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April 2010
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Also in this issue
* Learning at Ohoopee Dunes
* They're eating my flowers!
* Georgia herp hotspot
* Carters Lake whoopers
* Burns yield longleaf boom
* King rail at Panola Mountain

Wildlife license plates
Give wildlife a chance
* Buy a conservation license plate.
* Contribute to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund tax checkoff.
* Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section.
* Use GoodSearch for your Internet searches (at www.goodsearch.com, enter "Georgia Nongame Conservation Fund" under "Who do you GoodSearch for," click "Verify," and search).
All of the above support Georgia DNR's Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds to conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. Details: (770) 761-3035.

WILD Facts
Bird nesting is in full swing! Species that normally nest in cavities may take up residence in dead trees or birdhouses in your yard. Non-cavity nesters may find your evergreen trees and shrubs particularly attractive for raising young. While some birds are very secretive about where they nest, other species don’t mind making their homes close to humans. Wrens often nest amidst garage clutter, house finches may choose hanging flowerpots, and phoebes and barn swallows like to nest on ledges. Be patient and feel privileged if a bird picks part of your living space for its nest.In education
Georgia educators who want to learn, and teach, more about forestry and wildlife should check out the sixth annual Georgia Teacher Conservation Workshop. Set for June 21-25 and based at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, the program covers wildlife management and the growing cycle of trees through experts and outdoor and timber industry tours. The cost: $35. The return: four professional learning units and a weeklong education in the field. The course is for non-forestry and non-wildlife educators working with grades 5-12. The limit: 30 participants. Apply by May 1.

Under the Gold Dome
Score one for the turtles. House Bill 1000, which would allow the Board of Natural Resources to regulate trade in freshwater turtles, cleared the state House 156-1 in late March and was set for a possible Senate vote as of April 20, the 37th day of the 40-day General Assembly. The Wildlife Resources Division has supported legislation to regulate the commercial harvest of turtles. Demand fed by Asian markets threatens the Southeast's rich diversity of freshwater turtles.
Correction: Georgia's Legislature runs on a biennial, or two-year, cycle. 2010 is the second half of the current cycle, meaning bills not passed in this session will die -- not be shelved until 2011. The March Georgia Wild misstated the status of legislation that does not pass both the Senate and House this year.

Ranger reports
Making a case: A long-running investigation in Dougherty County led by Ranger 1st Class Ben Roberts resulted in 28 warrants involving three subjects. Charges ranged from hunting deer at night to hunting hawks and owls. Tipped off by a complaint in November, Roberts begin investigating a plantation manager, with the search for evidence including interviews with witnesses, deer processors and taxidermists.

Wilson's plover

Wilson's plover

Charadrius wilsonia
Key characteristics: Medium-sized shorebird – about 6-8 inches long – with short necks, flesh-colored legs and stout bills. (Wilson’s are sometimes called thick-billed plovers). Adults have brown backs, white underparts and either a black or brown band on their chest.
Named for: Ornithologist Alexander Wilson, who collected the species in New Jersey in 1813.
Range: Includes the Pacific Coast from Baja California to Peru, the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Brazil, and the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Wilson’s plover is found year-round in Georgia, but is rare here in winter and found regularly only at a few sites.
Habitat: Coastal beach habitats, from dry sand beaches and dunes to intertidal sand flats and mud flats, accretion areas and washovers.
Nesting: Along Georgia’s coast, nests primarily on outer barrier island beaches, but also on sand spits at the mouth of large rivers and on sand flats. Nesting season runs from late April through June. Most nesting occurs in May. Nests are a shallow scrape in the sand made by the male. Each nest usually contains three eggs. They hatch in 23-24 days. Young leave the nest with the adults soon after hatching, foraging on the wet beach of an outgoing tide.
Eats: Fiddler crabs, other crustaceans, worms and insects. Wilson’s plovers often probe the sand and mud for meals.
Sounding off: Listen for a sharp “wheep!”
Threats: Mortality and nest losses resulting from people and their pets, plus direct predation by feral cats, are primary threats. Other predators include raccoon, mink and laughing gulls. Tides and storms can wash over nests. Erosion is undermining some nesting habitat.
Status: Referred to in the late 1950s as “one of the most the most characteristic breeding birds of the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches,” the species has declined sharply in these areas. Wilson’s plover is listed in Georgia as rare, and in some other states as threatened or endangered. Georgia’s population of about 100 nesting pairs is down from estimates of 360 in the early 1980s and 200-250 in 1986. Robust numbers are found only on Little St. Simons Island and Cumberland Island’s southern end. Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, lists Wilson’s plover as a high-priority species.
How to help: Avoid nesting, brood-rearing and feeding habitats. Keep pets at home or at least on a leash when visiting the beach. Support conservation efforts for shorebird habitats.

Largely from an account by Nongame Conservation Section Program Manager Brad Winn in “The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia,”(UGA Press). Additional sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and “Protected Animals of Georgia” (Georgia DNR).

Bald eagle nest numbers continued to climb in Georgia this year, despite the cold, wet winter and early spring. Surveys by Nongame Conservation Section program manager Jim Ozier documented 135 occupied nesting territories, 118 successful nests and 187 young fledged.
A Canoochee River corridor conservation easement in the works targets habitat management for federally threatened eastern indigo snakes along the edge of Fort Stewart. Next month’s Georgia Wild will include more on the site and a federal $1.4 million Recovery Land Acquisition Grant for the easement.
White Nose Syndrome has been found at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in Missouri, continuing its deadly spread. The confirmation in Tennessee of Geomyces destructans, the fungus and the presumptive causative agent of WNS, came from White Oak Blowhole cave,  home to the state’s largest known hibernacula of federally endangered Indiana bats.
Wildlife Resources’ Flickr page features posters that capture the art, and heart, of conservation. Earlier this month, 12 children were announced as statewide winners from among more than 4,900 K-5th-grade students who entered the Give Wildlife a Chance Poster Contest.
The future of shad fishing in Georgia is the subject of a DNR-sponsored meeting April 29 in Midway. Atlantic Coast American shad stocks are at all-time lows and do not appear to be recovering, leading to a Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission moratorium on commercial and recreational shad fishing beginning in 2013 except in states that can show the fishery is sustainable.
Townsend WMA sandhills are getting a fresh start. Extensive logging of mostly sand pine – a non-native species that can shade out native vegetation – is planned at the southeast Georgia  management area, followed by planting longleaf pines. Regional Game Management Supervisor David Mixon called logging “the first step in converting the sand pine and off-site loblolly into a longleaf pine ecosystem.”
SnakesKin, a new Animal Planet series, focuses on the Jason Clark family behind Georgia-based Southeastern Reptile Rescue. The last episode, “Rattlesnake Island,” includes Nongame Conservation Section biologist Thomas Floyd.
The Interagency Burn Team did controlled burns on a whopping 19,500 acres during winter, with the Student Conservation Association “strike team” accounting for 4,614 acres. Due next year: more prescribed fire on national forest lands, thanks to a recently signed agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.
The North Atlantic right whale season wrapped up without a wrapped up whale, thankfully. The numbers: 19 mother-calf pairs (the average since 1991 is 21), at least 200 other non-breeding whales, zero entanglements (compared to five last year), zero calf mortalities and one whale birth photographed (only the second in history).
“It is possible," explained Nongame Conservation Section biologist Clay George, "that there may have been some calves that were not reported. Research has shown that in years with cooler weather, the whales tend to move farther south, out of our survey areas. So it is possible that there will be more calves that could show up in the breeding areas than were counted by our survey teams.”
Quick: What’s the nickname of the whale photographed calving? Derecha, Spanish for “right.” George says the whale has been known to calve in some unusual places, including the Gulf of Mexico.
The Georgia Aquarium contributed $11,000 for loggerhead sea turtle conservation as part of a new Coastal America Partnership alliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The money goes to the Savannah-based Caretta Research Project, a nonprofit that protects loggerheads on Georgia's Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge.
Along with loggerhead hatchlings, Nongame senior wildlife biologist Mark Dodd had a hand, and a credit, in the Miley Cyrus movie “The Last Song.” Read more.
An  Important Bird Areas group banding birds at Panola Mountain State Park April 11 heard a king rail in the reeds of a grassland/wetland restoration area. Nathan Klaus, a Nongame Conservation Section senior wildlife biologist, said he flushed a black rail – the Holy Grail of birding – from the same area last fall, a sighting that highlights these secretive, high-priority birds and the successful habitat work at Panola.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is calling it quits in the search for ivory-billed woodpeckers. “The preliminary conclusion we’ve come up with at this point is that it’s unlikely that there are recoverable populations of ivory-billed woodpeckers in those places that have received significant search efforts over the past five years,” said Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the Lab’s Ivory-billed Woodpecker Research Project. Sightings and video prompted Cornell’s assertion in 2005 that the species was alive.
Camera image Watch this 2009 video of the search.
Panola Mountain plays host to a Mountain Top Owl Prowl on May 8. Other wild programs at Georgia state parks include Birding by Ear and Common Birds of Georgia May 22 at Smithgall Woods Conservation Park near Helen, and a Frog Slog – warning: be prepared to get wet – at 6 p.m. each Tuesday until Aug. 31 at Panola in Stockbridge.
Wildlife, fun and education rule the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center J.A.K.E.S. Day celebration, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 15. Admission is free, as is lunch for the kids.
Fitzgerald’s Wild Chicken Festival in March drew about 8,000 people and 100 vendors. “Great day, great turnout,” co-chairman Barry Peavey said of the community event going strong 10 years after abandoning a rattlesnake roundup format.
The latest Junior Ranger e-newsletter from the Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Division features a Q&A with botanist Tom Patrick of the Nongame Conservation Section.
The climate invasion has begun. Or so says a National Wildlife Federation report and intentionally cheesy B-movieCamera image
called “They Came from Climate Change.”

Nongame in the news
The (Kings Bay) Periscope: “Bird house,” about Trident Training Facility's Lt. Antone Eliasen, the Bird Man of Kings Bay. (April 15)
Florida Times-Union: “Dolphin makes rare visit to Satilla, 51 miles upriver,” about bottlenose dolphin spotted near Tarboro. (April 14)
Barrow County News: “Help nongame wildlife by finishing taxes with a checkoff for conservation,” DNR release about Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund checkoff. (April 14)
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
Yellow anaconda wins Hiss America Pageant,” about a contest during an annual Reptile Fest at Columbus’ Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center. (April 11)
The (Dalton) Daily Citizen: “Wild Facts: tigers of spring,” Linda May brief about eastern tiger swallowtails. (April 8)
The Outdoor Wire: “Winners announced in Georgia ‘Give Wildlife a Chance’ poster competition,” DNR release about statewide winners in annual contest. (April 8)
Athens Banner-Herald: “Native plants -- Gotta have 'em,” column about what native plants are, and why plant them. (April 8)   
Fly Rod and Reel Online: “First ever photograph confirms Colombian hummingbird,” about image of a living Santa Marta Sabrewing in northern Colombia, the first confirmation in 60-plus years of the species’ existence. (April 7)  The Associated Press: “Condor egg successfully hatches in California,” about first hatching of a California condor chick at Pinnacles National Monument. (April 7)
The Augusta Chronicle: “Towering champions,” about Georgia’s Champion Tree List and what’s on it. (April 3)   
Athens Banner-Herald: “Endangered plantlife added at area WMA,” DNR release about planting mat-forming quillwort at Oconee WMA’s Eatonton Outcrop. (March 31)
Savannah Morning News: “Early migrants showing up across Georgia,” DNR release about return of chimney swifts, hummingbirds and purple martins. (March 31)
MSNBC: "Mysterious whale die-off is largest on record," about more than 300 southern right whales, mostly calves, found dead off Argentina. (March 31)
The Augusta Chronicle: “Phinizy research could uncover rare species,”  about Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy herpetological assessment if Phinizy Swamp. (March 29)
Savannah Morning News: “After baby boom, whales have an average year,” about right whale calving season off Georgia/Florida coast. (March 27)
The (Dalton) Daily Citizen: “Time short; register now for youth birding competition,” DNR release about signing up for annual event. (March 25)
Savannah Morning News: “Striped newt could get more protection,” about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing striped newt for listing. (March 25)
RealEstateRama: “Spring planting is for the birds, and butterflies!” DNR release about planting and landscaping for wildlife. (March 23)
New York Times: “Are aquariums getting too lifelike?” about impact of growing aquarium trade on reef invertebrates. (March 22)
Florida Times-Union: "Chemical causes high contamination levels in Atlantic dolphins," about PCB levels in dolphins linked to closed factory in Brunswick, results from sampling last summer near Brunswick and Sapelo Island. (March 1).

April 24-May 5: 2010 Pine Tree
Festival and Southeast Timber EXPO
, Swainsboro.
April 27-28: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (1 p.m. April 27), monthly meeting (9 a.m. April 28), DNR board room, Atlanta.
May 8: International Migratory Bird Day, officially May 8, though dates of events can differ by state, region.
May 15: J.A.K.E.S. Day Festival, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Mansfield.
June 19-25: Paddle Georgia 2010
July 25-29: Bat Blitz, Fort Mountain State Park. Family education night, 6:30 p.m. July 25.
Submit events

Photo credits (from top):
* Division 2 (1st-2nd grades) winning poster in Give Wildlife a Chance poster competition. Poster by Jordan Sullivan, Dacula Academy in Dacula.
* Coosa Valley prairie. Marc Del Santro
* DNR's Jason Wisniewski (left) and Deb Weiler, along with researcher Jason Meador (center), record mussels on the Altamaha River. Rick Lavender/Ga. DNR
* Wilson's plover. Brad Winn/Ga. DNR
* DNR's Mincy Moffett and youth from the Highly Intensive Team Supervision Program inspect a scarlet kingsnake found at Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area. Maurice McNeal/Department of Juvenile Justice
Cardinal eating redbud blooms. Terry Johnson
* Montage of herps -- (top left) gopher frog; (top right) wood frog; (bottom left) spring salamander; eastern diamondback rattlesnake -- found within the four-county region of Talbot, Taylor, Marion and Schley. Sean Graham/Auburn University
* Whooping cranes at Carters Lake. Joshua Spence
* Longleaf pine seedling and cone. Nathan Klaus/Ga. DNR
* Florida panther with kittens. Darrell Land/Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Georgia Wild
volume 3, issue 4

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 Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund 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.

Read more in "Conserving Nongame Wildlife: 2008-2009," a report on the Nongame Conservation Section's work.

Looking back
Three previous issues ...Georgia Wild archives.

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Georgia SWAP: Part I
Strategy for conservation
steers five years of action
By Linda May
   Do you enjoy hearing the melodies of songbirds, watching the antics of wildlife or photographing delicate wildflowers? As much as these natural resources enrich our lives aesthetically, they also are linked to us ecologically, socially and economically. Our quality of life is affected by how well we conserve wildlife and the places they call home.
Coosa Valley prairies   Although Georgia is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, 318 species here have such low populations they are protected by state or federal laws. Hundreds of other species are of conservation concern as well, mostly due to habitat degradation and destruction.
   In our fast-changing world, how can we ensure that these important natural resources will be around for us and for future generations? How do we keep populations of common plants and animals stable while preventing rare species from going extinct? The task of conserving, enhancing and promoting our state’s wildlife (including game and nongame animals as well as plants) lies with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
   To more proactively safeguard our state’s natural heritage, the Wildlife Resources Division developed a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy. Work on this statewide management plan started in December 2002 and incorporated years of research and data accumulated by DNR staff and other natural resource organizations. Funding came through a State Wildlife Grant, with matching funds from Georgia’s Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Creating a guide for the DNR and other conservation groups to follow proved a complex task, requiring input from several state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, land managers, various other stakeholders, and the public. Approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October 2005, Georgia’s wildlife conservation strategy is now dubbed our State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP.
   To develop the SWAP, staff first gathered as much information as possible about the distribution and abundance of Georgia’s plants and animals, focusing primarily on rare or declining species in each of the state's ecoregions (download map). The habitats required by these high-priority species were then identified, as well as problems affecting them and opportunities for conservation. To ensure that the most accurate information available was used, the Wildlife Resources Division upgraded and expanded its statewide biodiversity and conservation lands databases.
   After identifying species and habitats most at risk, staff and collaborators explored methods for recovery and restoration. They prioritized 78 actions to address conservation needs. Five major conservation themes were identified as crucial for maintaining Georgia’s biological diversity:   The State Wildlife Grants program makes applying these conservation themes and recommendations possible. The DNR receives about $1.6 million annually for biological research, land acquisition, habitat restoration and other conservation projects.
DNR at work on Altamaha   Since the SWAP’s completion in 2005, more than 40,000 acres of high-priority lands have been acquired for management by DNR. An additional 150,000-plus acres have been protected through conservation easements or acquisition by other conservation organizations. Prescribed burning, invasive species control, and native vegetation restoration have enhanced high-priority habitats on public and private conservation lands.  Data gathered from expanded survey and monitoring efforts has helped manage populations of amphibians, coastal shorebirds, sea turtles and rare plants. Recovery efforts for federally-listed species, technical assistance programs for landowners, and environmental education have all benefited from the resources and direction provided through the SWAP.
   Although the plan boasts many successes, federal guidelines stipulate an update within 10 years for states to continue receiving State Wildlife Grants funding. Wildlife Resources recently began a two-year SWAP revision process that will address changing environmental conditions and new conservation issues such as emerging wildlife diseases and the spread of invasive exotic species. New data from wildlife monitoring and habitat surveys also will be incorporated, as well as information related to climate change.
   This updated plan will not only continue to benefit Georgia's wildlife, but will also help meet regional and national conservation goals.

State Wildlife what?
In 2001, recognizing that the nation’s wildlife populations were at risk of decline, Congress created the State Wildlife Grants program to provide stable, long-term funding for wildlife conservation. Through this program, every state and territory receives federal funding annually to go toward cost-effective ways of conserving rare animals and plants. The amount allocated is set by a formula that accounts for the state’s size and population.

This article begins a multipart series on the SWAP. Coming next month: Rare fish, restoration needs on the Toccoa.

Linda May is the environmental outreach coordinator with the Nongame Conservation Section.

Service project at Ohoopee Dunes
Lessons learned at Ohoopee
   Last fall, the Swainsboro Forest Blade had an article about Swainsboro/Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Department of Natural Resources representatives meeting to discuss how they could work together to clean up the natural community, increase eco-tourism and preserve natural resources at Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area.
   Maurice McNeal, a state Department of Juvenile Justice field supervisor, was paying attention.
   Soon after, he called DNR botanist Mincy Moffett requesting his help with a youth service learning project. McNeal wanted his group of young men, involved in the Highly Intensive Team Supervision Program, to join the conservation efforts at Ohoopee Dunes. The natural area, along with nearby conservation tracts, covers nearly 3,000 acres along the upper Little Ohoopee River.
   McNeal and Moffett set a workday: Dec. 23. This would be an early Christmas present for the Ohoopee Dunes, Moffett decided.
   Two days before Christmas, two vans from Emanuel and Toombs counties pulled into the kiosk area off U.S. 80. Six young men climbed out and looked around, as if not quite sure what they were doing there. Moffett greeted them and began to talk about the importance of the natural area, giving them a short lesson on the natural and geological history of the dune system. He also quizzed them on their own interactions with nature: Only one had ever really engaged in an outdoor activity, and then only rarely.
   “I felt excited, and challenged at the same time,” Moffett said. “These were urban youth and I was trying hard to bridge the gap, to make this project seem interesting and relevant so they would enjoy it. And I think they were interested because they listened and asked questions, which was great.”
   After an hour of learning, Moffett and the young men got to work, cleaning up an illegal dump on the natural area’s McLeod Bridge unit near the Little Ohoopee. They spent nearly three hours mostly hauling away garbage and construction debris, including large blocks of concrete, but also continuing to have teaching moments.
   Such as when the teens spotted a non-venomous scarlet kingsnake (pictured above) after removing a piece of concrete.
   Although scared at first, the boys, under Moffett’s guidance, soon learned that snakes play an important role in the ecosystem of Ohoopee Dunes and other areas of the state. Moffett also reminded them it is illegal to kill a non-venomous snake in Georgia.
   “They were such hard workers and got an amazing amount of work done in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “It is important to understand that this wasn’t just manual labor, this was the opportunity to teach them about nature and civic responsibility.”
   Moffett said the group has plans to clean up another illegal dump in May, this one on the area’s Hall’s Bridge unit.

Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area

  • One of Georgia’s most significant natural communities and floristic areas. Comprised of three tracts in southwestern Emanuel County.
  • Natural communities vary from dry (xeric) dunes and longleaf pine forests to moist hardwood hammocks and river floodplains.
  • Contains nine protected plant or animal species and more than 10 of conservation-concern. More than a dozen other rare and protected species are known to occur nearby within Emanuel County. 
  • DNR also cooperates in managing an adjacent tract owned by The Nature Conservancy and another nearby tract owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • The central topographic feature of the tracts is a spine or ridge of ancient Kershaw sand dunes known as riverine sandhills.
  • Learn more about Ohoopee Dunes and Southeast Georgia nongame at the Pine Tree Festival and Southeast Timber EXPO, April 24-May 5 in Swainsboro.

Out my backdoor
They’re eating my flowers!
By Terry W. Johnson
   Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year. Many love spring because this is when Mother Nature pulls out all the stops and stages the year’s most spectacular floral show. Woodlands, yards, fields and roadsides become integral parts of a floral tapestry that stretches across the state.
   Consequently, we don’t like it when something happens that hastens the demise of the beautiful blossoms. When a late cold frost, heavy winds or pelting rains cause spring flowers to fall prematurely, we grumble and rue the fact that we will have to wait until next year to again revel in spring's beauty.
   However, when some folks look out their window and see birds munching on buds or flowers, it’s Katy, bar the door! To their way of thinking, although they can’t change the weather, they can try keep pesky birds from dining on their favorite plants.
Cardinal in redbud   It might come as a surprise to you that some birds regularly eat buds and blossoms. A few years ago, a fellow called me upset because birds were eating blossoms on his prized apple tree. It seems that a flock of hungry cedar waxwings had tried to devour every last bloom. This meant he wouldn’t be enjoying any apples later in the year.
   The cedar waxwing is one of the few birds that eats buds, flowers and young leaves. Cedar waxwings seem to eat blossoms most often during their spring migration to breeding grounds. In fact, spring-blooming plants are more apt to be eaten by birds than flowers that bloom later in the year.
   Other birds that share the strange habit of eating flowers are northern cardinals (pictured above), house and purple finches, northern mockingbirds, blue jays, evening grosbeaks and American goldfinches, to name a few. Some plants affected include pear, apple, peach, plum, crabapple, cherry, red maple and forsythia.
   One morning a couple of years ago, I was wondering where the goldfinches that had been feeding in my backyard on sunflower and nyger seed had gone. Later that day I found them eating the flowers festooning a red maple in my front yard.
   While people sometimes get irate when they see a bird dining on buds and blossoms, in truth, the birds rarely cause severe damage to the plants. In some situations this natural pruning of excess blossoms actually aides the plant. Purple finches, for example, have been credited with helping fruit trees produce larger fruit.
   Why do birds eat buds and flowers? Simply, they are nutritious. Some experts claim that flowers have more food value than buds. As such, birds that eat these attractive foods have an advantage over birds that don’t.
   Look at it this way, since food is often extremely scarce in late winter and early spring, birds that consume buds and flowers have a more abundant source of food than those having a very hard time finding anything to eat.
   With that in mind, if you spot birds eating flowers and buds in your yard this spring, I hope you won’t mind sacrificing some blossoms to birds whose beauty adds so much to the colorful spring show being staged just outside your backdoor.
   Read about an 1800s bounty on bud-eating birds in Terry’s complete column online!

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

A bud in the bill …

  • Bobwhite quail are particularly fond of yellow jasmine blooms. In a study conducted by legendary quail biologist Herb Stoddard, yellow jasmine blossoms made up 25 percent of the food consumed by seven of the 19 quail he studied.
  • House finches seem to have a special fondness for forsythia. Nurserymen in the Northeast have reported that house finches often damage their forsythia plants by eating emerging buds.

In middle Georgia
A slice of herp heaven
   Talbot, Taylor, Marion and Schley counties make up one of the richest regions for amphibians and reptiles in North America, this side of Mexico.
   That’s according to a recently reported survey by University of Georgia and Auburn University research teams that documented 62 species and 36 new county records for the middle Georgia counties and nearby areas in seven days during fall and spring 2008.
Reptiles and amphibians found in area.   The results, published in the current Southeastern Naturalist, rank this slice of Georgia fourth in “residual species richness” compared to similar-sized yet more studied areas north of Mexico, including Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, “heralded for its amphibian diversity.” Add species documented or likely in the area and the herpetofauna lineup where the Pine Mountain and Fall Line sandhills regions meet could top the continent, according to Auburn doctoral student Sean Graham, who organized the “bioblitz” and led his school’s team.
   “At this point, nothing surprises me in that area,” Graham said.
   The Southeast is ground zero for herp diversity north of Mexico. But the Pine Mountain/Fall Line sandhills combo provides a physiographic jolt, blending species such as wood frogs (top right in photo montage) normally found farther north with Coastal Plain creatures like eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (bottom right) at the northernmost edge of their range.
   “It’s just a point of geographic position where you’re right at the intersection of these groups,” said John Maerz, assistant professor at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
   The survey focused on the four counties to highlight the area’s qualification as a biodiversity hot spot, a region with “the most species under the most threat,” Graham explained. While rich in species, the Pine Mountain/Fall Line sandhills ecotone is scarce in conservation lands. Exceptions include F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Sprewell Bluff State Outdoor Recreation Area and Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area.
   The survey also underscored the effectiveness of bioblitz competitions. In this one, two school teams of students and professors raced to find the most species in seven days split across two seasons. Findings were translated into residual richness, a measure common to herpetofauna research that relates species diversity to an area’s size.
   The results, combined with the loss of habitat such as native longleaf pine-turkey oak forests and the lack of protected lands, highlight the region as a conservation focal point for amphibians and reptiles in the U.S. and Canada, according to the report.
   “We’re arguing that this is a no-brainer,” Graham said.

Survey sidelights
  • To answer the inevitable, Auburn won the bioblitz, which awards points by species, with rare creatures earning more. Graham pointed out that Auburn has won all five herp bioblitzes with UGA. Maerz commended the Auburn team but countered that Auburn has been known to change the rules in the face of a strong UGA challenge.
  • Healthy competition aside, wildlife and students benefit from the blitzes. The winner even gets a homemade trophy that heralds, well, snake biology.
  • Surprise finds included an alligator snapping turtle, a state-protected species common farther south, and a greater siren.
  • Graham said a seepage salamander and an American toad were documented in the counties after the bioblitz. The discoveries enhance the area’s herp profile. Maerz agrees, saying that although regionally important, Pine Mountain/Fall Line sandhills has been under the radar.
  • Report authors and bioblitz leaders included Graham, fellow Auburn doctoral student David Steen, recent UGA graduates Kerry Nelson and Andrew Durso, and Maerz.

Whooping cranes at Carters Lake

Wild encounters
Tall surprise at Carters Lake
   Joshua Spence of Chatsworth regularly “birds” Murray and Gordon counties. But he spotted something new while checking Carters Lake for spring arrivals on March 23.
   Two whooping cranes.
   “When I first saw them from far off, I thought they must be great egrets,” Joshua wrote. “I was very surprised to see two whoopers in my binoculars.”
   He reported the birds, his first sightings of the endangered cranes, to the Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Joshua, leg bands indicated that these were a 6-year-old and his 3-year-old female mate (above) that had recently left Florida on their long return migration north to Wisconsin.
   “Very nice to see them migrating through Georgia,” Joshua added.
   And very nice of him to share the experience.
   Tell us about your wild encounters! E-mail details (in 200 or fewer words) and any images, plus your name, hometown and permission to use the submitted material to rick.lavender@dnr.state.ga.us.

For longleaf, it’s all in the timing
By Nathan Klaus
   Longleaf pine has long had a reputation for being a difficult species to regenerate. As a result, for decades timber producers preferred its kin – slash pine and loblolly pine – and Georgia lost an important part of its natural heritage.
   Most of Georgia’s longleaf pine forests were logged in the 1920s. In many areas, loggers simply moved on after removing the best trees. Lacking fire, these stands failed to regenerate and in many state lands, including Sprewell Bluff Natural Area and F.D. Roosevelt State Park in the southwestern Piedmont’s Pine Mountain region, there are scattered old longleaf trees with an unnatural hardwood forest growing up around where longleaf had been. 
Longleaf pine seedling and cone   Today, land managers are working hard to bring the longleaf back, and several burns conducted last year are doing just that. One reason that longleaf are difficult to recover is that they only produce a good seed crop, known as a cone year, about once every seven to 10 years. Cone years are highly unpredictable; however, cones take two years to mature before they release their seeds.
   In 2008, land managers at F.D. Roosevelt and Sprewell Bluff noticed the beginnings of a good cone year – thousands of small cones clustered in the crowns of the giant longleaf. Burn plans for the natural area and the park were stepped up to get as many acres burned as possible to capture this seed and provide bare ground for the young longleaf to germinate.
   More than 400 acres were burned on F.D. Roosevelt in 2009, the largest burn up to that time.  Over 1,000 acres on Sprewell Bluff were burned the same year.
   The result? A hike I led a few weekends ago documented millions of longleaf seedlings established across these properties. While most won’t survive, many will, helping ensure that Pine Mountain will continue to be true to its name, providing room for the globally endangered montane longleaf forest to prosper for centuries to come!
   Nathan Klaus is a senior wildlife biologist with the Nongame Conservation Section.

Parting shot
Florida panther with young
This rare photograph of a Florida panther followed by two kittens was a sweet sight for researchers and conservation groups that worked for years to restore the panther’s habitat. Even more sweet, the photo, taken from a plane, shows the endangered cats in Picayune Strand, 55,000 Everglades acres once targeted for development but now conserved as a critical part of the panther’s remaining habitat. More on Florida panther kittens.

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