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Ga. DNR nongame e-newsletter
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MAY 2011

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Give wildlife a chance
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. Meaning we depend largely on you!
How to help?
* 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 (enter "Georgia Nongame Conservation Fund" under "Who do you GoodSearch for" and click "Verify").
* Join TERN, the Nongame Conservation Section's friends group.

WILD Facts
Do you have bats in your belfry? Maybe not, but you could have them in your attic. Georgia’s bats mate and rear young from May through July, and they often find the louvers in your attic vents as good places to do so. As long as your vent screens are intact, bats will stay on the outside of the screen and won’t get inside your attic. When the young are about a month old and can fly, the whole colony often leaves. However, the same bats may return next year. Bats are beneficial insect-eaters and killing them is illegal. Visit or for more information.
-- Linda May
In education
The summer Invasive Plant Control Workshop organized by the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council will focus on identifying, controlling and mapping exotic invasives. The workshop is scheduled for June 17 at UGA’s Griffin Campus. Details.

D.C. talk
With 2011 funding set for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, wildlife agencies are eyeing negotiations for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The request for "the most robust funding possible" cites President Obama's budget proposal for $95 million and calls for continuing the 35 percent match required to receive grants. State Wildlife Grants, the core program for keeping the nation's wildlife from becoming endangered, were cut 31 percent this year.

Did you see ...

Greenfly orchid
Up close

Greenfly orchid
Epidendrum conopseum R. Brown
Key characteristics: Small perennial herb that grows on trees and rocks. Leafy stems attach to orchid’s substrate by a mass of roots. Marked by glossy evergreen leaves, greenfly orchid can be found on shaded limbs of southern magnolia and live oaks, as well as other hardwoods in swamps and on bluffs.
Trademark: Greenfly is the only orchid found on trees in Georgia. It is frequently hidden among the fronds of resurrection fern.
Range: Lives in maritime evergreen oak forest and in outer Coastal Plain. Found across the Southeast’s Coastal Plain from North Carolina to Louisiana. Eastern Mexico has a separate population.
Habitat: Old-growth forests, mostly live oak or hardwood. These orchids grow along the branches but are not parasitic. They require year-round shade and moisture.
Flowering time: May through the end of July.
Fruit: Small, drooping capsules harden and then burst open, dispersing thousands of tiny seeds. The fruiting period runs from September to January.
ID issues: May be hard to spot because it is small and often grows high in trees. Where greenfly orchids are found on rocks, the evergreen, flowering stems and loosely arranged flowers (greenish-yellow and sometimes tinged with purple) help distinguish it from other orchids.
Cold hardy: Greenfly orchids are the most frost-tolerant of Georgia’s epiphytic orchids.
Status: State-listed as unusual in Georgia, where it has been recorded in 20 counties in the southeastern Coastal Plain. Not federally listed. Considered a high-priority species in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan.
Threats: Timber harvest is the major threat to this species, which grows only in intact old-growth oak forests. Greenfly's frost-tolerant characteristic also make it a target of irresponsible collectors.
About that name: The genus name Epidendrum is derived from the Greek words for “on tree.”
Looking back: Naturalist-explorer William Bartram made the first recorded observation of the greenfly orchid in 1773 while searching for the “discovery of rare and useful productions of nature, chiefly in the vegetable kingdom."
How you can help: Support conservation of old-growth forests and help spread the word about their importance and diversity.

Sources include: “Protected Plants of Georgia” (Georgia DNR); “Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Georgia” (Linda G. Chafin). Also see DNR's rare species profiles online.

   The disease devastating bat populations in the U.S. has spurred a national plan to combat it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the strategy for white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 1 million hibernating bats and spread to 18 states and four Canadian provinces, though not yet to Georgia.
   Sea turtle nesting season is off to a swimming start in Georgia, with more than 250 nests documented since late April. The downside: About 80 strandings of dead or injured turtles have been found, prompting cautions for boaters to slow down and watch for sea turtles (and manatees).
   Sea turtle genetics research led by UGA grad student Brian Shamblin has been expanded from Georgia’s coast to South and North Carolina. The work with DNR and others that identifies a DNA “fingerprint” for each nesting female is providing insights such as the number of nesting turtles, and drawing accolades for Shamblin: UGA’s Stoddard-Burleigh-Sutton award for Wildlife Conservation and best student oral presentation in population assessment at the 2011 International Sea Turtle Symposium.
   The 2011 State of the Birds Report is touted as the first assessment of potential for bird conservation on public lands. According to the report, those habitats support more than 800 bird species, a third of them either listed or considered a species of concern.
   One hundred Alabama shad collected below Lake Seminole’s Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam have been implanted with radio tags. The tags will help determine the success of fish passage efforts at the dam, and pinpoint spawning locations for the anadromous shad in the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers.
   The National Marine Fisheries Service's denial of a petition to list Alabama shad as federally threatened or endangered was based partially on research DNR’s Fisheries Management Section and the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit began in 2005 with State Wildlife Grants funding ("Study key to shad, locks," March-April 2008).  While Alosa alabamae is a species of concern, the petition failed for lack of evidence showing listing is warranted.
   Ten Georgia natural areas have been renamed wildlife management areas. The change for Big Dukes Pond, Zahnd and others follows a DNR Land Management Steering Committee recommendation and will not affect management of the sites, only public confusion over the difference between WMAs and NAs.
   Flatheads are being thinned on the Satilla River -- thankfully. Nearly 27 tons of the invasive catfish have been removed from the Satilla since DNR began a full-time program in 2007.
   Woodward Academy donated $2,500 to the Nongame Conservation Section, money raised by fifth-graders selling Earth Day T-shirts with an eagle on the front. Nongame Conservation Section Program Manager Jim Ozier talked to the students about eagles, and Alan “Smokey” Drury of the Georgia Falconry Association gave them a close look at one.

    Of course, falcons rule in Atlanta, and four raised in a nest at the SunTrust Plaza downtown were banded this month by Ozier and DNR Wildlife Resources Division Director Dan Forster (pictured, at right). The three females and lone male will soon take flight.
   Pete Griffin, outreach coordinator at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, was an early inspiration for a UGA grad student. Ami Flowers told the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources magazine that as a child she saw a program led by “Ranger Pete” and thought, “’I want to do that!’ And here I am today, making natural resources my career.”
   Weekend for Wildlife is the fundraiser that keeps on giving. TERN joined with the Jekyll Island Authority, Coastal Wildscapes, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance and others last month to plant about 100 sea oats used during the 2011 Weekend at Jekyll’s Great Dunes Park.
   The 89 birders at Unicoi State Park’s first Georgia Mountain Birdfest learned a lot and saw a lot. Species spotted included golden-winged and Cerulean warblers, raising the bar for the 2012  Birdfest, set for May 3-6.
   The new Year of the Turtle newsletter profiles longtime Georgia herpetologist Whit Gibbons. In the Q&A, Gibbons says his favorite turtle species is the diamondback terrapin, with its “dreamy eyes of a golden retriever … unassuming face of a manatee …docile temperament of a lamb and beauty of the prettiest seashell.”
    A citizen’s tip led to charges and guilty pleas this spring for a man and a juvenile in the 2009 shooting of a whooping crane in Indiana. The public’s help is also needed for investigations into separate killings of the endangered cranes this winter in Georgia and Alabama.
   When it comes to rare wildlife, the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service hopes a new work plan will allow it to focus on the most at-risk species. A proposal filed in federal court with frequent plaintiff WildEarth will, if accepted by the court, enable the agency to prioritize its work based on needs of more than 250 candidate species.

Sea turtle icon
Tracking sea turtles

A Georgia sea turtle nesting update from*

Nests: 253 (4 lost, 1.5%)
Relocated: 98 (39%)
Eggs estimate: 12,025
Eggs lost: 338 (2.8%)

*As of May 25. Here's a complete look at real-time data and beach reports.

Nongame in the news
WSB-TV (Atlanta): "Invasive plant killing bald eagles in Georgia," DNR Nongame Program Manager Jim Ozier quoted on impact of AVM on eagles at Lake Thurmond. (May 19)
EarthTimes: "Rodent rediscovered and photographed after 113 years," magnificent red-crested tree rat not seen since 1898 reappears ... at an ecolodge in Colombian nature reserve. (May 19)
The Daily (Va.) Press (and others via AP): "Study shows population growth, urbanization could reduce Southern forests over next 50 years," factors may shrink region's forestland by 200 million acres. (May 17)
The Augusta Chronicle: "No one bids on weeds in Savannah River," Augusta Port Authority finds no takers on its weed control program. (May 16)
EzineMark: "Trekking the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center Trail," profile of center's main trail. (May 16)
EurekAlert! "There's no magic number for saving endangered species," new study by UK/US research team offers hope for "too rare to save" species, if conservation efforts target key threats. (May 16)
Savannah Morning News: "Coastal Georgia shrimpers turn to jellyfish to make money," cannonball jellies keeping some shrimpers in business. (May 15) "Country Cuckoos grand champions," Bainbridge team wins DNR's Youth Birding Competition. (May 13)
University of New Hampshire: "Deepwater Horizon spill threatens more species than legally protected, study finds," researchers say 39 additional marine species face elevated risk of extinction. (May 11)
Knoxville News Sentinel: "Knoxville Zoo's herpetology director, bog turtle advocate dies," Bern Tyron championed East Tennessee's bog turtles for 25 years. (May 10)
AmmoLand: "Georgia's rare species profiled online," DNR release announcing updated and expanded rare wildlife accounts. (May 9)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Oak leaves at risk from curious caterpillars," native caterpillar turns pest as its turns its appetite on Georgia's oak trees. (May 5)
Savannah Morning News: "Moore exhibits creative talents," Effingham County second-grader one of 12 winners in Georgia Give Wildlife a Chance Poster Contest held by DNR and State Botanical Garden of Georgia. (May 4)
OurAmazingPlanet: "Nonstop Southern racket is cicadas looking for love," emergence of 13-year cicadas draws media buzz. (May 3) "Rare riverine dunes in South Ga.," online column promotes Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area. (May 1)
Cape Cod Times (and others via AP): "New right whale calf spotted in R.I. Sound," sighting off New England adds to season's total for endangered species. (April 30)
Florida Times-Union: "Endangered leatherback sea turtle kicks off Georgia nesting season," leatherbacks beat loggerheads to the beach again this nesting season. (April 27)
WSAV-TV (Savannah): "Public land in Wayne County, why some say it remains important," DNR's John Evans touts Penholoway Swamp and other local WMAs. (April 27)
Savannah Morning News: "Downtown hotel offers a room with a view, of raptors," red-tailed hawks nest on ledge at Bay Street hotel. (April 27)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: "Prey-tell: Why right whales linger in the Gulf of Maine," migration pattern of copepods may play key role in localized right and sei whale concentrations. (April 26)
WTOC-TV (Savannah) and others: "Sea oats planted on Jekyll Island," TERN-led project to reuse sea oats from 2011 Weekend for Wildlife. (April 16)
The Augusta Chronicle: "Seeking Savannah River's elusive sturgeon," tri-state effort targets better understanding of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. (April 15)
The Gazette (Iowa): "Decorah nest cam just the latest of raptor man’s exploits," meet the man behind the popular eagle nest cam. (April 13)
Georgia Public Broadcasting: "Bald eagle faces new threat," AVM threatens rebounding eagle population. (April 12). Other coverage of DNR's annual eagle surveys: Augusta, Savannah, Bryan County, Atlanta (and others via AP).

June 4: 13th Annual Tybee Island Sea Kayak Races, A-J's Dockside Restaurant. Benefits Tybee Island Marine Science Center.
June 5-6: Natural Resources Conservation Workshop for rising Georgia 10-12th-graders, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton.
June 12-16: Camp Talon (birding camp for teens), St. Simons Island. Rusty Garrison, or (770) 784-3059.
June 20-24: Georgia Forestry Foundation's 7th annual Teacher Conservation Workshop, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Conference Center, Mansfield.
Photo credits (from top)
* In masthead: 13-year cicada. Linda May/Ga. DNR
*Coldwater darter. Brett and Rachel Albanese/Ga. DNR
* Dip-netting tadpoles and newt larvae in seasonal pond at Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area. Matt Elliott/Ga. DNR
* Greenfly orchid. Hugh and Carol Nourse
* Striped newt larvae from Fall Line Sandhills. Ryan C. Means/Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy
* Oval pigtoe. Ga. DNR
* Sandhill at Big Hammock Natural Area. Alan Cressler
* DNR's Jim Ozier and Dan Forster band young peregrine falcons in Atlanta. Emily Woods/McKenna, Long & Aldridge
* Brood 19 cicada emerging from exoskeleton. Terry W. Johnson
* Brood 19 cicadas and exoskeletons in Jasper County, Ga. John Jensen/Ga. DNR
* Clapper rail at St. Simons Island's Bloody Marsh. John Mark Simmons

Georgia Wild
volume 4, issue 5

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 protects 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.

More info:
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State Wildlife Grants at a glance

Expanded online profiles put
Georgia's rare wildlife in focus

   Lavelle Badger has a close-up of conservation in action. With her and her husband’s OK, the DNR, Conasauga River Alliance and Tennessee Aquarium have pumped slugs of sediment from Colvard Spring, helping restore this Murray County haven for state-endangered coldwater darters ("Five-star recognition," February 2011).
   The spring has been in Lavelle’s family for generations. “We feel a responsibility to help in whatever way we can to protect what God has given us,” she said.
   Not all Georgia landowners have rare wildlife on their property, but all can Coldwater darterlearn more about conserving at-risk plants and animals in their area through a new online lineup of species profiles. The 400-plus expanded accounts detail the identification, habitat use, distribution, ecology and conservation status of Georgia’s protected species, plus selected rare species considered at risk but not officially protected.
   The effort is aimed at providing a reliable and current source on rare wildlife that can be used by all, from scientists to school students and from biological consultants to landowners and land managers.
   The multi-year project originated with the State Wildlife Action Plan and was developed with a federal State Wildlife Grant and matching funds from the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund.
   Since 2000, the State Wildlife Grants program has been the main funding source to help keep common species common and protect others before they become critically imperiled and more costly to recover from the brink of extinction. These grants enable DNR and its conservation partners to protect wildlife and wild places to maintain the state’s natural heritage.
   That heritage includes coldwater darters and a cold – and now much clearer – spring in Murray County.

Coming next month: Another snapshot of State Wildlife Grants at work in Georgia.

Collecting tadpoles, newts at Fall Line Sandhills

Fall Line WMA wetland
powers frog, newt projects

And dodges drought threat, with DNR’s help
   A seasonal wetland at Fall Line Sandhills Wildlife Management Area is proving a rich if sometimes fragile source of rare amphibians.
   The pond produced larval striped newts this spring for a captive-breeding project aimed at reintroducing the species in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest. Ecologist and project leader Ryan MeaStriped newt larvaens of the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy called the wetland the only one known to reliably produce western striped newts.
   The shallow pond also has provided gopher frog eggs for a State Wildlife Grants effort to re-introduce the state-listed frogs to The Nature Conservancy’s Williams Bluff Preserve. At the preserve in Early County, UGA associate professor John Maerz is studying how artificial burrows boost survival rates for gopher frog metamorphs after they leave the water.
   Yet, drought is the enemy of these seasonal wetlands, and amphibians that depend on them.  DNR staff and volunteers dip-netted 574 gopher frog tadpoles and 44 striped newt larvae from the Fall Line Sandhills site May 11, and released them in a deeper pond on the WMA.
   Natural resources biologist John Jensen said that without rain, the home pond – which covers about 3 acres at full pool and rates as one of the best breeding sites for gopher frogs in Georgia – would be dry within days.
   He said biologists caught the wetland at the right time and saw the relocation as an “opportunity to help along these rare species ... in a time of drought and also help distribute them to another suitable breeding wetland on state property.”
   Gopher frogs have been found in the deeper pond, though not striped newts. Even without rain, Jensen expected the second pond to have water long enough for the gopher frogs to mature and leave. The newts, however, will need more time and some timely rain.

Waging war on aliens at WMAs
   With a little help from friends, DNR Game Management biologists in Northeast Georgia tackled invasive autumn olive and Chinese privet in pilot projects at Hart County and Dawson Forest WMAs.
   Using tracked mulching equipment provided by Georgia Power, about 4 acres of the exotics were cleared on Dawson Forest. Autumn olive was removed from powerline rights of way along Sweetwater-Juno and Steel Bridge roads. Privet in the understory was the target in 2 acres of hardwoods along Holly Creek.
   At Hart County WMA near Hartwell, work involved removing autumn olive in and around two wildlife openings, and thinning “over-mature” transition zones between the fields and forest. Total acres completed: about 12.
   Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan emphasizes the threats posed by invasive plants and animals. Biologists will apply herbicides to the mulched areas this summer at Dawson Forest and Hart County WMAs. Once the autumn olive is reined in, the plan is to explore establishing native warm-season grasses in many of the areas this alien invader once ruled.
   In the words of staff, “We have a lot of this work to do in Region 2, and plan to do more as available funds and time allow.”

Exotic updates

  • J.L. Lester WMA: 500 river cane plugs were planted with help from the Georgia Forestry Commission and The Nature Conservancy, part of efforts to eradicate privet and restore river cane at the WMA near Cedartown.
  • Townsend WMA: Loggers have removed more than 300 acres of sand pine as the first step to returning this area near Jesup to a longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem.
  • Ossabaw Island: Staff and volunteers from The Nature Conservancy's Global Marine Team have been removing Chinese tallowtree seedlings.

Study sizes up mussel misses
Experience rates key to correct IDs
   Most know that mussels are hard to identify. Until recently, however, no one had quantified how hard.
   How about as hard as missing one in every four mussels?
   Research by a team including DNR’s Jason Wisniewski pegged the average mussel misidentification rate at 27 percent, based on a study conducted in the Appalachicola-Chattachoochee-Flint River basin. The project leOval pigtoed also by UGA doctoral student Colin Shea and James Peterson and Nate Johnson of the U.S. Geological Survey affirmed the expected: Experience increases accuracy. Yet even observers with five to six years in the field misnamed one out of every 10 mussels, on average.
   With mussels found on rare species lists worldwide, knowing which species is which is vital to estimating populations and trends. The study suggests misidentification is a significant issue for field surveys.
   In their article in a recent Journal of the North American Benthological Society, the four researchers suggest combating the problem with certification programs, regional workshops and testing. Making specimens and tissue samples available through museums could also help.
  Wisniewski, a mussel specialist with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, emphasized the correlation between field experience and greater accuracy. “This is a very difficult group of animals to handle and learn,” he said. “You’ve got to put in some time up front.”
   A 2009 fish and mussel workshop at Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway set the stage. Participants were asked to ID three mussels at each of about 25 stations. About 30 species from the Appalachicola-Chattachoochee-Flint basin were used. Five to six rated very difficult to identify.
   It’s not surprising that smooth-shelled species proved harder to identify than those with shell texturing.
   Five federally listed mussels included were correctly identified more often than species not listed. However, getting the listed species right at least 95 percent of the time required, on average, three to four years of observer experience. An error rate of 5 percent is often considered the mark beyond which bias significantly affects population and trend models.
   The study does beg the question, how did project leaders know they ID’d the test mussels right?
   Experience – the group featured mussel veterans and noted malacologist Jim Williams – and cooperation, said Wisniewski, who, for the record, missed three of 75.

Sampling made simpler
   The June issue of Journal of the North American Benthological Society also profiles a study that combined the better of the two main mussel sampling methods. Robust Design uses sampling along line-transects – a survey method often used for other wildlife – to blend timed searches of an area with the more labor-intensive sampling by quadrat.
   The approach, explored on the Altamaha River, offers “easier ways to get at some of the same questions,” DNR’s Jason Wisniewski said. Former UGA graduate student Jason Meador, now of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, authored the study with Wisniewski and James Peterson of the USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

'Spiny' feedback sought
   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments on a draft economic analysis for designating 149 miles of the mainstem upper Altamaha, Ohoopee and lower Ocmulgee rivers as critical habitat for the Altamaha spinymussel. The analysis predicts little impact. The deadline for comments on the separate critical habitat proposal has been extended to June 13.
   Found only in the Altamaha River basin, the Altamaha spinymussel was proposed for listing as an endangered species in October.

Public lands profile
Big Hammock by Alan Cressler

Big Hammock: Land
of surprising contrasts

By Lisa Kruse
   Across its 800 acres, Big Hammock Natural Area showcases a fascinating diversity of natural communities of the lower Atlantic Coastal Plain. For this reason, the property near Glennville was secured by the state in 1973 and designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976. Despite past harvest of the native longleaf pine and extensive livestock grazing, significant habitat for rare plant and animal species remains.
   A hammock is a rise in elevation of an otherwise flat landscape. Big Hammock is dominated by an ancient sand dune that rises from the Altamaha River floodplain to 100 feet above sea level. The dune underlies the area's natural diversity. The topography causes extreme environmental conditions that morph the vegetation into dramatic contrasts.
   Evergreen hardwood forest dominates the deep sands of the hammock. Natural fire is suppressed by the Altamaha on the south side, encouraging the persistence of this fire-intolerant forest type. A canopy of live oak and Darlington oak is interspersed with southern magnolia.
   Beneath the canopy is the largest known population of Georgia plume, a small tree that puts on a show in June with sprays of beautiful white flowers. Georgia plume is state-protected, and Georgia is the only place it occurs in the world. Overall, Georgia plume has more than 50 documented occurrences; however, most are in decline and only nine are on protected lands.
   Also of interest is the most extensive inland population of the shrubby myrtle oak in Georgia. This oak thrives on the hammock, even though it is most typical of sand dunes on the coast. Shrubby myrtle oak shares space with thickets of farkleberry, holly, devilwood, red bay, horsesugar, deerberry and witchhazel. In this closed forest, look and listen for songbirds, gray squirrels, deer and armadillo.   
   Xeric longleaf pine/oak sandhill scrub forest is represented on the portions of the hammock adjacent to pine flatwoods. Historically, naturally occurring fire would sweep across the flatwoods landscape and burn onto Big Hammock, which is favorable for this fire-adapted community. Old-growth longleaf pine forms the sparse canopy, with a few pines likely 200 years old. The shrub layers feature a diverse suite of oaks: Sand post oak, myrtle oak, turkey oak and sand live oak are characteristic. Despite the lack of a tall hardwood canopy, Georgia plume is still abundant in this community.
   The extremely dry conditions result in wide swaths of open sands. These microhabitats are essential to maintaining Big Hammock’s biodiversity. Herbaceous plants are able to germinate and persist. In autumn, tansy-colored, woody goldenrod flowers can be glimpsed against a backdrop of golden grasses and pink dicerandra mints. Woody goldenrod is a plant typical of the Florida coast.
   Several representatives of Georgia’s rare herpetofauna depend on these open patches. Gopher tortoises burrow here and need the herbaceous plants for food. The burrows are used by other species, including the federally threatened eastern indigo snake and southern hognose snake.
    Longleaf harvest and fire suppression have changed the ecology of the hammock. Because longleaf pine depends on fire for regeneration, Big Hammock has few young longleaf and the scrub oak is becoming denser. With increasing habitat homogeneity, species that depend on unique microsites will decline. Therefore, the primary focus of management at Big Hammock is restoring the natural fire ecology. Controlled burns are an essential for conserving and enhancing the biodiversity of this site.
   For visitors, a nature trail traverses the high hammock. Walk through gnarled evergreen forests dwarfed by the xeric, or dry, infertile sands. In open areas, old-growth longleaf pine radiates the sun. Descend the hammock into low pine flatwoods that edge deep cypress-tupelo swamps fed by tributaries of the powerful Altamaha River, less than two miles away. See the fresh spring green of lichens and turkey oak, early-summer blooms of Georgia plume, or the brilliant show of golden grasses and wildflowers in autumn.
   Visiting Big Hammock Natural Area is a magical experience.

Getting there
From Glennville, take Ga. 144 south 10 miles. Before reaching the Altamaha River, turn left (east) onto Mack Phillips Road/County Road 441. Go two miles. The area entrance is a gravel drive on the right. A kiosk in the parking lot has maps and other information. Big Hammock is open during the day year-round. Camping and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Travel is by foot only. Hunting is available.

For Lisa Kruse’s full profile of Big Hammock, click here. Lisa is a botanist with DNR's Nongame Conservation Section.

Cicada shedding exoskeleton

Out my backdoor
Cicada buzz? Brood 19 is back
By Terry W. Johnson
   Not all cicadas are created equal. There are cicadas and then there are periodical cicadas.
   Periodical cicadas are loudly reminding us this spring just how different they are.
   Most everyone is familiar with the annual cicada. Often called dog day cicadas, these 2-inch-long green, black and brown insects make the loud buzzing calls that are one of the most familiar sounds of those hot, humid days common to the South in July and August.
   Periodical cicadas may appear at first glance as only a smaller version of annual cicadas. Yet a closer look will reveal the bright red eyes, black head and bodies, and transparent wings fringed with orange.
   Like annual cicadas, the periodical cicada lives in backyards and forests across mucCicadash of Georgia. However, it only makes its presence known when it emerges from the ground. At such times, usually at night, annual cicadas appear in mind-boggling numbers. As many as 1.5 million per acre have been recorded! But typically their numbers range from tens to hundreds of thousands per acre.
  While annual cicadas are seen every summer, periodical cicadas emerge either every 13 or 17 years. Entomologists have identified 12 broods of 17-year cicadas and three broods of 13-year cicadas. Broods are identified by Roman numerals. This is the year for Brood XIX to appear. All members of this brood in the 16 states within its known range will appear at the same time. Brood XIX is found from Indiana and Maryland to Texas and Georgia, and is the only 13-year cicada brood in the Peach State.

War of the Worlds: Part 2
   If you live in the northern half of the state, I don’t need to tell you Brood XIX is here.
   If you live close to them, for a few weeks now as soon as you step outside you hear a sound that could easily pass for the noise made by aliens in War of the Worlds.
   The billions of insects creating this noise began crawling out of the ground once the soil temperature reached roughly 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Weeks before, the flightless cicada nymphs tunneled to the surface. You might spot their exits – a roughly ½-inch diameter hole or short mud turret extending above the soil.
   After escaping their subterranean home, cicadas seek a vertical structure – maybe a tree, building, shrub or garden tool propped against a fence. Some climb 10 feet or more. Others are satisfied with something that protrudes just above the ground.
   Once they find the right place, they stop climbing and begin shedding their outer skin, or exoskeleton, for the last time. It takes about four to six days for the cicadas to fully mature. The adults then feed on plants, and males begin congregating in large numbers.
   It seems that males are drawn to the calls of other males. The high-pitched sounds we are hearing are made only by the males: They use tiny drum-like structures on the sides of their bodies.
   While the sounds don’t come close to the crooning of Elvis or Frank Sinatra, they strike a chord with female cicadas, which come from far and wide.
   After mating, females lay rice-shaped eggs in slits cut in the tips of branches. The cicada nymphs hatch, topple to the ground and quickly burrow into the soil that will be their home for the next 13 years.  Remarkably, the 13-year cicadas we are now hearing hatched in 1998, when gas cost $1.06 a gallon!

Food for all
   Many critters just can’t get their fill of cicadas. To them, it is like hamburgers falling from the sky. The nymphs are also a favorite of burrowing animals like moles. Wildlife biologists have found that mole populations seem to surge just before cicadas emerge and plummet after the mass exodus.
   The crunchy adults are also devoured by everything from squirrels and spiders to turtles, fish and snakes. One insect, known as the cicada killer, specializes in eating cicadas.
   Naturally, insect-eating birds don’t pass up a chance to nab one. Among the birds that eat adult cicadas are wild turkeys, grackles, robins and woodpeckers. I have seen summer tanagers and blue jays capture cicadas in my backyard.
   Fortunately for us, cicadas don’t bite and they rarely harm plants. Also, as they die, their bodies recycle nutrients back into the soil.
   For the next several weeks, we are going to have to listen to the love songs of male cicadas just outside our backdoor.
   In the meantime, we can ponder what gasoline will cost when Brood XIX reappears in 13 years.

Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Wildlife Resources Division and executive director of TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section. (Permission is required to reprint this column. Contact .)

Read his full column on cicadas, including how they taste (clam-flavored potatoes, anyone?) and tips on watching one bust loose!

Snacks on the wing
Dirk Stevenson of The Orianne Society recently spotted kites preying on Brood XIX cicadas near Hazlehurst. His notes from May 9: “Yesterday at Bullard Creek WMA, I watched in awe as two swallow-tailed kites and a single Mississippi kite soared just above me for 20 minutes plucking these weak-flying cicadas from branches. Wow, what a natural moment! As I hiked to the bottomlands at Bullard for a few hours, the omnipresent drone of many thousands of cicadas was always with and above, waxing in intensity, making it a very special field day.”

Parting shot
Clapper rail
Youth Birding Competition participant John Mark Simmons of Watkinsville photographed this clapper rail almost at his feet on April 16. John Mark and his father Kevin had driven to Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island a few hours before the competition began, hoping to photograph a green heron. The heron was gone, but John Mark heard splashing. The rail, usually a secretive bird, was taking a bath about 2 feet away! John Mark got the shot, and took advantage of advice he remembered from a wildlife photography book: “The problem with birders is they don't look right down at their feet."
    Crazy about Cuckoos: The Country Cuckoos, four brothers and a first cousin from Bainbridge, saw or heard 133 species to win the 2011 Youth Birding Competition. The event drew some 25 teams of contestants from preschoolers to teen-agers.


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