea turtle nesting update from www.seaturtle.org.*

False crawls: 1,373
Nests: 937 (23 lost)
Relocated: 437 (46.6%)
Eggs estimate: 61,506
Eggs lost: 3,837 (6.2%)
Hatch success: 64.4%

Check here for a complete look at real-time data and beach-by-beach reports. *As of Aug. 12.

Nongame in the news
The (Fort Gordon) Signal: "Protected species returned to the wild," about robust redhorse removed from leaking pond at Army base. (Aug. 7)
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (and others via AP): "DNA proves Troup County hunter's 2008 kill was a Florida panther," about DNA revelation regarding the cougar. (Aug. 7)
Florida Times-Union: "State acquires pristine forest along Altamaha River," about 7,180-acre purchase from Rayonier Forest Resources. (Aug. 7) Also: Georgia Public Broadcasting report.
The Macon Telegraph: "Naturalist program to be tailored to Middle Georgia," about Macon-area sessions of Georgia Master Naturalist. (Aug. 6)
Coosa Valley News: "Chimney swift numbers swell as fall migration nears," DNR release about seasonal surge of swifts in Georgia. (Aug. 5)
Georgia Public Broadcasting: "Controversy over endangered fish," about meeting scheduled to address concerns over Etowah Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan. (Aug. 4)
Yahoo! News (and others via AP): "Watchers track butterflies for environment signs," about butterfly count at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and conservation concerns about butterflies. (July 30)
Florida Times-Union: "Fewer endangered wood stork nests found in Georgia," about decline in estimated nests from record high last year. (July 30)
The (Gainesville) Times: "Take a closer look at your surroundings; you might see something new," about wildlife diversity in Georgia, with examples from Nongame Section's Brett Albanese, John Jensen and Nathan Klaus. (July 28)
Florida Times-Union: "Navy's training plan takes dive in Florida, Georgia," about concerns voiced by Georgia DNR, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission over Navy's proposed undersea training range. (July 28)
AmmoLand.com: "From exhibits To Web sites, program raising wildlife awareness," DNR release about Nongame Educational and Watchable Wildlife program. (July 27)
The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.): "Sturgeon habitat divides scientists and Duke Energy," about debate over water releases for shortnose sturgeon on the Wateree River. (July 26)
Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Invader from Asia," about Cogongrass' spread into North Georgia and Tennessee. (July 26)
Savannah Morning News: "Observers aflutter for butterfly count," about annual butterfly count at Harris Neck NWR. (July 26)
The New York Times: "New creatures in an age of extinctions," about discovery of new species and loss of new and known ones. (July 25)
The Outdoor Wire: "Birding means bucks to Georgia and other states," DNR/USFWS release about birding demographics, economics impact in U.S. and state. (July 21)
USA Today: "States rethink turtle trapping," about Iowa, other states coping with concerns about commercial turtle harvest. (July 20)
Yahoo! News (and others via AP): "Hot issue: Should we deliberately move species?" about debate over moving plant, animal species in face of global warming. (July 20)
Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: "Invasive plants overtake natives," about U.S. Forest Service targets invasives on Daniel Boone National Forest. (July 20)
The Outdoor Wire: "Burmese python first catch of Florida permit program," about Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission effort to curb spread of pythons in state. (July 20)
Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Turtle exports to Asia worry wildlife experts," about concerns -- including insight from Nongame biologist Thomas Floyd -- involving Asian demand for freshwater turtles from Georgia, other Southeastern states. (July 19)
Savannah Morning News: "Dolphin Project on water for 20 years," about volunteer-powered effort to monitor Atlantic bottlenose dolphins along Ga., S.C. coasts. (July 19)
The (Bainbridge) Post-Searchlight: "Silver Lake completion celebrated," about ACCG marking with Decatur County commissioners the acquisition of WMA rated high-priority habitat in Georgia SWAP. (July 14)
Outdoor Alabama: "Voices of the Night," magazine cover story about state's seven species of treefrogs. (July)
Education.com: Profile of nature deficit disorder, including multiple articles for parents, educators. (July)
Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Georgia: Swimming in diversity," about the Fishes of Georgia Atlas Web site and database. (June 14)

Aug. 25-26: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (Aug. 25), monthly meeting (Aug. 26), DNR boardroom, Atlanta.
Aug. 26-28: 4th Annual Georgia Environmental Conference (Georgia Chamber of Commerce event), Hyatt Regency, Savannah.
Sept. 10-11: Georgia Chapter of The Wildlife Society, Flinchum's Phoenix, UGA Whitehall Forest.
Sept. 17: Agroforestry and Wildlife Field Day, Georgia Experiment Station, Griffin.
Sept. 19: International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Sept. 22-23: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (Sept. 22), monthly meeting (Sept. 23), DNR boardroom, Atlanta.
Sept. 26: Important Bird Areas volunteer day focused on red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees at Piedmont NWR. Meet at 9 a.m. at NWR visitor center.
Sept. 26: National Hunting and Fishing Day.
Oct. 7-8: Fostering Sustainable Behavior workshop (introductory) Oct. 7, (advanced) Oct. 8, Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah.
Oct. 8-12: 7th Annual Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival, Jekyll Island.
Oct. 30: 13th annual Georgia Outdoor Classroom Symposium, Chase Street Elementary, Athens.Photo credits (from top):
* (Masthead) /NCS Program Manager Matt Elliott kayaks past large cypress. Joe Burnam
* Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland measures massive baldcypress. James Holland
* Patch-nosed salamander. Bill Peterman
* Pine snake on log. Lora Smith
* A two-lined salamander (left) beside a brownback salamander. Sean Graham
* Male ruby-throated hummingbird at feeder. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
* Swallow-tailed kites on roost at Altamaha River. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
Cane test plot photos from 2002 (top) and 2009 (bottom) at Joe Kurz WMA. Nathan Klaus/Ga. DNR
Biologist Jason Wisniewski gives intern Laci Coleman a lift to check a tree for bats. Trina Morris/Ga. DNR
* Young mink on the beach. Stephanie Kern

Georgia Wild
volume 2, issue 8

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 previous 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 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.

Looking back
Links to the previous three issues:

July 2009
June 2009
May 2009

Massive trees, rare species
grace new Altamaha area
7,200 acres protected; more targeted

By Matt Elliott
   One of the most exciting land protection efforts in Georgia will come to fruition over the next few years. The state hopes to acquire from Rayonier Forest Resources about 14,000 acres along 22 miles of the Altamaha River in Long and McIntosh counties, property containing some of the highest-quality natural habitats in the state.
   Even more exciting, the first phase of the Georgia Land Conservation Program project was announced this month: the $8.2 million acquisition of 7,180 acres from Rayonier. Accomplished in partnership with The Nature Conservancy – which gave the state a multimillion-dollar break on the first tract and is trying to raise money to cover the difference – the overall project is backed by federal grants, private support such as from the Open Space Institute, and Georgia Land Conservation Program funding. The Marine Corps will also give a substantial amount to buffer nearby Townsend Bombing Range from encroachment.
   Here’s a glimpse of what the Rayonier Forest Resources tract features.
Photo of James Holland measuring massive baldcypress.
   Along Miller Lake and other tidal sloughs on the property are many massive, ancient and often hollow baldcypress trees left uncut when loggers first came through these swamps 100 years ago. One cypress (pictured above) measures 43 feet in circumference, or more than 13 feet in diameter, a good deal larger than any listed among the Georgia Forestry Commission’s state champion trees. The hollow cypresses are home to roosting bats, including two rare species, Southeastern myotis and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat.
   On slightly higher ground along the river bottoms are beautiful stands of hardwoods dominated by oak species such as Shumard oak, cherrybark oak, swamp laurel oak and overcup oak.  Especially where river cane grows, these forests are home to the Swainson’s warbler, which Georgia lists as rare.
   On even higher areas that rise, sometimes very steeply, like islands above the surrounding swamps are spectacular oak hammocks. Many have never been logged. They are dominated by live oak (some more than 4 feet in diameter), sand laurel oak, bluff white oak (a rare species in Georgia), American holly and spruce-pine, along with shrubs such as saw palmetto and American olive. These hammocks have a lush, subtropical feel to them, not unlike Georgia’s barrier islands.
   Along the highest ridges, on very deep, sandy soils, are a number of undisturbed longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills, home to a healthy population of gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. Although some of the sand ridges have been converted to dense pine plantations, these will be restored back to native longleaf sandhills ecosystems.
   The 7,000-plus acres acquired this year stretches for 10 miles along the Altamaha and supports at least 17 state-listed rare and endangered species.
   Recreation opportunities here will be incredible. There are many oxbow lakes with excellent fishing that were not previously accessible to the public. You can paddle a canoe or kayak through the cypress sloughs for days, especially during high water. And wild turkey and wood duck numbers are very healthy!
   As envisioned, the entire project would bring the state-owned acreage for Townsend Wildlife Management Area to more than 20,000. Additional acreage under conservation easement allowing perpetual public access will push the total past 24,000, part of more than 100,000 permanently protected acres in the Altamaha corridor.
   The project highlights Rayonier’s role in keeping the targeted property intact and collaborating on conservation efforts. The Florida-based company donated a 300-foot buffer along the river to the state in 1978.
   Public access to the nearly 7,200 acres is available by some roads and the river: Williamsburg Landing on Sansavilla Wildlife Management Area is on the opposite bank of the Altamaha. For details, contact the Wildlife Resources Division’s Game Management office in Brunswick, (912) 262-3173.

Matt Elliott is a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with the DNR’s Georgia Wildlife Resources Division.

Photo of patch-nosed salamander.

Find, study put state 1st in sallies
   The discovery of a startlingly distinct salamander and research that defined others have pushed Georgia to the top of a slippery realm. The state has 58 documented salamander species. That’s the most in the U.S. and more than a 10th of the world’s known salamanders.
   Credit the diversity to Georgia’s size, five physiographic regions and a share of the Southern Appalachians – “the center of the world for lungless salamanders,” says Piedmont College professor Carlos Camp.
   Chance and technology also played key roles in the newest additions. The 2007 find of the so-called patch-nosed salamander by two graduate students near Toccoa caught worldwide attention. Urspelerpes brucei is not only the world’s smallest salamander in body size – and second-smallest at 2 inches long including the tail – it represents the first new genus of four-footed animals described in the U.S. in 50 years.
   “It’s genetically not close to anything known,” Camp said.
   This yellow-nosed salamander (pictured above) is also unique physically. One example: Males are more distinctly patterned than females. Patch-nosed salamanders have since been found at five Georgia sites on the Chattahoochee National Forest and one in South Carolina. The original research group included researchers from five colleges. Camp and graduate students Joe Milanovich of the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (who discovered the patch-nose with Bill Peterman of the University of Missouri) are leading further study with funding from TERN.
   The brownback salamander (at right in the photo below) has a murkier history. The debate had been whether this salamander found in spring seeps from Photo of two-lined and brownback salamanders.Birmingham, Ala., to northwest Georgia was only a variant of two-lined salamanders (on left in photo). Analysis by Auburn University doctoral student Sean Graham, and Elizabeth Timpe, now a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut, answered the question. Their research confirmed that brown, short and, in Graham’s words, “dumpy looking” Eurycea aquatica is a separate species.
   The classification this February of flatwoods salamanders as two species – frosted and reticulated – kicked off Georgia’s banner year in the amphibian world. The federally listed salamanders are among only nine “sallies” protected in the state.
   Yet salamanders are bell-weathers of habitat change and part of a complex, eat-and-be-eaten food web on the forest floor. Senior Nongame Conservation Section biologist John Jensen, an editor along with Camp and two others of “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia,” said the number of salamanders in the state has not increased, only “our knowledge of them.” Habitat loss and other factors are also undermining populations.
   Discoveries of new species highlight that possibility. Graham said of brownbacks, “Their habitat has been dwindling. We’ve been losing populations and nobody has been looking.”
Q: What was the last genus of amphibian described in the U.S.?
A: The red hills salamander, in southern Alabama in 1961.

Feds: Roaming panther 'possible'
   How far can cougars or panthers roam? The question follows the recent revelation that the one shot Nov. 16 in Georgia’s Troup County is of Florida panther descent. Genetic testing linked the 140-pound male to southern Florida’s resident population of the federally endangered species.
   Young male panthers disperse after leaving their mothers, a move to develop their own territories. The average distance is 25 miles. But dispersals of more than 250 miles have been recorded. A radio-collared mountain lion captured in South Dakota traveled 663 miles to Oklahoma, the longest distance documented for mountain lions.
   Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) are the last subspecies of puma – also called mountain lions and cougars – in the eastern U.S. Although they once ranged across the Southeast, Florida panthers  number less than 100 adult animals in the wild and their breeding range covers only five south Florida counties. The closest is more than 500 miles from Troup County.
   Male panthers have shown up as far north as Flagler County in northern Florida. As for one making it to west Georgia on his own, a Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor said it would not be impossible “for a young male to travel so far.”

Out my backdoor
Ruby-throats feed up for fall flight
By Terry W. Johnson
   For several weeks, hummingbird fanciers have enjoyed watching squadrons of ruby-throated hummingbirds displaying aeronautical skills in backyards across the state. These tiny dynamos have been flying between feeders and flowers, gorging themselves on sugar water and nectar. When not feeding, they seem to have been trying to keep others from the sweet bounty.
   We find their activities entertaining. To hummingbirds, it is life and death.
   Hummingbirds are converging at our feeders to either prepare for their perilous fall migration or refuel as they head far south. Some ruby-throats from the Midwest, Northeast and Canada begin their migration in early July. As far as we know, Georgia hummers start later in summer. By October, most have left.
Photo of hummingbird at feeder.   Declining day length triggers the fall migration. Shorter days cause chemical changes in hummingbirds, which go on a feeding binge to store food for the epic trip. Each bird must increase its weight by two-thirds or more – the equivalent of a 170-pound man adding 85 pounds.
   The fuel is stored as fat. As the birds accumulate it, they become so rotund they are less maneuverable. If you held one in your hand, it would feel like a bloated sponge.
   When the time is right – no one knows how a hummingbird knows – the bird leaves for wintering grounds in southern Mexico and Central America. Each travels alone. This means a hummingbird hatched in spring instinctively knows where it is going.
   Except for crossing the Gulf of Mexico, ruby-throats seem to migrate principally during the day, refueling early in the morning, flying most of the day and stopping in late afternoon to feed until dark. Birds might stay a week or more at stopover sites such as your backyard to replenish fat reserves.
   Some ruby-throats migrate over land along the Texas and Mexico coasts. However, most raised in Georgia and elsewhere in the East cross the Gulf. It is thought the trip of about 500 or more miles takes 18-20 hours, or 2.7 million wing beats for a hummer. Even a strong headwind can be devastating, and untold numbers of hummingbirds are lost each year. However, since the fall migration stretches over several weeks, the timing insures that millions do make it.
   As more and more natural stopover sites are destroyed each year, I am convinced that backyards festooned with feeders and flowerbeds ablaze with nectar plants will play an increasingly greater role in insuring that hummingbirds find enough food along their migration route. If you want to do your share to help the birds that bring you so much pleasure, make your backyard a haven for hummingbirds. Together we can make a difference.

Hummer flight altitudes and endurance details? Read more in Terry’s full column.

Also: Hummer fact sheets; free seeds for nectar feeders

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

Photo of kites on Altamaha roost.
Roost search offers kite insights
By Tim Keyes
   Swallow-tailed kites are one of the most dramatic birds to see in Georgia. These large, fork-tailed raptors sport a pure black and white pattern coupled with aerial acrobatics, making any sighting dramatic. This made finding large congregations of them even more of a treat.
   On two mornings in July, Nongame Conservation Section staff flew the Satilla, the lower Altamaha and St. Marys rivers looking for swallow-tailed kites; specifically, kite roosts. Biologists from South Carolina surveyed the Savannah River.
   Before migrating south to winter in southern Brazil, swallow-tailed kites form communal roosts, an ideal time to survey populations of this high-conservation species. The work was part of the first interstate survey of swallow-tailed kite roosts between eastern Texas and South Carolina.
   Roosts have been found before along the Savannah and Altamaha, but questions remain. How many roosts are supported in Georgia? Are they “stable” day to day and year to year? Can surveys provide an accurate count of swallow-tailed kites across their U.S. range?
   On July 21, we found 155 swallow-tailed kites, mainly along the Satilla. One roost had 98 swallow-tailed kites – the largest documented in Georgia. The roosts were near Jerusalem, east of Winokur and near Happy Landing along the Satilla, and near Penholoway Swamp on the Altamaha.
    We saw far fewer birds on July 22, and most roosts found the day before had dispersed or diminished greatly in size. We counted 49 birds on the Satilla and none on the St Marys.  Low-lying fog along the rivers early that morning could have caused us to miss some kites. Over the two days, we found seven separate roosts.
   South Carolina biologists reported finding three roosts totaling 110 kites on the Georgia side of the Savannah. These roosts were in a six-mile stretch of the river downstream from the U.S. 301 crossing at Burton’s Ferry Landing. Another 104 kites were counted on South Carolina’s side of the river.
   In all, we found a few scattered pairs, but most kites were in roosts. Nongame Conservation Section counts ranged from nine birds to the large roost of 98.  Most roosts were in big dead pines or on dead branches of pines and cypress. Locations varied from right along the rivers to well back on the floodplain.
   Even in just two days we learned there is significant turnover and movement in these roosts day to day. We look forward to hearing results from other states, and to next year, when the hope is to add flights and areas such as the upper Altamaha, providing more complete coverage of swallow-tailed kites in Georgia.

Tim Keyes is a wildlife biologist with the Nongame Conservation Section.

Part 2: Long-haul conservation
Bringing canebrakes back
   Charlie Muise waded through river cane sprouting from a sandy floodplain in Brender Demonstration Forest. Pacing off 25 meters, Muise stopped and called out “82!” – the number of cane stems waist-high or taller he had counted along the line.
   Nathan Klaus grinned. “That’s a record,” he said.
   “Even for 300 years ago?” Muise quipped.
   Centuries ago, canebrakes covered swaths of Southeastern bottomlands. But farming and timber interests turned the thickets into croplands, pastures and forests largely free of cane. Canebrakes now exist mostly in small patches and as a high-priority habitat in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. Swainson’s warblers, five rare butterfly species and swamp rabbits are some of the wildlife interconnected with Arundinaria sp. The matted roots of canebakes also once served as a significant guard against erosion.
Photos of canebrake restoration plots.   In late July, Klaus, a senior Wildlife Resources Division biologist, began checking 40 cane test plots he established 10 years ago across the Piedmont. His question: Will creating forest openings in bottomlands help restore cane? Muise, Georgia coordinator for the global Important Bird Areas Program, volunteered his help. The two documented cane growth, forest composition and vegetation density at seven sites in Brender, on the Oconee National Forest.
   The sweaty work offered a glimpse of the long-term effort some conservation research requires. Klaus suggested that a decade is only a starting point for the cane project. “It may be like year 15 before we see whether or not Swainson’s warblers will take up occupancy.”
   Other projects, from understanding rare robust redhorse populations to conserving mountain bogs, demand long-term commitment. All come with unexpected setbacks. On some of Klaus’ cane plots, the Asian exotic Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum) is growing where cane might have. Controlled burns that crept across a few areas also seemed to have benefited the invader.
   Yet, Klaus and Muise recorded positive changes, such as cane stems on a plot that had none (half of the sites were picked because they were cane-free). Another plot sports a canebrake so thick it is easier to crawl than walk through. “That’s the problem with success,” Klaus said. “You don’t really want to go through it when you get it right.”
   The then-and-now photographs above show cane taking hold in similar views of a plot on Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area near Gay in 2002 (top) and this year (bottom).
   Bird monitoring will address questions about how critical cane is for the thicket-loving Swainson’s warblers. Robust cane could even block the spread of Japanese stilt grass, Klaus said.
   But all of the above may take years to tell.

Also see:

   Three piping plover chicks taken before hatching in the first piping plover nest found in Illinois in 30 years have been released at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. The parents had abandoned the nest. The Great Lakes piping plover population was listed as endangered in 1986.
  “Guide to the Natural Environments of Georgia” is being promoted on YouTube. Edited in part by Nongame Conservation Section Assistant Chief Jon Ambrose, the guide is due out from the University of Georgia Press in 2011.
   Operation Migration is marking its 10,000th mile leading endangered whooping cranes on their first migration with a “Give a WHOOP!” campaign. For $10, supporters could be drawn for gifts including a five-day visit with the Operation Migration team in Wisconsin.
Photo of bat team at work.   “I knew they were there somewhere!” DNR bat intern Laci Coleman wrote that line after finding eight Rafinesque’s big-eared bats in one area, and after a hot month of peering into trees and surviving the hellish week that seems part of every survey season. Check out the interns' diary.
  The Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan is open for public comment until Aug. 31. (Send to the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Office at 1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200, Atlanta, GA  30345, or to david_dell@fws.gov.) The plan, formed by local governments to allow development and conserve federally protected Etowah, amber and Cherokee darters, has stirred controversy.
   Free copies of the State of Georgia's Environment Report are available to educators. The report contains updated information on the condition of Georgia's water, land and air resources.
   John Earle has come “home,” as new manager of 11,200-acre Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia/Alabama line near Eufaula, Ala. Earle spent most of his 17-year Fish and Wildlife Service career in the Southeast, but worked the last six managing Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in California.
   Nearly 110 more gopher frogsthe second batch this year – were released at Williams Bluffs Nature Preserve in late July. Biologists expect to add another 400 metamorphs (young frogs with developed lungs and legs that no longer need the water) by fall.
   Putting the squeeze on invasive snakes, Florida began a pilot permit-to-kill program targeting Burmese pythons and other “reptiles of concern” last month. “One Burmese python is too many,” said Scott Hardin of the state wildlife agency’s Exotic Species Section. As evidence, a 17-foot, 2-inch python was killed after a boy spotted it near his uncle's veterinarian office.
   A Charlotte, N.C., man pleaded guilty in Atlanta federal court to charges of smuggling endangered and prohibited wildlife into the U.S. through Atlanta. Qi Gui Nie, 33, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for smuggling from Vietnam 10 live endangered Asian Bonytongue, or Asian Arowana, fish, with a market value of $25,000. The name of Nie’s company? Lucky Fin Inc.
   The rescue of a bottle-nosed dolphin severely entangled in fishing gear last year is the subject of a children's book. In "A Dolphin Named Tag," Georgia author Susan Hall uses the story to teach about conserving dolphins by properly disposing of trash.
   Exxon Mobil Corp. will pay $600,000 in fines for the deaths of about 85 birds killed at company drilling and production facilities in Colorado and four other states. The company pled guilty to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act for incidents involving protected birds such as waterfowl, hawks and owls over five years, according to the Department of Justice.

Young mink on the beach.

Parting shot
We asked for unusual wildlife photographs and among
the most unique sent is this one: an immature mink
on the beach. Our thanks to Stephanie Kern, a DNR intern
monitoring sea turtle nesting on Ossabaw Island, who
photographed the mink, as well as these yellow rat snakes.


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