Inside: Satilla flatheads l New WMA pass l Owl fears l Surprise sparrow l
Ga. DNR nongame wildlife newsletter
Wildlife license plates

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?
   Buy or renew a plate.
   Contribute to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund tax checkoff.
   Donate directly to Nongame.
   Join our friends group TERN.
   Use GoodSearch (enter "Georgia Nongame Conservation Fund" at "Who do you GoodSearch for").

Wild facts

Most salamanders look for shelter from cool weather in the fall. However, one species is leaving its underground world to breed now. Instead of depositing eggs directly in the water like most salamanders, the female marbled salamander lays up to 200 eggs in a small depression of leaf litter or under a log. She then guards the eggs and waits for rain to come. The eggs hatch out after only a few days of being soaked, but the young won’t mature until the following spring. Forested wetlands and floodplains must be protected in order to keep this species common in Georgia.

Ranger report

In case you were wondering ... snakes are no safeguard against having your car searched. An Indiana man cited snakes as his reason for refusing to let Cherokee County deputies or the DNR search his car during a recent traffic stop on Interstate 75. Nicholas Mesa actually had 10 snakes plus three lizard species, according to DNR Cpl. Lee Burns. Mesa said he caught the reptiles in Florida. The snakes, all non-venomous, included Georgia native species such as corn, coachwhip, pine, king and Southern hognose, plus a non-native rosy boa. Mesa was charged with possession of nongame wildlife without a permit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was also investigating.


Rare species

West Indian manatee
These plant-eating
aquatic giants grow up to 13 feet long and can weigh nearly 1.5 tons. Found in Georgia's tidal waters from March through October, manatees migrate back to warm-water refuges in Florida for winter. Threats include boat strikes and loss of habitat. Manatees found in U.S. coastal waters are recognized as a subspecies, the Florida manatee. All West Indian manatees are listed as endangered. More in DNR's rare species profiles.


Altamaha spinymussel
The Altamaha spinymussel will be federally listed as endangered Nov. 11 and part of the Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Ohoopee rivers designated critical habitat. A candidate for listing since 2001, this spinymussel found only in Georgia has suffered from habitat degradation, pollution, drought and possibly a decline in the host fish the spike-topped mollusk needs to reproduce.
   Budget cuts of 46-100 percent are being considered in Congress for key wildlife programs such as the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, North American Wetland Conservation Fund, Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The Teaming With Wildlife Coalition and others maintain the potential cuts are disproportionate and would undermine wildlife conservation.
    In the first season of a bottlenose dolphin photo-identification study in the Brunswick area, Nongame Conservation Section coastal staff averaged documenting 11 groups and 37 dolphins per outing April-September. The project, supported by NOAA, DNR's Coastal Resources Division and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, is aimed at determining if contaminants are affecting the abundance and calf survival of local dolphins ("Dolphins sampled for insight," November 2009).
    Two whooping cranes in a program to reintroduce the imperiled birds to Louisiana were shot and killed by juveniles Oct.  9. Three whooping cranes were shot in Georgia and two in Alabama last winter ("Fifth whooper found dead," February 2011).
    Ten young whoopers recently began their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida, following an ultralight aircraft and followed by fans through an "In the Field" diary. The flight path for the 11th generation of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership project cuts through southwest Georgia.
    Plum Creek Foundation awarded the Georgia Wildlife Federation a $6,000 grant for Camp Charlie at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The weekend camping program will help introduce suburban and low-income families to the outdoors.
    Almost half of all Americans 6 and older took part in outdoor recreation in 2009, up slightly from 2008, according to The Outdoor Foundation’s annual report.
    Nearly 690 diamondback terrapin eggs were moved from unprotected golf course sites at The Landings to nest boxes in course bunkers, part of conservation efforts at the gated Skidaway Island community.
    Mark Abner, a Georgia native raised in Jesup, has been named Georgia state director of The Nature Conservancy.
    Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida State University have published a 176-page atlas of the state’s natural communities, plants and animals.

Hellbender video

Did you see?


   "A biologist decries slaying of whooping cranes," The New York Times
   "Kennesaw State University works to preserve In the Valley," The Daily Tribune News (Bartow County)
   "Invasive species slipped into U.S. after 9/11," The Huffington Post
   "Partnership makes headway conserving creek rich in rare fish," The
   "Rare Altamaha mussel gets endangered species listing," The Florida Times-Union
   "Local plants, fish, among 374 rare species studied for possible protection," The Augusta Chronicle-Herald
   "4,011 sea turtle nests observed during 2011 season (South Carolina)," The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat
   "Super tough seed coat keeps Michaux's sumac on critically endangered list," Smithsonian
   "Report: 11,772 sea turtles injured or killed in 2005 by commercial fishing," Sun Herald (Mississippi)

* Eastern screech owl eyes, in masthead. Russell Wigh
* DNR staff with flathead catfish. Bert Deener/Ga. DNR
* Satilla River redbreast. Bert Deener/Ga. DNR
* Flathead with Atlantic sturgeon. Ga. DNR
* Florida manatee. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
* Altamaha spinymussel. Ga. DNR
* Saltmarsh sparrow banded in Georgia and later recaptured in Connecticut. Ga. DNR
* Setting up to net sparrows on Georgia coast. Ga. DNR
* Eastern screech owl. Russell Wigh
* Nongame Conservation Section exhibit at CoastFest. Ga. DNR

DNR's Georgia Wild is free, monthly and focused on rare, endangered and other nongame wildlife. Nongame includes wildlife not legally trapped, fished for or hunted, plus native plants and natural habitats.

Volume 4, issue 10
Georgia Wild archives

Satilla River flathead

Satilla flatheads
down but not out

   Flathead catfish took another thrashing on the Satilla River this year.
   Georgia DNR efforts aimed at softening the shovel-faced invader’s impact on native fishes removed nearly 3,500 flatheads totaling 4.6 tons from the south Georgia river.  That makes more than 31 tons or almost 63,000 flatheads since full-time management began five years ago, according to data from the just-ended sampling season.
   The work has shrunk the size and number of this big, hungry predator native to river drainages farther west. “We remain cautiously optimistic that we’re having an impact on the population,” project leader and fisheries biologist Tim Bonvechio said.
Satilla redbreast  Illegally released into the Satilla, flathead catfish had undercut the river’s noted redbreast fishery and native bullhead catfish by the mid-2000s. Yet, from 2007 to 2011, DNR workers electroshocking about 100 miles of river a year saw the average size of flatheads drop from 5.8 to 2.7 pounds. More than 80 percent sampled last year were 1 to 2 years old, up from 15 percent in 2007. (This year’s sample is being analyzed.)
   The project is now supported by State Wildlife Grants, the main federal funding for helping states keep common species common and protect others from becoming imperiled and more costly to recover.  DNR also uses these grants to rein in other invasive species, such as feral hogs on Ossabaw Island and non-native phragmites, a reed that crowds out native grasses in coastal marshes.
   The approach is guided by the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive conservation strategy, and the state’s Invasive Species Strategy, a broad blueprint for combating exotic invaders and the threats they pose to Georgia’s economy, environment, and human and animal health.
   Bonvechio said Satilla samples in the past spring showed higher numbers of young redbreast. But it’s too early to tell if the sunfish is rebounding because of fewer flatheads.
   What is clear to him is that controlling these catfish on the Satilla means long-term “maintenance.” Young flatheads are showing up in the population in high numbers when the river level is high. They are also becoming sexually mature sooner, data show.
   “You let up on the pedal,” Bonvechio said, “and they’re gonna come back.”

Flathead and sturgeon

Flathead flashback

1996: Introduction of species in the Satilla is documented. (Flatheads with fins clipped by DNR on the Altamaha River are caught in the Satilla.)
2010: Juvenile Atlantic sturgeon (photo above) is found in a Satilla flathead’s stomach, the first confirmed field observation of flatheads preying on sturgeon.
2011: DNR shocks up seven blue catfish in the Satilla, evidence that another big, non-native catfish has made it to the river.

State Wildlife Grants success

Download this 10-year-look at conservation success stories credited to State & Wildlife Tribal Grants Program. (Included: Alabama shad, gopher tortoise and Bachman’s sparrow research in Georgia!)

The goods on GORP

New pass shares support for public lands

   Some wildlife management areas frequented by hikers, birders and others will require a new pass next year, with the money raised going to help cover maintenance of the DNR sites.
   The Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass, dubbed GORP, goes on sale Nov. 1. It will be needed to use all or designated parts of 32 WMAs starting Jan. 1.
   For individuals, a GORP costs $3.50 for three days and $19 for a year. For most groups with eight or fewer people, the pass costs $10 for three days or $35 annually. The GORP is required for visitors ages 16-64, but not for those who have a valid WMA, honorary, sportsmen’s, lifetime or three-day hunting and fishing license.
    The 32 properties include WMAs, public fishing areas and natural areas owned by DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. Each is managed for wildlife, habitat and outdoor activities, work funded mostly by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses. Yet, these sites also experience heavy use for activities such as hiking, cycling, caving, birding and shooting.
   Wildlife Resources Director Dan Forster said the GORP answers a long-realized need for those users to help cover the cost of providing the property. Though not perfect, said Forster, the new system allows a broader range of constituents beyond hunters and anglers to contribute more equitably to the financial burden of management.
   He added that the fee structure developed in the GORP "is the result of a broad-based and extensive public involvement process.”

Get a GORP

  • Available at, by calling 1-800-366-2661 and via license retail agents.
  • A high-value version called GORP Plus and available only to Georgia residents costs $3.50, covers three days and includes a three-day hunting and fishing license, allowing fishing privileges on WMAs.
  • Some small groups will qualify for a Right-of-Entry agreement and be exempt from GORP. Contact the WMA for details.
  • GORP sites.

Ga. saltmarsh sparrow
beats the banding odds

Saltmarsh sparrow

Conn. re-catch aids study of sneaky birds

   Saltmarsh sparrows are called secretive, quiet and vulnerable. This species of sharp-tailed sparrow nests in saltmarshes along the north and mid-Atlantic Coast, wetlands threatened by rising sea levels and other changes such as development. The nests are especially susceptible to flooding because they are built in the marsh grasses.
Netting saltmarsh sparrows   But, as for secretive, one saltmarsh sparrow became less of a mystery last month. Caught, banded and released on the Jekyll Island causeway in January, the bird was recaptured by researchers near Madison, Conn., on Sept. 15. The site is well within the species’ breeding range. The bird also may have been migrating south, possibly returning to Georgia’s coastal marshes where many saltmarsh sparrows winter.
   Project leader and DNR wildlife biologist Tim Keyes knows of only five “long-distance” recaptures of saltmarsh sparrows. Also, the rule of thumb for most songbird banding is one recapture for every thousand birds banded, Keyes said. Yet, this saltmarsh sparrow was one of 59 banded in Georgia last winter, along with 80 Nelson’s sparrows, the other sharp-tailed sparrow species.
   The project included coastal sites from Jekyll to Tybee Island and involved Atlanta Audubon Society, the Center for Conservation Biology and many volunteers. It also marked a first for Georgia, Keyes said.
   Repeated this winter, the work will probe the species’ site fidelity, distribution and other issues, adding to growing research of these small birds.
   Research that now includes a 1-in-1,000 sparrow documented in two places 1,000 miles apart.

Out my backdoor

Who’s afraid of owls?

Superstitions haunt amazing animals

By Terry W. Johnson
   Our homes will be visited by an assortment of tiny goblins, witches, ghosts and other strange characters later this month. They will arrive at our front door at dark and utter three words we once repeated too many years ago, “Trick or treat?”
   This is the pageantry of Halloween. As we all know, there also are animals linked to this annual event. More often than we may realize, some may be watching as costumed children parade to our doors.
   The watchers I am referring to are owls. Their association with a holiday steeped with superstition is unfortunate. They are some of our most valued backyard neighbors, and not creatures to be feared.
Eastern screech owl
   Yet, long before there was Halloween, people throughout the world associated the owl with death, misfortune and even witches. Why is not known. Some suggest it is because of owls’ ability to see amazingly well at night, a time when, without light, we mortals stumble about.
    For thousands of years mankind tried to explain the bird’s vision. To many there was only one answer: Witches must have cast a spell on owls. The belief that owls consorted with witches and other unsavory characters has long been widespread. In many societies the word for owl and witch is the same.
   Also, unlike most birds the owl’s head is oval or round and its large eyes face forward. The face is so human-like that, in parts of the world, people were convinced owls were humans changed by witches.
   The call seems to unnerve people even more. Throughout time, the call of an owl has been considered a harbinger of bad tidings. The Chinese interpreted it as a sign that death or illness would soon befall anyone unlucky enough to hear it. Hindus and Romans shared similar fears. Both believed the only way to avoid calamity was to kill the bird and scatter its ashes into a river.
   In Britain, the barn owl was dubbed the death owl.
   Native American tribes shared similar superstitions. Many tribes thought owls possessed mystical powers. They also believed spirits used owls to warn of death. The Pima Indians of the Southwest placed owl feathers in the hand of people thought to be dying.  They believed an owl would spot the feathers and realize that the person clasping them was prepared to take the journey to the afterlife.
   Closer to home, the great horned, barred and screech owl all played important roles in the spiritual lives of the Cherokees. They believed these owls, all of which can be found in backyards across Georgia, could communicate with their Shamans in a strange, silent tongue. The great horned owl, which they called the Magic Maker, was considered the most important of the three. However, each was supposedly imbued with the power to sicken anyone who veered from the straight and narrow.
   The folklore of early European settlers in America is rich in fanciful tales of owls. According to one folktale, a screech owl calling outside a home was a sure sign of impending death or illness. And if an owl’s call was heard outside the home of somebody who was ill, the only way to save the person from death was to kill the bird and place its carcass on the chest of the sick person.
   Fortunately, most people don’t place much stock in such superstitions today. To the contrary, instead of trying to avoid owls, we protect them, and encourage them to nest in our backyards and neighborhoods. However, in spite of our appreciation of the birds often called Mother Nature’s mousetraps, it appears they will remain regrettably linked to Halloween.

Read more, from Christopher Columbus’ contempt for owls to how a hut was “cleansed” from owls, 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

Parting shot

CoastFest 2011
The 17th annual CoastFest drew more than 9,100 to DNR offices in Brunswick Oct. 1. One favorite was the lineup of native Georgia turtles in an educational exhibit organized by Nongame Conservation Section staff, with turtles from Chattahoochee Nature Center and DNR's Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

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