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Ga. DNR nongame wildlife newsletter
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JUNE 2011

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Support wildlife
Georgia DNR's Nongame Conservation Section receives no state funds to conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. We depend on contributions, grants and fundraisers, such as the eagle and hummingbird license plates. How can you help?
Wild facts
Heard this? “The daddy-longlegs is the most poisonous spider, but it can’t harm humans because its mouth is too small.” Interesting, but false. Daddy-longlegs, or harvestmen, have eight legs like other arachnids, but they are not true spiders. True spiders have two body parts and eight eyes. Daddy-longlegs have one body part and two eyes. Daddy-longlegs don't spin webs because they cannot make silk. Also, they eat decomposing plants and animals since they have no fangs, no venom glands and no other way to attack prey.
– Linda May
Nongame environmental
outreach coordinator

Nesting wood storks

Public lands profile
Big Dukes Pond

Though no walk in the park, Big Dukes Pond Wildlife Management Area is a unique, 1,692-acre conservation area near Millen. The most striking ecological feature is a Carolina bay, but habitats include pond cypress swamp, pond cypress savanna, slash pine-mixed hardwoods, bay swamp and sandhill scrub communities. These support a diversity of plants and animals, including two endangered species -- the wood stork and Canby’s dropwort. Read more in this profile of Big Dukes by DNR natural resources biologist Shan Cammack.

Ranger reports
Diet dilemma: A Camden County resident confessed to catching gopher tortoises to eat after Sgt. Chris Hodge found seven tortoises in a pen and two cleaned shells behind the man's house. Hodge cited the man, who admitted to eating several gopher tortoises, and confiscated the live tortoises.
Shrimp sidebar: The opening of the state's shrimp season on June 22 had shrimpers and rangers busy. Trawlers are checked for compliance with turtle excluder device regulations. Officers made nearly 50 inspections last year.

Mimic glass lizard

Up close
Mimic glass lizard

Like the other three limbless lizards native to Georgia, the mimic glass lizard (Ophisaurus mimicus Palmer) superficially resembles a snake, as reflected in common names such as glass or horn snake. The long-tailed lizard is strongly associated with longleaf pine-wiregrass communities in the lower Coastal Plain. Yet, the last confirmed mimic glass lizard collected in Georgia was in 1978, and the species may be significantly imperiled or no longer found here. More on mimic glass lizards and other rare Georgia species.

Did you see?
"Georgia: Restoring a ‘Wonder Tree’ in a Changing Climate," a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blog post about longleaf pine restoration.
DNR at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens' Endangered Species Day. Biologists, botanists and wildlife interpretive staff shared live animals and unusual plants with guests, all captured in these photos on Flickr.

Sea turtle icon
Tracking sea turtles

Georgia sea turtle nesting update from*

Nests: 1,132 (21 lost)
Relocated: 446 (39.3%)
Eggs estimate: 51,753
Eggs lost: 1,726 (3.3%)

As of June 24. Real-time reports.

    DNR employees are helping battle wildfires in and around Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Employees' roles range from firefighting to traffic control. Fire news: Georgia Forestry Commission; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
   Two more miles along the Altahama River have been acquired for conservation, thanks to The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, the U.S. Marine Corps and DNR. The 1,080 acres in McIntosh County, home to at least 15 wildlife species of concern, will become part of Townsend and Altamaha wildlife management areas.
   The Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass will be required for visitors ages 16-64 at some state wildlife management and public fishing areas starting Jan. 1. Those with WMA and other appropriate licenses will not need a GORP, which will draw support for WMAs and PFAs from users other than hunters and anglers.
Big Dukes on Google Earth
   Google Earth now offers views of DNR-managed lands, thanks to a file created by the Nongame Conservation Section's Chris Canalos. The file available at shows approximate boundaries of the properties (Big Dukes Pond WMA is pictured).
    Striped newts have been added as a candidate for federal listing as threatened or endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent finding that listing is "warranted but precluded" -- other candidate species are higher priority -- will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to work with other groups on conserving the small salamander found only in the Coastal Plain of Georgia and Florida.
   Mussel work on the Flint River recently turned up 10 state-endangered southern elktoes -- possibly the largest single collection on record.
   Sandhill cranes could be legal to hunt in Kentucky by Christmas. The state's Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved a Dec. 17-Jan. 15 season, a change that will require federal approval.
   TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section, approved spending about $83,500 on 17 nongame proposals varying from the Youth Birding Competition to Project WILD workshops. Members of The Environmental Resources Network raised most of the money at Weekend for Wildlife.
Alabama map turtles
   Alabama map turtles were spotted by DNR staff in the Coosa River near Rome. The discovery bridges a gap in the known distribution of the species, with previous occurrences recorded in Georgia only on the Conasauga and the upper Oostanaula rivers.
   People watch: Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Nongame Conservation Section, recently graduated from the National Conservation Leadership Institute, an elite eight-month program focused on preparing and retaining conservation leaders. Nongame biologist Clay George has been promoted within NOAA's Large Whale Disentanglement Program to a Level 5 disentanglement coordinator, and as the Southeast's only Level 5 coordinator, will coordinate efforts during the right whale calving season off Georgia and northeast Florida.  Former Longleaf Alliance executive director and DNR employee Emily Jo "E.J." Williams has rejoined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as chief of Migratory Birds for the Southeast Region.

Nongame in the news "1,080 acres purchased for conservation"
Coosa Valley News: "Wood stork numbers down"
PRNewswire: "Two new projects in Georgia receive Five Star Restoration grants"
Georgia Public Broadcasting: "Georgia waterways hitting historic lows"
The Florida Times-Union: "Griffin the sea turtle's final resting place on Jekyll Island"
WAFB (Baton Rouge, La.; and others via AP): "Oil spill pelicans are having babies on Ga. coast"
Smithsonian National Zoological Park: "Smithsonian scientists find deadly amphibian disease in the last disease-free region of Central America"
Savannah Morning News: "Program brings Savannah kids to the sea on Tybee Island"
Southeast Green: "Study details the impact that rising sea levels would have on Georgia’s coast"
SaportaReport: "Longleaf pine key to Georgia’s handling of climate change"
Lakefront Hartwell: "You can help save the hemlocks from the woolly adelgid"
Athens Banner-Herald: "Grant to help fund invasive plant battle"
WTOC (Savannah): "Huge sturgeon washes up on Tybee"
The Florida Times-Union: "Second invasive species found in Satilla River"
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "A pitcher plant haven in southwest Georgia"
UGA: "Georgia Sea Grant combines art and science to teach about changing ecosystems" "Georgia's rare species profiled online"

Aug. 20: Atlanta Audubon Society’s Learning About Birds curriculum training, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Confederate Hall Historical and Environmental Education Center, Stone Mountain Park. Nikki Belmonte,
Oct. 8: Open Our Garden Gates conference by Coastal WildScapes and Sapelo Island National Estuarine Reserve, City Center, Richmond Hill.

Photo credits (from top)
** Masthead: Wood storks. Brad Winn
** Gopher tortoise. Linda May/Ga. DNR
** Wood storks nesting (great egret in the foreground). Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
** Mimic glass lizard. John Jensen/Ga. DNR
** DNR's Clay George cuts loose the entangled dolphin. Ga. DNR
** Terry Johnson's granddaughter, Anna Leverette, admires an eastern tiger swallowtail. Donna Johnson
** Alabama map turtles on the Coosa River. John Jensen/Ga. DNR
** Brown pelican nesting on Little Egg Island Bar. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
State Wildlife Grants at a glance

Gopher tortoise

Sandhills, wildlife benefit
as DNR-led project grows

   If Part 2 of a five-state effort led by Georgia DNR hits its mark, about 52,000 acres of prime sandhills habitat will be restored from Florida to Mississippi by 2014. That means thousands of acres rejuvenated through prescribed fire. Thousands of longleaf pines planted and invasive hardwoods and “off-site” pines removed. Dozens of species such as gopher tortoises and Bachman’s sparrows helped.
   It's a tall order, even though this habitat, also called dry or upland longleaf, rates as a conservation priority across the Southeast.
   But the Multistate Sandhills/Upland Longleaf Ecological Restoration Project has in its favor a recent award of $981,000 from the State Wildlife Grants Competitive Program, plus the addition of Mississippi and Louisiana to an already strong lineup of Georgia, Alabama, Florida and supporting organizations.
   The project also has a record of success.  Two years into phase one, partners are ahead of schedule, particularly in prescribed burning, which is critical to restoring ecosystems that require regular sweeps of fire.
   “Alabama, Georgia and Florida have passed their three-year goals in two years,” said Matt Elliott, project coordinator and a program manager with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
   Second-phase work will vary from more controlled burns on public and private lands to planting groundcover and longleaf pine, expanded monitoring of gopher tortoises, and continued teamwork with groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Georgia Power.
   Objectives for restoration sites include increasing vegetation beneficial to tortoises and breeding birds characteristic of higher-quality sandhills. Gopher tortoises will benefit, but population changes for this slow-reproducing species will take years.
   Georgia DNR’s focus will include prescribed fire and longleaf restoration at Townsend and other wildlife management areas, as well as on many new private sites. Elliott said interest from private landowners in using prescribed fire on their property has been a pleasant surprise. “There’s a lot more people … than we have the capacity to (work with).”
   Reaching across land and state lines is vital to boosting sandhills quality, quantity and connectivity.

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. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these grants enable DNR and its conservation partners to protect wildlife and wild places to maintain the state’s natural heritage.

Phase 2 team
Partners in the second phase of the sandhills restoration project include the Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi state wildlife agencies, The Nature Conservancy, The Orianne Society, Georgia Power, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gopher Tortoise Council, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, Fort Gordon and many private landowners.

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

Loggerheads on a roll
   With half of loggerhead nesting season in the books, it’s clear the state’s primary sea turtle is having a banner year.  The latest count from the extra-busy Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative neared 1,100 nests, raising hopes that the federally threatened species will bust the record high of 1,761 set last year.
   Ossabaw Island leads all beaches with more than 240 nests. Nesting updates.

Wood stork nesting dips
   Drought in South Georgia and a warmer winter in southern Florida likely undercut wood stork nesting this year in Georgia. Still, DNR biologist Tim Keyes stressed that the 2011 estimate of 2,136 nests is the state’s third-highest total on record and does not reverse a general trend of nesting increases for wood storks, a federally threatened species.
   “Over 2,000 is still a strong nesting year in Georgia,” Keyes said. Read more.

Biologist Clay George works to free entangled dolphin

Dolphin rescued (and videoed)
   Dolphin 7126’s number isn’t up yet, thanks to an alert boater and DNR.
   The boater called the Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Network after spotting the adult bottlenose dolphin tangled in a crab pot buoy line June 19 near Sapelo Island.
   Nongame Conservation Section’s Clay George, Mark Dodd and Kate Sparks found the line twisted around the dolphin’s peduncle. With the crab trap weighing it down, the animal could barely lift the tip of its head out of the water to breathe.  Rising tide waters would likely have drowned the dolphin within hours.
   DNR staff snagged and cut the line, a rescue captured on video. The dolphin, which apparently was not seriously injured, swam slowly away and joined other dolphins foraging in New Teakettle Creek.
   Dorsal fin photographs identified the dolphin as No. 7126 in NOAA’s database. The animal is likely a local: It was seen in the area 12 times from February 2008 to October 2009. Bottlenose dolphins are Georgia’s only year-round resident marine mammal and a priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
   Why or how this one became entangled is a mystery. Some believe dolphins are accidentally snagged while stealing bait from crab traps, “playing” with buoy lines or simply swimming too close. The Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Network has dealt with 12 dolphin/blue crab pot entanglements since 1998. Ten of the dolphins were alive when found, and nine disentangled ... including 7126.

Georgia boaters should report sightings of dead or injured dolphins, whales, manatees and sea turtles immediately. Call 1-800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363).

Out my backdoor

Child with butterfly

Nurturing a natural wonder

By Terry W. Johnson
   With school out, kids have lots of free time until classes resume in August. Summer break provides a golden opportunity for parents and grandparents to nurture in children what author and environmentalist Rachel Carson called a sense of wonder – a deep, abiding appreciation of the plants and animals with which we share the world.
   When I was growing up, I spent most of summer outdoors: fishing, swimming, playing baseball and roaming around the neighborhood and nearby countryside with my brother and friends just seeing what we could find. Looking back, I realize my friends and I learned more about plants, insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians during summer than at any other time of the year.
    The world I grew up in was far different than today. Now, many parents are afraid to let their children outdoors without supervision. Most children grow up in homes with postage stamp-sized yards and spend little time outdoors. Too few feel a kinship with nature. Many are more able to identify a Burger King sign than a white oak tree. Most are growing up with Nature-Deficit Disorder.
   Educators, conservationists and others are working on the problem. While initiatives such as Project WILD have made strides in helping, it is clear to me that much more is needed.
   If you are concerned that your children and grandchildren are growing up disconnected from nature, there is no better time to do something about it than this summer.
   Begin with short but regular walks in the yard – at all times of day. Treat each walk as an adventure. During them, share your enthusiasm for nature. Teach youngsters to use their senses when exploring the outdoors. Visit different habitats. Encourage the children to find different plants and animals.
   Once you look closely, you and your child will discover an array of life in your yard. In addition to dozens of different kinds of birds, it would not be uncommon to find scores of butterflies, more than 100 species of moths and hundreds of other insects.
   Gardens are great places for wildlife. Watch a small flower garden for a few minutes and you will be amazed at the number of insects that come and go. You can observe hunters and the hunted, and the tiny jewel-like eggs of butterflies and moths. You will discover beautiful insects and others so bizarre they would be at home in a horror movie.
   The best backyards are larger, mainly free of herbicides and pesticides, and rich in wildlife food, water and cover. However, even the smallest yard can be used to introduce youngsters to the natural world. If food, water or cover are lacking or in short supply, involve children in projects to add them. Kids enjoy putting up and maintaining nest boxes, bird feeders and birdbaths.
   Even consider sowing seeds of easy-to-grow flowers that benefit wildlife, such as zinnias and cosmos. Look for cocoons and chrysalises. Compare the shapes of leaves. When night falls, catch fireflies or see how many different kinds of moths and other insects your home’s outside lights attract.
   The opportunities are limitless.
   Don’t let these adventures end when the school bell rings this August. Make them one of the regular ways you spend time with your children and grandchildren.
   Parents are constantly striving to provide their children with the tools to live productive, enjoyable lives. From my way of thinking, one of the tools they will also need is a sense of wonder for the natural world.

Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with Wildlife Resources and executive director of TERN, the Nongame Conservation Section’s friends group. (Want to reprint Terry’s column? Email

Read Terry's full column, complete with equipment tips and insight on why enthusiasm trumps knowledge.

Parting shot

Brown pelican on nest
A brown pelican rehabilitated from last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico watches over chicks on Georgia’s Little Egg Island Bar, a state-managed natural area in Glynn County. Tim Keyes of the Nongame Conservation Section is monitoring eight nests involving rescued pelicans released last summer in the state. The birds originally from Louisiana are marked by colored leg bands, as shown above. Associated Press coverage.


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