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Ga. DNR e-newsletter: TNC's Katie Owens with speckled madtom
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Give Wildlife
a Chance
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
Of six venomous snake species in Georgia, the copperhead is the most common. Growing up to 4 feet long, this beige to peach-colored pit viper has a relatively small triangular-shaped head, vertical pupils, and a heat-sensitive pit between each eye and nostril. Don’t get too close to see these features for identification, though. Instead, learn to recognize its distinctive hourglass or saddle-like banding pattern. Another good field mark is the copperhead’s bright yellow tail tip, which is only present on young pit vipers. Small brown snakes without yellow on their tails most likely are not copperheads but rather one of Georgia’s 35 non-venomous species.
-- Linda May
Nongame Conservation Section
environmental outreach coordinator

Download DNR's new Venomous Snakes of Georgia brochure (.pdf, 7.9MB).

In education
Project FeederWatch’s 25th season starts Nov. 12. The winter survey of birds at feeders across North America helps scientists monitor broad movements of populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance, according to organizers. FeederWatch is also a way to engage children in birding, nature and science. Learn more.

What's another way? DNR's annual Youth Birding Competition!

Rafinesque's big-eared bat
Up close

Rafinesque's big-eared bat
Corynorhinus rafinesquii Lesson

Rafinesque's big-eared bats are a secretive species found across the southeastern U.S. but considered abundant nowhere. These unusual looking bats are typically found in forested habitats, often roosting in large, hollow trees.

Read about Rafinesque's big-eared bats and other unique Georgia wildlife in DNR's rare species profiles.

sea turtle icon

Tracking sea turtles

2011 proved a record year for loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Georgia. ("High for loggerheads," August). Counting the last nest deposited on Blackbeard Island on Aug. 19, sea turtle cooperators located 1,972 loggerhead nests, nearly twice the state's annual 22-year average of 1,040 nests.   
Nests deposited in August will incubate for approximately 50 days before hatching. Cooperators will continue to monitor incubating nests through mid-October.

As for the sea turtle nesting season including all species, here's the rundown from*

Nests: 2,006 (156 lost, 7.7%)
Relocated: 833 (41.5%)
Eggs: 193,911
Eggs lost: 4,358 (2.2%)
Eggs hatched: 127,633 (62.1%)
Emerged hatchlings: 115,335 (51.1%)

Beach-by-beach reports.
*As of Sept. 26.

Before work to restore Bovine Springs on Flint River

Did you see?

    "Dolphin Tale," the new movie about a bottlenose dolphin rescued from entanglement in a crab pot trap, has drawn attention to the issue of entanglements, as well as DNR's video from summer of Nongame Conservation Section biologists freeing a dolphin caught by the tail. Unlike the movie, that dolphin, snagged in a trap line near Sapelo Island, did not appear seriously injured and swam away to join other dolphins.
    More from Hollywood: "Contagion," the movie in which a virus transmitted in part by bats sparks a deadly global pandemic, has spurred a number of stories and responses regarding bats as misplaced villains, their beneficial roles and the disease endangering them: white-nose syndrome. Examples: MSNBC, Bat Conservation International, U.S. Geological Service, EcoHealth Alliance.
    Loggerhead sea turtles along the southeastern U.S. will remain federally listed as threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision this month to split the species into nine "distinct population segments," and upgrade five to endangered. The proposed rule changes released a year ago called for listing the Northwest Atlantic segment, which includes loggerheads along Georgia's coast, as endangered. But the Fish and Wildlife Service stuck with "threatened" following public comments and further analysis.
   Talk at Southeastern Technical College's Swainsboro campus will range from restoring Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area to conserving indigo snake habitat and managing invasive species on rock outcrops, thanks to the group gathering Oct. 19-20 at the school. The annual meeting of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance also includes a field trip to Ohoopee Dunes.
    The Fish and Wildlife Service says another 374 aquatic species in the Southeast may warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act. The agency will now thoroughly review the known status of each species, many of which are found in Georgia.
Save Vanishing Species stamp
The Postal Service's
Save Vanishing Species stamp, issued Sept. 20, will sell for 55 cents and contribute to conservation of tigers, rhinos, great apes, marine turtles, African elephants and Asian elephants.
    Four radio-tagged whimbrels survived Hurricane Irene, including Chinquapin, a bird that DNR outfitted with the solar-powered transmitters. But two of the four, Goshen and Machi, were killed by hunters on the Caribbean island of  Guadeloupe, where hunting shorebirds is legal and even a tradition.
    The Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council’s annual meeting explores efforts of Georgia agencies to manage non-native invasive species. Nongame Conservation Section Assistant Chief Jon Ambrose and botanist Eamonn Leonard are two of the speakers at the Oct. 6 session in Athens.
    Southern Appalachian woodrats were documented at two more north Georgia mountain sites by trail cameras set by DNR biologists. These native rodents have declined across their range and are known from only a few areas in north Georgia.
Gopher tortoise relocated to Yuchi WMA
   Six gopher tortoises displaced by development in Telfair County were released recently at Yuchi Wildlife Management Area. DNR's Nongame Conservation Section, The Orianne Society, Southern Co. and Joseph W. Jones Ecological Center at Ichauway are building the population of gopher tortoises at the 7,800-acre WMA near Waynesboro to a self-sustainable level.
    Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership, a collaborative focused on management and conservation of the region's aquatic resources, has a new website and free quarterly newsletter.
    Protecting the Everglades headwaters by creating a 150,000-acre national wildlife refuge and conservation area will depend on landowners willing to provide full or partial interest in their land.
    Florida panthers are on the rise, with the south Florida population of the endangered cats increasing from an estimated 100 to 160 adults.

Nongame in the news
Huffington Post: "NY seeks stop to wild hogs; may ban captive hunts"
Rome News-Tribune: "Volunteers spread seeds to restore native plant species"
Brunswick News:"As diamondback terrapin nesting declines, center eyes habitat assistance"
Oregon State University: "Biodiversity helps dilute infectious disease, reduce its severity"
Savannah Morning News: "Local loggerheads remain threatened"
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Scientists shocked by behavior of rare gray whale"
The Florida Times-Union: "Motorized tours of Cumberland likely to expand"
University of Edinburgh (Scotland): "Birds learn skills for nest-building"
The Florida Times-Union: "DNR to use site off Brunswick's waterfront for whale necropsies"
Outdoor Hub: "Hunters contribute billions to conservation efforts"
The Christian Science Monitor: "Many official state flowers aren't native plants"
The Florida Times-Union: "Hurricane Irene washed away some sea turtle nests along the First Coast"
Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail: "Bird survives ravages of Hurricane Irene"
The (Gainesville) Times: "Brenau program saving endangered species"
The Florida Times-Union: "Jeff Corwin films sea turtle release on Jekyll Island for new ABC show"
The Wall Street Journal: “With trouble on the range, ranchers wish they could leave it to beavers
Coastal Courier: "Enjoy benefits of nature at DNR education centers"
Athens Banner-Herald: "Kudzu-eating bugs a boon ... sort of"
Savannah Morning News: "Bats take a liking to coastal Georgia"
Red and Black: "With $61,000, one Warnell prof sets out to rid the world of an invasive species (apple snails)"

Oct. 1: CoastFest, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., DNR Coastal Regional Headquarters, Brunswick.
Oct. 6: State of the War on Invasive Plants in Georgia, Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council symposium, State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens.
Oct. 7 (3:30-8:30 p.m.), Oct. 8 (8 a.m.-4 p.m.), Georgia's Native Waters Project WET workshop for educators, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta. Kim Morris-Zarneke, (404) 591-4192
Oct. 8: Open the Garden Gate conference by Coastal WildScapes and Sapelo Island National Estuarine Reserve, City Center, Richmond Hill.
Oct. 21: Georgia Outdoor Learning Symposium, Georgia Perimeter College, Decatur Campus.
Nov. 4-5: HemlockFest, Starbridge Sanctuary, Dahlonega.
Nov. 19: 3rd annual Right Whale Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Jacksonville Beach.

Photo credits (from top):
* The Nature Conservancy's Katie Owens with a speckled madtom (a native catfish) at Raccoon Creek. Sherry Crawley/TNC
* Hellbender. Dirk J. Stevenson/The Orianne Society
* DNR biologist Thomas Floyd with a hellbender. Ga. DNR
* Leucistic ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at Lake Oconee. Dreama Thomas
* Raccoon Creek restoration site, before (left) and after restoration work. Katie Owens/TNC
* Rafinesque's big-eared bats. Tim Carter
* Etowah darter. Sherry Crawley/TNC
* DNR's Brett Albanese, TNC's Katie Owens and others seining for rare fishes at Raccoon Creek. Joe Cook/Coosa River Basin Initiative
* TERN Volunteer of the Year Bill Baker, center, with Nongame Environmental Outreach Coordinator Linda May and TERN President Brock Hutchins. Chris May
* Bill Baker helps others assemble nest boxes at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in 2007. Linda May/Ga. DNR
* Save Vanishing Species stamp. U.S. Postal Service
* Gopher tortoise released at Yuchi WMA. Bob Brinkman/The Southern Co.
* Pokeberries. Terry W. Johnson
* Hispid cotton rat reaching for dried pokeberries on an icy winter morning. Terry W. Johnson
* Red knots on the Altamaha delta. Brad Winn/Manomet Center for Conservation Science
Hellbender in water
Hunting for hellbenders

   Thomas Floyd is bent on learning more about a heavyweight, shovel-faced salamander with looks only a mother (or a herpetologist) could love.
   Floyd, of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, began a long-term project to monitor and survey eastern hellbenders in DNR's Thomas Floyd with hellbenderNorth Georgia this summer. The target: Learn more about population trends in the state for North America’s largest salamanders, find new hellbender sites, and monitor those and known ones to evaluate abundance and track changes.
   “One of the healthiest populations in North America is in the North Georgia mountains,” Floyd said. “… It’s really important for us to get baseline data so we know in the future how this salamander is doing.”
   Floyd and others sampled eight sites this year, finding hellbenders on one reach of river where they had not been documented. Two sites where they had been found before produced no hellbenders.
   Read more.
Lake Oconee surprise
White hummer spotted

   When Dreama Thomas of Bogart put out a hummingbird feeder at their Lake Oconee campsite, she expected visitors, but not one that neither she nor many birders have ever seen. A snow-white ruby-throated hummingbird arrived within 15 minutes and soon became a regular, Thomas said.
Leucistic ruby-throated hummingbird   This ruby-throat apparently has a condition called leucism, which is characterized by reduced pigmentation. Leucistic hummers have feathers that are pure white, tan or some color other than normal, but not the pink eyes, bills and legs of true albino hummingbirds, according to Operation Ruby Throat.
   Albinos are rarer, but both are unique. Terry Johnson, former DNR nongame program manager, said he receives about three reports of white hummers each year.
  Thomas was surprised and delighted by the one at Oconee’s Parks Ferry Campground. The campground has since closed for the season, and this great white ruby-throat has likely migrated south.
   “The good thing is I got plenty of pictures!” Thomas wrote.

Before and after shots of Raccoon Creek stretch

Raccoon Creek

Partnership scores success
in conserving watershed

    Teamwork and State Wildlife Grants are helping conserve a northwest Georgia creek and its rare fishes.
    Raccoon Creek drains one of the most biologically diverse watersheds in the Etowah River basin below Lake Allatoona. Home to at least 45 fish species, the creek is considered critical Etowah darterfor the long-term survival of federally endangered Etowah and threatened Cherokee darters, and one of the Georgia’s best sites for protecting Cherokee darters, according to the State Wildlife Action Plan.
    Although 27 percent of Raccoon Creek’s watershed has been protected, it sits on the edge of metro Atlanta in one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties – Paulding. Land clearing has degraded stretches, reducing stream buffers, increasing sedimentation and altering flows.
    The conservation counter-punch? Partnerships including The Nature Conservancy, DNR’s Game Management and Nongame Conservation sections, Paulding County, Georgia Power, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others.
Seining to monitor rare fishes at Raccoon Creek    More than 6,500 acres have been bought, adding to Paulding Forest and Sheffield wildlife management areas, public lands popular for outdoor activities ranging from hunting to birding. The Nature Conservancy led development of a watershed plan that syncs with planning for the larger Etowah basin. Rare fishes are being monitored. On a mile-long creek stretch below power lines, riparian zones have been replanted, steep banks re-contoured, streambanks shored up and cobbled streambeds restored. (Pictured above: before and after views of one area.)
    “Our main goals were to stabilize the stream and reach, and create more habitat,” said Katie Owens, Upper Coosa River Program director for The Nature Conservancy.
   It’s working. Heavy rains are pushing Raccoon Creek into the floodplain, as they should. Seining shows what DNR senior aquatic zoologist Brett Albanese calls “robust” patterns for rare darters.
    Albanese is encouraged. “This is one of the few places where we have the opportunity to achieve watershed-level conservation.”
    DNR wildlife biologist Brent Womack is helping conserve a creek he occasionally fished as a child. He admits to a vested interest in Raccoon Creek, and an understanding of the challenges facing it. Although growth has slowed in the watershed, said Womack, “It’s not a question of if it’s going to get developed."

What are State Wildlife Grants?
The main federal funding source to help states keep common species common and protect other species from becoming imperiled and more costly to recover.

Raccoon Creek at a glance
  • Raccoon Creek is a tributary to the Etowah River, downstream of Lake Allatoona. This creek, which flows south to north, is well known by hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts because a large part of the watershed occurs within Paulding Forest WMA.
  • Although the watershed is relatively small, more than 40 native fish species have been recorded from the creek and its tributaries. This represents more than half of the native fishes known from the Etowah watershed.
  • Several fishes known from Raccoon Creek are endemic to the Etowah system, including the federally threatened Cherokee darter and the federally endangered Etowah darter. Raccoon Creek is one of five population areas for the Etowah darter and has the only significant population known downstream from Lake Allatoona.
  • Grants are helping fund conservation of the watershed. The latest, a Recovery Land Acquisition Grant announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, awards the DNR $656,000 from the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund to acquire vital buffers along a tributary.

Bill Baker being awarded TERN Volunteer of the Year

TERN 2011 Volunteer of the Year
Bird-loving retiree makes
mark with skills and heart

   You could call Bill Baker Mr. Birdfeeder. But a more fitting title is TERN’s 2011 Volunteer of the Year.
   The Environmental Resources Network, friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section, recently honored Baker for his work supporting DNR’s Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center and the Nongame Section.  Linda May, nongame environmental outreach coordinator, nominated the seemingly tireless Lawrenceville retiree, saying his woodworking talent and desire to “make a difference in people’s lives while contributing to wildlife conservation” resulted in more than 600 hours volunteered since 1998.
Bill Baker helping in a workshop in 2007   Much of that time and effort was poured into bird-focused Backyard Habitat classes in which Baker taught young and old how to build birdfeeders and nest boxes. He picked the wood, cut the pieces and drilled the openings. “He is intimately familiar with every feeder and nest box kit ever used in each class, because he created them himself with occasional help from other woodworkers,” May wrote.
   Baker and other members of the Gwinnett Woodworkers Association have also helped teach Environmental Education Alliance members and Master Naturalists, and volunteered in other ways, from youth fishing and shooting sports events to feeding raptors used in outreach programs.
   And this December, he’ll help May conduct another Birdfeeding Basics class at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
Out my backdoor
Praise for pokeberry
By Terry W. Johnson
   One of the most fascinating plants in my backyard grows not in a flower bed but in an undeveloped border beside my neighbor’s garden. This ungainly, native plant which some consider a weed on steroids is what most Georgians call pokeberry, pokeweed, poke, poke salad, pigeonberry or inkberry.
Pokeberries    Pokeberry is a perennial herb that can grow 20 feet tall or more, though most never reach more than 4-12 feet. The plant’s stems are magenta and its leaves are lance-shaped.
   I didn’t plant the pokeweed on my property. I’m sure birds unwittingly scattered the black, hard seeds. Each pokeberry gulped down by a hungry bird contains 10 seeds that remain unscathed as they pass through the digestive system. The coating is so hard pokeberry seeds can remain viable for 40 years.
   Pokeweed is a host plant for the stunning giant leopard moth. Ruby-throated hummingbirds feed at the tiny, greenish-white blossoms. White-tailed deer nibble on the leaves and stems.
   However, most animals don’t pay pokeweed much attention until its juicy, purplish-black berries begin ripening in August and September. From then until the last shriveled berry disappears in late winter, pokeberries are eaten by an impressive list of critters.
   Knowing this, if you keep an eye on a pokeweed laden with ripe berries, you can see and photograph many different kinds of wildlife. Some visitors, such as deer, gray foxes, opossums, raccoons and other mammals, feed at night.
   But on a blustery, cold morning last winter, my luck changed. While I was trying to photograph dark-eyed juncos feeding on goldenrod seeds, I saw a tangle of dead vegetation move. After a brief wait, much to my surprise, a hispid cotton rat emerged and scampered to a nearby pokeberry plant.
   Freezing weather had reduced the plant to a skeleton. However, a few drooping branches were still festooned with clusters of wrinkled pokeberries. By standing on its hind legs, the cotton rat was able to reach the berries closest to the ground. After quickly devouring them, it tried to reach the remaining berries. After several tries, it finally grabbed the stem holding the berries and hung suspended above the ground. This enabled the rat to reach a few of the berries before it dropped back to the ground.
   Talk about determination!
Hispid cotton rat eating pokeberries  
   The birds you are most apt to see eating pokeberries are year-round residents such as northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, American crows, cardinals, starlings and red-bellied woodpeckers. In preparation for and during their fall migration, birds that nest in our backyards and elsewhere in North America will also gobble up pokeberries to help fuel the hazardous journey to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The list of these neotropical migrants includes the gray catbird, eastern kingbird, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery, summer tanager and hooded warbler.
   Later, when migratory birds that winter in the state arrive, they will dine on any remaining pokeberries. These winter residents include the hermit thrush, cedar waxwing, and fox and white-throated sparrow.
   The list of birds that relish pokeberries is incomplete without the mourning dove. While you may have thought mourning doves only eat seeds, wildlife biologists and hunters have long recognized pokeberries as an important late-summer and fall food for Georgia’s most popular game bird.
   All parts of pokeweed are poisonous to humans, but we have found other uses for it. The berries’ red juice was once used as a dye. Native Americans are said to have decorated their horses with it. The writing in Civil War-era letters and journals that appears brown was probably done with pokeberry ink, which turns brown with age.
   Pokeweed also has long been thought to have medicinal value, employed at one time to cure everything from boils to acne. Today, pokeberry is being researched as a possible cancer treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, a chemical found in pokeberry juice has been successfully used to treat cancerous tumors in mice. The chemical is being tested to see if it can protect cells from HIV and AIDS.
   If pokeberry plants are trying to colonize an out-of-the way spot in your yard, I hope you let them grow. You’ll be rewarded with an attractive plant, a great wildlife food source, more opportunities to see wildlife, and a living lesson for your children and grandchildren about history, science, medicine …  and how sometimes something that appears to have little value turns out to be a real treasure.
Read more, from warnings about eating pokeberries to pokeweed's popularity in European gardens, in Terry’s full column.
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
Pokeberries and Polk
  • Some supporters of James Polk, the 11th U.S. president, mistakenly thought the plant was named for Polk, and would wear pokeweed sprigs on their lapel or around their neck.
Parting shot
Red knots on the Altamaha delta

The Altamaha River delta is the East Coast's most significant fall staging area for southbound red knots that winter in the Northern Hemisphere. In a study funded by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, biologists and volunteers are monitoring red knots on the delta through October, when as many as 5,000 of the birds flock to the flats to eat dwarf surf clams. Nongame Conservation Section biologist Tim Keyes said the counts, band "re-sightings" and other work will be used to develop a model to estimate bird numbers and the time red knots spend at the Altamaha. This will help conserve a species that has suffered significant declines, as well as the habitat it needs. Partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy.
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