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Ga. DNR nongame e-news; image of sculpture
Image: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division logo

December 2009

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Also in this issue
* Coosawattee's rare ranking
* International aid for red knots
* Strawberry bushes forever

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Image: Ga. wildlife tags
Give wildlife a chance
* Buy a conservation license plate.
* Contribute to the tax checkoff.
* Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section. Or, donate in honor of someone, and have a card recognizing the gift sent to them!
   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
Frogs are cold-blooded or ectothermic, which means their body temperature matches their surroundings. For example, if its 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside, a frog’s body temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. What happens to these amphibians on cold winter days? To escape deadly frost, frogs seek shelter in mud, logs, rock crevices, leaf litter and even in clay pots. Their metabolism drops along with the temperature, to the point that they may appear dead and the water in their bodies may freeze. However, some frog species make extra glucose that acts like antifreeze to protect sensitive tissues, helping them to survive until warmer weather returns. In education
Sign up your school club, Scout troop or other group for the 2010 Youth Birding Competition. The 24-hour event set for April 23-24 pits similar-aged teams in a fun, statewide contest to count the most birds. Amateur or experienced; all kids are welcomed! Download the 2010 registration brochure here.

D.C. talk
A big-snake bill approved early this month by a U.S. Senate committee would bar imports and interstate trade of nine large constrictors, including Burmese pythons. S. 373, by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also targets northern African python, southern African python, reticulated python, boa constrictor and green, yellow, Bolivian and DeSchauensee's anacondas.  "As steward of our country's vast public lands and natural resources, we have to deal with the threats posed by invasive species," Nelson said in a statement. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill. Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., has filed similar legislation in the House. Burmese pythons are established in South Florida. Everglades estimates vary from 5,500 to 137,000 snakes. More on big snakes in the U.S.

Ranger reports
Looking back: From July 2007-June 2009, Wildlife Resources Division officers investigated 24 violations involving nongame species. Violations varied from taking and possessing protected species to possession of wildlife without a rehabilitator permit. Species involved: gopher tortoises; red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks; black rat and Eastern milk snakes; alligator snapping turtles; and, cowbirds, pileated woodpeckers, brown thrashers, turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds. The summary will be part of an upcoming two-year report for the Nongame Conservation Section.

Image: Loggerhead shrike
Up close
Loggerhead shrike
Lanius ludovicianus
Also called: French or Spanish mockingbird, butcher bird (the genus name Lanius is Latin for “butcher”), thornbird.
Family: Belongs to the family Laniidae along with 73 other bird species, but the loggerhead shrike is the only member that exclusively occurs in North America.
Key characteristics: Medium-sized songbird, about 9 inches long from head to tail tip with a 1-foot wingspan. Gray crown and back with black and white wings and white underparts. Sports a black mask that starts at its stout, hooked bill and extends just past the eye. Somewhat similar to the northern mockingbird, but loggerhead shrikes are chunkier, appear to have no neck, and have different feather patterns of gray, black and white. Males and females look alike.
Image: CameraShrike on video.

Range: Year-round resident across the southern U.S. and most of Mexico. Breeds from the Canadian border and the Great Plains south to Florida and southern Mexico. In Georgia, the loggerhead shrike breeds locally and in low numbers throughout the state except in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the greater Okefenokee Swamp. Greatest abundance occurs in the Coastal Plain, with fewer birds in the Piedmont and other northern ecoregions.
Habitat: Old fields, pastures and orchards with shrubby edges, isolated trees, thorny vegetation and barbed wire fences; sometimes near mowed roadsides, golf courses, open woodlands and wetlands. May also live in mature longleaf pine savannas.
Eats: Mainly large insects; also rodents, small birds, small reptiles and amphibians. Typically searches for food from a perch (no more than 5 meters above the ground), drops down to stun its prey with a quick pounce, and swiftly carries the prey to a thorn or barbed wire to impale it. May also wedge prey into the fork of a tree to hold it captive. The hook on the upper mandible severs the victim’s spinal cord and is used to tear away small pieces for eating.
Sounding off: Song is a repeated shrill that resembles a rusty hinge swinging back and forth or a high-pitched hiccup. Call is a series of harsh screeching notes. (Listen.)
Breeding behavior: Builds bulky nests 5-30 feet above the ground in trees or shrubs with thorns or dense foliage. Both sexes collect material (including twigs, grasses and animal hair), but the female does most of the building. Lays four to six eggs that are incubated by the female for about 16 days; male feeds his mate during this time. In Georgia, first brood is laid in late March or early April, typically with a second brood in late May or early June. Nestlings fledge at 17-20 days old (later than most songbirds).
Current status: Once abundant throughout its range, populations have declined drastically over the past 30-40 years. In the Southeast, numbers declined by 4.5 percent every year from 1966 to 2005. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the loggerhead shrike as a Migratory Nongame Bird of Management Concern in 1987. Although this species is not listed as threatened or endangered in Georgia, it is a State Wildlife Action Plan priority.
Threats: Causes of decline are poorly understood but most likely include habitat loss, fragmentation and alteration, as farms disappear and remaining farms are consolidated into larger fields with fewer hedgerows. Pesticide use limits food availability and subsequently decreases clutch sizes. Bioaccumulation causes eggshell thinning in some populations. Inclement spring weather sometimes causes nest failure. Predation (by cats, coyotes, black rat snakes, etc.) and increased roadside mortality also play roles in this species’ decline.
Conservation: Habitat restoration currently is encouraged through the Farm Bill and Georgia’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative. Reducing the use of organochlorine pesticides on farms may help increase numbers, too, as will keeping domestic cats indoors and reducing feral populations.

Sources include: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, Birds of Georgia, Georgia Breeding Bird Atlas, DNR Loggerhead Shrike Survey, USFWS Loggerhead Shrike Status Assessment, Peterson Field Guide to Birds’ Nests, Wikipedia

Nongame in the news
The Weekly (Duluth): "Donated conservation easements protect 21,000 acres along critical state waterways," Georgia Land Conservation Program announcement about easement additions topping 21,000 acres. (Dec. 15)
Ocean Zone News (blog): "Navy expresses concern about proposed manatee protections," about possible impact of expanded critical habitat in Florida, southern Georgia on military bases. (Dec. 14)
Rome News-Tribune: "Nature Conservancy buys land adjacent to Little River Canyon," about group's $2.6 million purchase of nearly 2,200 acres atop Lookout Mountain, beside Little River Canyon National Preserve in Alabama's Cherokee County. (Dec. 14)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Beth Callaway championed wildflowers with Lady Bird Johnson," obituary about noted Georgia advocate of native plants. (Dec. 11)
St. Petersburg Times: "Female whooping crane migrating to Florida is shot, killed in Indiana," about death of matriarch of first crane family taught migration by following an ultralight. (Dec. 11)
Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Daunting threat to save timber," about threat of hemlock woolly adelgid in southeastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. (Dec. 7)
Florida Times-Union: "Former Georgia Rep. Harris gets DNR's top award," about 2009 Rock Howard Award recipient Reid Harris of St. Simons, who championed legislation like Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. (Dec. 4)
Pickens County Progress: "North Georgia project holds rich promise for last golden warblers," DNR release about habitat restoration project with USFS for golden-winged warblers. (Dec. 2)
WALB-TV (Albany): "Bald eagle released in South Georgia," about returning rehabilitated eagle in Doughtery County. (Dec. 1)
Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times: "High hopes for a strong whale calving season," about right whale migration, calving and winter whereabouts. (Nov. 27)
Savannah Morning News: "Holiday gift ideas for people who love the outdoors," DNR release promoting items including donations to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. (Nov. 25)
Augusta Chronicle: "Cogon grass confiscated at Savannah port," about more than 60 interceptions of cogon grass by U.S. Customs since mid-October at the port of Savannah. (Nov. 24)
Savannah Morning News: "Right whales return to local waters," about right whales migrating back to Southeast. (Nov. 26) DNR release in Florida Times-Union. (Nov. 24)
Florida Times-Union: "Activists want bigger 'critical’ area off Florida-Georgia coast for right whales," about five groups' petition to feds to re-evaluate and enlarge designated critical areas. (Nov. 24)

Through Jan. 5: 110th Christmas Bird Count. Find a count near you.
Feb. 12-13: 22nd annual Weekend for Wildlife, fundraiser for DNR Nongame Conservation Section, Sea Island.
Feb. 12-14: Georgia Wildlife Federation Great Outdoors Show, Georgia National Fairgrounds, Perry.
Feb. 12-15: Great Backyard Bird Count.
Feb. 19-20: 10th annual Georgia River Network conference, Jekyll Island Convention Center, Jekyll Island.
March 19-20: Environmental Education Alliance Conference, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw.
Submit events.

Photo credits (from top):
* Right whale sculpture closeup. Bryan England/4-H Tidelands Nature Center
* Breeding Bird Atlas cover and pages. University of Georgia Press
* GPCA volunteer Linda Lamb, left, and DNR's Suzi Mersmann count individuals of Radford mint on Townsend WMA in late October. Christa Frangiamore
* Radford mint. Christa Frangiamore
* Loggerhead shrike. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
* Ellijay river with goldline darter (inset). Brett Albanese/Ga. DNR
* Tagged red knot. Brad Winn/Ga. DNR
* Strawberry bush. Terry Johnson
* An inflatable right whale calf attracts visitors during the first Right Whale Festival at Jacksonville Beach, Fla. Kristina Summers/Ga. DNR
* Right whale sculpture at 4-H Tidelands Nature Center. Bryan England/Tidelands

Georgia Wild
volume 2, issue 12

Georgia Wild is produced by the Georgia DNR 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. Also, check here
for information on TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section.

Looking back
Links to three previous issues.
Other archives found here. (Note: Because of recent Web changes, some issues are not available. Those issues will be posted soon.)
Image: Bird Atlas coverState's new
breeding bird
atlas has landed

New book details
historic survey, data
By Todd Schneider
   Results of the largest systematic survey ever of Georgia’s birds are now available in book form. The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia (The University of Georgia Press) covers the same-named project and describes in detail the 182 species that breed in the state.
   The 520-page book is due out in February and is already being sold online.
   The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division initiated the Breeding Bird Atlas project in 1993 to document and map the distribution of Georgia’s breeding birds. During eight years of survey work, more than 400 people logged an estimated 15,000-20,000 hours surveying more than 700 sampling areas. Another 600 people submitted incidental sightings or other data. Of the 182 species recorded, 10 are newly documented as breeding here.
   From downy woodpeckers to red-shouldered hawks and rare cerulean warblers to clapper rails, the data provide a snapshot in time of the distribution of each species and can be used with subsequent breeding bird atlas projects to track long-term changes in distribution, as well as provide a baseline for conservation efforts.
Image: Bird Atlas pages   The hardcover Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia features introductory sections on project methodology and results, how the state's environment and landscapes affect bird distribution, changes in bird distribution since European colonization, and avian conservation. Each of the 180-plus species accounts includes details on the bird's appearance, habitat, natural history, status and conservation, plus a color photograph, distribution map and in many cases tables and graphs.
   The Georgia Ornithological Society, The Environmental Resources Network (TERN), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Atlanta Audubon Society, and other Audubon and birding groups teamed with Wildlife Resources on the Breeding Bird Atlas project, providing volunteer surveyors and logistical and financial support.

Todd Schneider is a Wildlife Resources Nongame Conservation Section biologist and lead editor of the Breeding Bird Atlas book. Other editors are Nongame wildlife biologist Tim Keyes, Nongame senior biologist Nathan Klaus, and expert birder and author Giff Beaton.

Image: Marking Radford mint

Rare mint, priceless teamwork
   What’s bright lavender, smells like cinnamon and is found in only two places on Earth?
   Radford mint, the rarest plant in the mint family and documented only in Georgia, is the focus of a new collaborative effort for restoration in McIntosh County.
   DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, with the help of the agency’s Game Management Section, is working with volunteers to bring this little-known plant documented back from the brink of extinction.
Image: Radford mint   Often frequented by butterflies such as the gulf fritillary, the vivid pink flowers and narrow leaves of Radford mint have a distinct spicy aroma, similar to cinnamon.
   Volunteers with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, or GPCA, worked with DNR staff to map out a plan for removing nearly 1,000 acres of sand pine, a non-native species introduced before DNR bought the McIntosh property. The dense pines created so much shade the mint could not flourish. The area will be replanted with longleaf pine, giving the sun-loving species a better chance for a comeback.
   Volunteers also collected seed that can be stored for future propagation. The hope is that restoration of the natural longleaf pine cover, along with volunteers’ continued monitoring efforts, will ensure that one of the world’s rarest plants survives in the wild. Fortunately, one of the two sites – a sandy ridge along the lower Altamaha River – is now state-owned as part of Townsend Wildlife Management Area.
   State-listed as endangered, the showy annual is not protected under federal law, despite its rarity. Radford mint is among the top priorities for the GPCA, of which DNR is a founding member. Only approximately 200 individual plants appear each year, depending on adequate rainfall and sunlight for seed germination.

Third in Georgia for imperiled fishes
Overlooked Coosawattee
draws deserved attention
   The Etowah and Conasauga rivers are known for rare fishes and biological diversity. Recent research reveals that the river between them – the Coosawattee – is in the same league.
   Last summer, Wildlife Resources Nongame and Fisheries staff sampled the north Georgia river from Ellijay to Carter’s Lake and the stream’s two largest headwater tributaries, the Cartecay and Ellijay rivers (area map). Results included new records for federally threatened goldline darters – documented in Georgia only in the Coosawattee – and field data critical to developing a GIS-based analysis of the watershed.
   The work identified the Coosawattee as one of Georgia’s top three rivers for imperiled fishes, part of a Southeastern Fisheries Council assessment aimed at helping prioritize U.S. waterways for conservation. Each participating state relied on a recently published list of imperiled fishes recognized by the American Fisheries Society’s endangered species committee.
   Statewide analysis ranked the Coosawattee third with nine of the listed fishes (including two species last seen in the 1960s). The Etowah led with 14 imperiled fishes. The Conasauga followed with 12.
   All three rivers are in the Coosa River basin. The Coosawattee rates data-poor, however, compared to studies of rare species and common threats on its neighbors. The project “allowed us to look a lot more closely at the Coosawattee,” said leader Brett Albanese, a senior aquatic zoologist with the Nongame Conservation Section.
   Research that crunched watershed details varying from aerial snapshots to land-cover statistics revealed expected threats such as riverside deforestation for vacation homes and farm runoff. DNR intern Katie Owers also counted 660 dams and other structures that block fish passage.
   GIS specialist Thom Litts of Wildlife Resources’ Fisheries Section used GIS and Maxent species habitat modeling software to develop a computer model that identifies stream sections in which threatened and endangered fishes might be found. “We’re thinking of this as a probability of suitable habitat,” Litts said.
   Next comes fieldwork to vet the modeling, plus additional analysis to determine conservation remedies. Albanese lists protecting important populations of goldline darters and state-endangered holiday, trispot and bridled darters as priority.
   There is a silver lining. Sampling showed that goldline darters (download species account) are “doing pretty well” in the Coosawattee, Albanese said.
    The challenge: Making sure this river receives the conservation attention its rank commands.
Image: Ellijay River with inset darter

Why these three?
  • Researchers identified the number of imperiled fish taxa, or species, in each of Georgia’s 52 catalog-level hydrologic units. (Often factored into GIS analyses, hydrologic units and associated codes, or HUCs, are part of a U.S. Geological Survey watershed classification system used to identify and “nest” drainage areas.)
  • The Etowah had 14 imperiled taxa, the Conasauga had 12, and the Coosawattee, nine (two known only from historical records).
  • Of Georgia’s 265 native fish taxa, 62 (23 percent) are imperiled. Five are considered extirpated or extinct within Georgia. The last documented records of these species date to between 1877 and 1953.
  • More information online: Fishes of Georgia; Coosawattee Watershed Alliance

International aid for red knots
In first meeting, group focuses on decline
By Brad Winn
   Research biologists from seven countries met on Georgia’s St. Catherines Island last month with a single shorebird in mind: the red knot.
   The first meeting of the International Red Knot Working Group centered on coordinating and focusing research and conservation to reverse red knots’ dramatic decline in the last decade. While counts reached as high as 150,000 birds in Delaware Bay during the 1980s, estimates in recent years have indicated a sharp drop to 30,000. Red knots are a candidate for U.S. Endangered Species Act listing, and already listed as endangered in Canada.
   Participants in the three-day session in mid-November came from many Atlantic states as well as Britain, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Nongame Conservation Section and St. Catherines Island Foundation staff served as hosts. The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation worked with Georgia DNR to organize the agenda and invite researchers from all points of the knot’s migration path.
   For a portion of the red knot population, that path stretches the length of the Western Hemisphere.
   One goal of the meeting involved the private National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which has become integral in financially supporting conservation projects across the country. The foundation included the red knot as one of 10 species in its keystone species initiative. The designation entails a 10-year commitment to support projects that provide measured gains in the red knot population.
   At St. Catherines, the working group began developing a “business plan” that will help the foundation’s board gauge their return on conservation dollars invested in recovering the depleted knot population, a new concept in conservation. The plan will be completed by early next year.
Image: red knot

About red knots
  • The red knot is a stocky species of shorebird, about the size of a morning dove, with deep orange breeding plumage.
  • Red knots rely on marine and estuarine food resources during the non-breeding season, August through May. The birds particularly depend on small clams, mussels and other small bivalves as food much of the year, but are best known for their reliance on horseshoe crab eggs as an important energy resource for their Image: Cameranorthbound migration to tundra breeding areas. Watch the PBS NATURE episode "Crash: a Tale of Two Species."
  • Part of the population flies an annual migration path that spans the Western Hemisphere, from the northern Canadian Arctic tundra to the southern South American island of Tierra del Fuego and back – a round-trip of about 22,000 miles.
  • Georgia supports the only known U.S. fall staging area, on the islands at the mouth of the Altamaha. As many as 12,000 knots stay there in September.
Shorebirds & SWAP
   The Georgia coast holds important shorebird habitat used throughout the year by about 20 species. Rivers like the Savannah, Altamaha, and Ogeechee deposit sands and mud sediments that become intertidal shoals. These shoals support vast numbers of small clams and marine worms that feed the shorebirds. The State Wildlife Action Plan, often called by the acronym SWAP, recognizes the importance of the coast in supporting large numbers of shorebirds throughout the year. Nongame staff work to conserve the quality of habitat that supports shorebirds such as red knots.

Out my backdoor
I'm sold on strawberry bushes
By Terry W. Johnson
   One of my favorite backyard plants is the native strawberry bush. I like it because it offers wildlife food, and in autumn, it’s one of the most beautiful plants in my yard. To top it all off, it literally takes care of itself. Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
   One of the first things my wife and I did after buying property for a home was to find out what plants were growing there. One discovery was a couple of pitiful-looking strawberry bushes seemingly just hanging on beneath scattered pines. We protected them from mowing and waited to see them bear a crop of red, inch-long strawberry-like capsules. However, year after year, deer browsed the plants so severely they never produced seeds. 
Image: Strawberry bush   All of that changed a few years ago after we fenced our backyard to allow our dogs to romp at will. The fence kept my dogs in and deer out. A year later, our strawberry bushes grew taller than ever and even bloomed for the first time. After the greenish-yellow blossoms withered, small, knobby, lime green seed capsules appeared. By late summer, they measured about an inch in diameter. Soon, they turned a rosy red hue, then split open into three to five segments. Each lobe displayed a single, shiny, scarlet red berry suspended on what looked like a thin thread.
   Talk about being spectacular!
   One look at the ripened capsules and you know why the plant is often called hearts-a-bursting. If that isn’t enough to endear the plant to you, its red leaves are capable of catching the eye of even the most casual leaf peeper.
   Many experts say strawberry bush is not an important wildlife food plant. I suspect this is because it is rarely abundant enough to make a significant impact in food habit studies. But where strawberry bush is found, it is eaten.
   In addition to deer, swamp and eastern cottontail rabbits eat the plant’s twigs and leaves. Wild turkeys, yellow-rumped warblers, eastern bluebirds, wood thrushes, northern mockingbirds and a variety of small mammals are among the wildlife that devour the red berries. The bush is even the host plant for a handful of tiny moths like the ermine moth.
   However, the bark, leaves and berries are poisonous to humans. They contain chemicals that can cause severe diarrhea and cardiac arrest.
   The strawberry bush is an understory plant, making it an ideal landscape plant in partially shaded backyards. I recommend you obtain plants from nurseries specializing in native plants. If you don’t have such a nursery nearby, check local sites being cleared for roads or other developments.
   Strawberry bushes can be rooted from cuttings taken in the summer. Smaller shrubs found sprouting around a larger plant also can be relocated, a move that’s most successful in winter.
   My wife and I look at our backyard as a giant jigsaw puzzle. To make the yard more wildlife friendly, each year we add pieces to the puzzle. While our strawberry bushes might be small pieces, that doesn’t in any way detract from their importance.
    Read Terry’s full column on strawberry bushes!
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.

   As the bat-killing white nose syndrome spreads south and west, a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report recommends barring human access to caves and mines within 250 miles from infected sites. An update of the service’s March 2009 cave advisory, expected in early 2010, will likely reflect the report recommendations.
   Operation Migration’s ultralight-led flight of whooping cranes has had its trouble this season: plane problems, $20,000 in vandalism and theft, and – outside the bounds of the migration of young whoopers – the shooting death of the matriarchal crane that hatched and raised the program’s only chick in the wild. But by Dec. 17, the 20 birds in the Class of 2009 had made it to Alabama, and donors had covered the vandalism damages and boosted an arrest reward in the shooting to $3,000.
Image: Whale festival   The first right whale festival earlier this month at Jacksonville Beach, Fla., drew a crowd, despite dreary weather (photo at left). Setting the stage, less than two weeks earlier a NOAA buoy off Savannah recorded a right whale call, signaling the seasonal return of the highly imperiled whales to the Georgia coast.
   After reading Judy Moody Saves the World,” a third-grade class at north Georgia’s Oconee County raised $200 – half from recycling aluminum cans – and donated the money to DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section. The gift for wildlife had an immediate return: The principal and teacher treated the Rocky Branch Elementary students to pizza and T-shirts.

Parting shot
Image: Right whale sculpture
One of the latest right whales to visit our coast
is stainless steel. Created by Georgia artist
Thomas Prochnow, this almost calf-sized visitor is
here to stay at 4-H Tidelands Nature Center on
Jekyll Island. The center paid for the materials with
a DNR Nongame Educational Watchable Wildlife grant; Prochnow donated his time and talent. Tidelands
is adding interpretive signage for the eye-catching
sculpture (also pictured in the newsletter nameplate).

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