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Give wildlife a chance
Did you know that you can support wildlife conservation in Georgia through your income tax return? The Give Wildlife a Chance checkoff is this easy: Fill in an amount more than $1 on line 26 of the long state income tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500-EZ). Then deduct the contribution from your refund or add it to payment. Georgia DNR's Nongame Conservation Section receives no state funding to conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. We depend on contributions, grants and fundraisers, like the income tax checkoff. The Give Wildlife a Chance checkoff makes up about 10 percent of revenue to the state's Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Bottom line: Your checkoff counts!

Here are other ways to help:
* Buy a conservation license plate.
* Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section.
* Join TERN, the Nongame Conservation Section's friends group.
* Use GoodSearch for your Internet searches (enter "Georgia Nongame Conservation Fund" under "Who do you GoodSearch for" and click "Verify").

WILD Facts
Even if you’re not a biologist, you can help monitor bird population health. How? By participating in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count! Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this citizen science event is set for Feb. 18-21. Just count birds from a favorite place (perhaps your yard or a nature center) for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the days. Record the highest number of each species you see together at any one time. Then enter your checklist at By combining your count information with other nationwide data, the Great Backyard Bird Count provides an early warning system for birds in need of conservation help.
In education
The Garden Club of Georgia has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships to Georgia college students over the last two years. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2011. Applicants must be majoring in a garden-related field, enrolled at an accredited Georgia college or university, and have lived in the state the last four years. Scholarships, which ranged in 2010-2011 from $1,000 to $5,000, are awarded based on need, scholastic record, character, initiative and general commitment to the field of study. Learn more: online, e-mail (, phone (706-227-5369).

Ranger reports
Slammed in Seminole: When Ranger 1st Class Jeff Phillips heard gunfire from a suspected duck shoot Jan. 22 in Seminole County, he called Sgt. Rick Sellars for help. The officers found the group at a pond near the Chattahoochee River. While Phillips checked licenses, Sellars checked the pond and found it baited with corn. He also found a red-shouldered hawk that had been shot. Six hunters were cited for hunting waterfowl over bait, three for hunting without a Georgia waterfowl license and one for hunting with lead shot. A juvenile was given verbal guidance concerning these violations and for shooting the hawk. The hawk and 23 ducks were confiscated.

coldwater darter
Up close
Coldwater darter
Etheostoma ditrema
Family: Percidae
Description: Coldwater darters are small (maximum length 2.6 inches).  Typically mottled brown, with brown banding on median fins, a distinct vertical stripe below each eye, and three dark spots vertically aligned at the base of the caudal fin. Also has an incomplete lateral line forming a pale stripe on the anterior half of the body.
Range: Endemic to the Coosa River basin of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. A recent phylogenetic analysis concluded that the coldwater darter comprises at least three valid species, one of which is largely restricted to Georgia. Within the state, this species is known from the Etowah, Conasauga, Coosa and Oostanaula river systems, but is presumed extirpated from the Etowah (distribution map).
Habitat: Primarily limestone springs and spring runs in Ridge and Valley physiographic province. Found in association with aquatic plants and organic debris in areas with slow or no current. Plant species utilized include watercress, milfoil, eelgrass and aquatic mosses. Occasional specimens have been found in the Conasauga River near the Georgia-Tennessee boundary. It is unknown whether these individuals represent river-dwelling populations or strays from springs connected to the river.
Diet: Mainly small crustaceans (especially amphipods) and insect larvae.
Life history: Normally lives only two years; thus, successful spawning every year is essential to populations. Spawning may occur March-September. Females attach adhesive eggs to vegetation; there is apparently no-post spawning parental care.
Threats: Small number of extant populations is the greatest threat to the persistence of this species in Georgia. Almost all populations are isolated from each other by long distances, limiting opportunities for recolonization after local population loss. Species requires vegetated springs, which are extremely vulnerable to water supply development, recreational use and abuse, vegetation control practices (e.g., herbicides), and development. For example, conversion to a concrete-bottom swimming pool has probably eliminated the coldwater darter from one of the historic sites in Whitfield County (Conasauga system). Without specific protection, the coldwater darter is vulnerable to extirpation as a result of the loss of spring habitats.
Conservation status: In Georgia, as of 2009, the coldwater darter has only been documented from 13 sites. Persistence at seven of the sites has been documented since 2000. The species is either extirpated or extremely rare at the remaining sites. The state changed the species status from threatened to endangered in 2006. Although the coldwater darter’s range has been well-surveyed, the small size of springs and their occurrence on private lands suggest the possibility of additional, undiscovered populations. Species global conservation status: critically imperiled. Species is not federally listed.
Conservation and management: Conservation strategy should focus on protecting and monitoring remaining populations. Springs are vulnerable to contamination from runoff of sediment and pollutants, excessive water withdrawal, and destruction. Yet, the localized nature of springs also makes them relatively easy to protect – leaving large buffers of native vegetation around occupied springs and downstream runs; using best management practices with land-disturbing activities upstream; reducing sedimentation, chemical and nutrient runoff; and avoiding hydrologic changes. Occupied springs should not be stocked with predatory fishes.

Source: Georgia Wildlife Resources Division rare species accounts

Nongame in the news
The Athens Banner-Herald: "Mass bird deaths tied to fireworks," research including Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study points to post-fireworks collisions as reason for thousands of dead blackbirds in Arkansas. (Jan. 29)
The Miami Herald: "Officers trap 14 1/2-foot python in Fla. woods," wildlife officials say "well fed" African rock python had been someone's pet. (Jan. 28)
The Macon Telegraph: "Wildlife tag sales fall, but conservation revenues expected to rise," decrease in sales and increase in revenue follow new specialty plate fees. (Jan. 27)
UPI: "Calls regulation of rare-plant sales," University of Notre Dame research finds almost 10 percent of threatened or endangered plants sold online. (Jan. 27)
Rome News-Tribune: "Rare whooping cranes back in Rome area," seven whoopers hanging out at Weiss Lake. (Jan. 27)
The Washington Post: "Jefferson the hawk leaves the Library of Congress," video of Cooper's hawk that took shelter in Library captured for rehabilitation. (Jan. 27)
The Augusta Chronicle: "State cypresses endangered," Southern Environmental Law Center cypress forests among top 10 most imperiled habitats. (Jan. 19) Related coverage: Florida Times-Union.
The New York Times: "Conspiracies don’t kill birds. People, however, do," assessing the estimated death toll of 5 billion birds a year in the U.S. (Jan. 18).
The (Gainesville) Times: "Avian world aflutter over rare sighting of a hummingbird in South Hall yard," Allen's hummer drawers birders to Gainesville-area backyard. (Jan. 6)
WALB-TV (Albany): "Whooping cranes found dead," carcasses of three first-year cranes discovered by hunters in Clay County. (Jan. 5)
Related coverage: Reward grows, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Vancouver Sun: "North Atlantic right whale freed from rope closely monitored," young female whale partially disentangled from fishing lines of Florida coast. (Jan. 5) Related coverage: Whale sedated and disentangled, Savannah Morning News.
The Macon Telegraph: "State’s purchase of Oaky Woods finalized in Dec.," $29 million acquisition sealed with final land survey. (Jan. 5)
The Augusta Chronicle: "Algae linked to death of eagles again," AVM blamed in death of at least five eagles this winter at Thurmond Lake. (Jan. 4)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "St. Simons to get 600-acre nature preserve," Chicago foundation plans to buy 600-acre Cannon's Point, once held by Sea Island Co. (Jan. 3)
Rome News-Tribune: "Local activist named among '100 Most Influential Georgians'," list includes Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative. (January)
Savannah Morning News: "In Savannah, birds count," volunteers focus on Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count. (Jan. 2)
The Augusta Chronicle: "Fee for yearlong pass could help fund wildlife areas," public meetings air proposal for charging visitor fees to users other than hunters and anglers at wildlife management areas. (Dec. 25) Related coverage: Florida Times-Union.
The Florida Times-Union: "Southeast Georgia landowners may apply for longleaf pine preservation funds," share of $5 million in federal funds targets longleaf preservation and restoration. (Dec. 23)

Feb. 4-5: Weekend for Wildlife (Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund fundraiser), Sea Island.
Feb. 25-26: Georgia River Network annual conference, Roswell.
Photo credits (from top):
* Masthead: As part of a NOAA Fisheries Service disentanglement team, DNR Nongame Conservation Section staff cut the remaining ropes off a sedated North Atlantic right whale Jan. 15 off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
* Eastern indigo snake in Liberty County. Dirk J. Stevenson
* DNR senior biologists John Jensen checks a gopher tortoise burrow for indigo snakes. Rick Lavender/Ga. DNR
* Dirk Stevenson of The Orianne Society shows a black racer caught by conservation biologist Andy Day. Rick Lavender/Ga. DNR
* Coldwater darter. Dave Neely
* Question mark butterfly. Terry W. Johnson
* DNR scientists working with NOAA Fisheries Service approach the young North Atlantic right whale they disentangled off Florida earlier this month. EcoHealth Alliance. Note: This photo, the masthead image and the videos were taken under NOAA Permit No. 9321489 under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
* Retiring U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Dave Jensen (center) is presented a certificate from the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance by, from left to right, DNR' botany intern Carrie Radcliffe, herpetologist Thomas Floyd and botanist Mincy Moffett. Ga. DNR
* TERN grant recipient Lori Jackson of Barnett Shoals Elementary in Athens is pictured (center, right) with her third-grade class and, left to right, Pete Griffin of Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Ron Lee of TERN and Anna Yellin of the Nongame Conservation Section. Ga. DNR

Georgia Wild
volume 4, issue 1

This is: A free monthly e-newsletter produced by DNR and focused on nongame. Subscribe or see previous issues.

Nongame: Wildlife not legally trapped, fished for or hunted, plus native plants and natural habitats.

We are: The Wildlife Resources Division's Nongame Conservation Section. Our mission: Conserve and protect Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. It's worth repeating that we depend on grants, donations and fundraisers such as nongame license plate sales, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund state income tax checkoff and Weekend for Wildlife.

Buy a tag: Nongame license plates – the eagle and hummingbird – are available at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms and through online renewal.

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'The only snakes you'll see
on the surface in the cold are big'

Winter survey maps way
to monitor Georgia's indigos

eastern indigo snake

   On a cold but sunny December day, Dirk Stevenson is hustling through stretches of spindly oaks, sparse brush and deep sand in Wheeler County’s backwoods. His eyes are on the ground. His focus: Finding indigo snakes.  “The only snakes you’ll see on the surface in the cold are big,” Stevenson says.
    For eastern indigos, big means – well – big. This federally threatened species found in sandhills habitats across south Georgia is North America’s largest non-venomous snake. Indigos can reach more than 8 feet in length and weigh up to 9 pounds.
    Stevenson is leading a new survey for The Orianne Society, a Georgia-based nonprofit working to conserve and restore indigo populations, and Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. The project will estimate indigo occupancy rates by checking gopher tortoise burrows and other winter habitat on 35 private and public land sites in the lower Altamaha River drainage. From November to March, the snakes’ range is constricted, prime time to develop a system for monitoring the protected species.
    On this day in mid-December, Stevenson teams with senior wildlife biologist John Jensen of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section and conservation biologist Andy Day to flag active gopher tortoise burrows east of Scottsboro. Stevenson, Orianne’s director of inventory and monitoring, also John Jensen searching for indigos.hopes to catch an indigo sunning. The snake’s dark color functions as a wrap-around heater in winter.
    But indigos have more than warmth in mind during December: They’re searching for mates.
    Stevenson and Jensen search the turkey oak woods and scrub, tying fluorescent tape on limbs near tortoise burrows and scanning for snakes, tracks and shed skins. Each man occasionally drops to the ground by a burrow. Crouching or lying flat, they use hand-sized mirrors to angle sunlight into the dark tunnels.  Jensen spots a gopher tortoise deep in one.
    The relationship between indigos and gopher tortoises is take and give. Indigos use the burrows for shelter year-round, ignoring all but young tortoises, which they will eat. Adult tortoises are too big.
   “They’re indifferent about each other when they’re adult size,” Stevenson says of the two species.
    But the habitat connection is critical. Indigos depend on the burrows, which the tortoises dig far into xeric sands that range from 8 to 30 feet deep.
    Sandhills support another well-known reptile. Sprawled out beside a burrow, Stevenson reflects a shaft of light across a thick coil of tan and black: the side of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The continent’s venomous snake heavyweight also favors tortoise burrows and, like indigos, is a species in decline.
Dirk Stevenson with black racer    Big diamondbacks are common in winter, too. Yet, despite finding two shed indigo skins and other tantalizing signs, the only above-ground snake the biologists spot is a small, injured black racer that Day nabs.
    Stevenson and Jensen aren’t discouraged. The habitat is good. The project, in its pilot year, is promising. “We hope to make this a long-term monitoring project where we’ll be able to evaluate population trends in the snake’s current stronghold region,” Jensen says.
    The work will add to DNR’s earlier sandhills survey, plus the ongoing four-state project to restore nearly 38,000 acres of sandhills, benefiting species from indigos to Bachman’s sparrows.

Birding contest for young
and … well, just the young
   Tim Keyes’ hope for the 2011 Youth Birding Competition is more birders, not just more birds.
   “We always like to see the (bird) numbers increase, but hopefully we’ll see some more kids,” Keyes said.
   Greater participation fits the event’s long-term focus of cultivating a deep interest in wildlife and wildlife conservation. The good news: Bird and youth totals have been on the rise since Georgia DNR joined with TERN and other partners to begin the 24-hour birdathon in 2007. Teams totaling more than 130 birders ages 6-18 and ranging from first-timers to veterans reported an amazing 184 bird species last year.
    There are about 200 bird species in Georgia during mid-spring.
    The 2011 competition is April 16-17. Register by March 31. The awards banquet is again at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
    The competition includes a T-shirt art contest – enter by March 1 – and nature journal category, two areas in which Keyes and art contest coordinator Linda May also welcome more entries.
    “There are so many different ways to appreciate birds other than just counting them,” Keyes said.
   Participation in the birding competition is encouraged but not required to submit artwork for the T-shirt art contest.
    Competition details.

Don't forget wildlife poster contest!
Celebrate Georgia’s wildlife diversity through the Give Wildlife a Chance Powildlife poster contest imagester Contest.  The conservation competition is open to K- 5th-grade students statewide. This year’s theme: “Celebrating Georgia’s Wildlife from the Mountains to the Sea.” The top 12 winners in the 21st annual contest will be displayed at the Go Fish Education Center. The registration deadline is March 21. Learn more!

Out my backdoor
Butterflies: winter wonders
By Terry W. Johnson
Backyards that harbor an abundance of wildlife are indeed special places. Regardless of the time of the year, they provide homeowners with limitless opportunities to watch the coming and going of an amazing array of wildlife.  If you have such a yard, you might even see a butterfly there in December.  A few weeks ago I spotted one outside my backdoor.
   As you recall, December proved unseasonably cold. However, Dec. 31 was cut from a different bolt of cloth. On the last day of 2010, the sky was sunny, the thermometer soared into the 70s and it felt more like spring than winter.
question mark butterfly   My wife and I took this rare opportunity to explore our yard. As we slowly walked slowly around, it became immediately apparent that a buzz of activity was going on. A single bloom adorning the otherwise barren branches of a forsythia bush near our barn caught our attention. Moving on, we paused and watched chipping sparrows fussing with one another over white millet seeds at one of our bird feeders. A feeder stocked with black oil sunflower seeds drew a stream of tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees. Within seconds of alighting on the feeder, each bird snatched a seed and flew to a nearby flowering dogwood festooned with bright red berries. There, the birds chiseled open the seed’s hard coat and devoured the grayish white meat.
   Off to our right, a mockingbird attacked a pair of bluebirds each time they tried to enter a log nesting structure. The mockingbird had no problem with the birds using the nesting site; it simply didn’t want them close to the nearby berries.
   Almost simultaneously, a dark butterfly winging its way toward the front yard caught our attention. While it was moving too fast to positively identify, I am fairly certain that it was a question mark.
   The question mark (pictured) is a member of a small group of butterflies that can be seen in the Peach State flying about on warm winter days. This short list includes such species as the American snout, eastern comma, mourning cloak, sleepy orange, common buckeye and little sulphur.  
   Most of Georgia’s 170-plus species of butterflies survive the winter as eggs, caterpillars or pupae. Monarchs and most cloudless sulphurs escape cold weather by migrating to warmer climes. The adult butterflies that we occasionally see during the winter spend most of their time hibernating in such places as hollow trees, log piles, beneath the loose bark on trees, behind the shutters on your house or in abandoned buildings.
   They will only venture forth when temperatures rise well above freezing. When things cool down, these gossamer-winged insects return to their protective shelters.
   The reason for this behavior is that butterflies are cold-blooded animals. For all practical purposes, they unable to regulate their body temperature like warm-blooded animal such as raccoons, white-tailed deer or the family dog. Consequently, they are at the mercy of the temperature of the air surrounding them. When it is cold, they are cold.
   Butterflies are very active when temperatures range between 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit. At the other end of the spectrum, when temperatures drop too low, butterflies cannot contract the muscles that allow them to fly.  Typically, temperatures have to be at least 65 degrees to enable most butterflies to fly.
   Most sightings in winter are chance encounters. However, to increase your odds:
  • Look for butterflies basking on the sunny sides of buildings, sunlit driveways and sidewalks.
  • Look for active yellow-bellied sapsucker holes in the trunks of the trees in your yard. While excavated by sapsuckers for their use, a number of other animals, including wintering hummingbirds, chickadees, squirrels and butterflies, feed on the sugary sap welling up in the tiny reservoirs.
   Believe me, it is exciting to find a butterfly on the wing in winter.  Whenever I see one, I can’t help but think that spring, that time of renewal, is just weeks away.
For advice on butterfly houses and "handling" mourning cloaks, read Terry's full column.
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 of the Nongame Conservation Section. (Permission is required to reprint this column.)

Log homes for winter wings
Want to provide a winter shelter for butterflies that fly in winter? Build a log pile. A log pile for butterflies should be constructed by crisscrossing logs atop one another. This provides lots of open spaces within the pile. Lay roofing shingles between the top two layers of logs to help protect butterflies hibernating within the pile from rain and snow.

Batman to the rescue
   As an educator at McDuffie Environmental Education Center in Dearing, Dot Kay spends hours teaching children and adults about Georgia’s natural resources. The job doesn’t always yield visible results but a recent encounter helped Kay understand how she’s making a difference.
   While out shopping, Kay was approached by a woman whose son, a first-grader, had attended one of Kay’s programs about bats in October. The woman said a few weekends after the program she was shocked to find “hundreds” of bats inside  her storage building. She ran screaming to her house and told her husband to get rid of the bats immediately,  in any way possible.
   Their son overheard and began pleading with his parents not to hurt the bats. He had learned in Kay’s program that bats were beneficial and ate large numbers of insects.
   His pleas worked.
   In a quick Internet search, his parents found information about the benefits of bats and how to exclude them from buildings without harming them. They used a simple technique to cover the vents in the shed and the bats are now excluded from the building.  
   The boy – now nicknamed Batman – even built a bat house with his grandfather to hang up at their farm, providing the bats another shelter to use.
   “The teachers and kids really enjoyed the bat programs and thanks to this mom … I know that some of the info stuck!” Kay said. “This is what teaching environmental education is all about.”
   Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division operates six regional environmental education centers across the state in partnerships with local school systems, Regional Educational Service Agencies, and other state and federal agencies. There's also the new Go Fish Education Center in Perry. Wildlife biologists participate in education programs as much as possible.
   Visit to learn more bat conservation in Georgia. For information about bat exclusion and bat boxes, check out Bat Conservation International.

disentangling right whale
   A NOAA-led effort
including Georgia DNR Nongame Conservation Section employees used sedation to help free a young North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear. Many viewed this video showing DNR senior wildlife biologist Mark Dodd cutting lines off the female whale, only the second time a whale has been successfully sedated on the open ocean. The effort made headlines worldwide, including one in a United Kingdom newspaper that quipped: “Giant whale is a lucky blubber.”
   DNR’s Board of Natural Resources condemned the shooting death of three endangered whooping cranes in south Georgia’s Calhoun County. The board and the DNR Foundation also contributed $4,800 toward the arrest and successful prosecution of the shooters. TERN, the Nongame Conservation Friends group, recently committed $2,500 and the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation added $1,000, helping boost to $21,800 the reward fund supported by conservation, sportsmen and other groups varying from Georgia Ornithological Society to the Georgia Conservancy.
   Winter hummers have drawn attention from Hall County to Liberty County. An Allen’s hummingbird was recently trapped, ID’d and released near Gainesville, while an unidentified hummer visiting a window feeder at Colonel’s Island is still captivating homeowners Pam and John Henderson.
    Dave Jensen spent 22 of his 37 years with the U.S. Forest Service in Georgia. As part of a larger ceremony, the retiring district rangeDave Jensen honoredr was honored Jan. 21 with a certificate from the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance recognizing his accomplishments in rare plant conservation. Jensen, pictured (center) with Nongame Conservation Section’s Carrie Radcliffe, Thomas Floyd and Mincy Moffett, was instrumental in restoring rare mountain bog and oak/pine woodland flora, including purple mountain pitcherplant, swamp pink, smooth coneflower and Georgia aster.
   This one's a natural: Seeds from rare pondberry plants at Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area were propagated by Atlanta Botanical Garden and outplanted at Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area ("Parting shots," December 2010) – literally, one natural area contributing to the restoration of another.

Parting shot
Lori Jackson's class
Third-grade teacher Lori Jackson of Barnett Shoals Elementary in Athens says a $1,000 Nongame Conservation Grant has helped her class and school “see how real conservation and recycling takes place on a daily and weekly basis.” Among other things, students have established a waste recycling program, composting lunch leftovers and creating recycling stations. The grant funded by TERN, an advocate for the Nongame Conservation Section, is designed to recognize and support the work of an exceptional third-grade teacher who demonstrates energy and innovation in teaching life sciences. Read the full story!

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