DNR Wildlife Resources Division nongame newsletter
January 2012
Wildlife license plates
A check for wildlife
In a poll of Georgia Wild readers last fall, a greater percentage of respondents indicated they were more likely to support nongame conservation through the state income tax checkoff, compared to percentages of those most likely to buy or renew a wildlife license plate or make a direct contribution. Well, it's time now to put intentions into action. Since 1989, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund tax checkoff has provided an easy and effective way to support DNR's Nongame Conservation Section. The section receives no state appropriations to conserve Georgia's endangered and rare nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. By filling in any dollar amount on line 26 of the state's long income tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500-EZ), you "give wildlife a chance." (Tax forms online.) Checkoff contributions have played a part in many conservation achievements, from the restoration of bald eagle populations in Georgia to land acquisitions such as Paulding Forest and Silver Lake wildlife management areas.

Checkoff logo

Wild facts
Even if you’re not a biologist, you can help monitor bird population health. How? By participating in the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count! Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, this citizen science event runs Feb. 17-20. Just count birds from a favorite place (perhaps your yard or a nature center) for at least 15 minutes. Record the highest number of each species you see at any one time. Then enter your checklist at www.BirdCount.org. By combining your count information with other nationwide data, the Great Backyard Bird Count provides an early warning system for birds in need of conservation help. Watch this video introduction!
Nongame Conservation Section
environmental outreach coordinator
Red-breasted nuthatch: 2011 YBC T-shirt Art Contest winner
In education

Speaking of birds, registration is open for the 2012 Youth Birding Competition, set for April 27-28. In this fun and free competition, teams of like ages count as many species of birds as they can in Georgia for 24 hours. The birdathon is capped off by a banquet and awards ceremony packed with prizes at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. There's also a T-shirt Art Contest! Full details here.

Ranger report
Tenacious: Cpl. Michael Crawley is gaining a reputation for making Washington and Johnson counties inhospitable territory for would-be wildlife violators. Crawley, who represents the counties, was recently named DNR Investigative Ranger of the Year for his tenacity and excellence in pursuing poachers, including one case involving 18 violations varying from poaching to trespass.
Whale-sized fines: Owners and operators of three large commercial vessels paid a high price for violating speed limits designed to protect North Atlantic right whales. Fines ranged from $11,500 to $92,000 after the vessels exceeded the 10 knots-or-less limit set in some areas along the East Coast. The limits shield the endangered whales from being hit by large ships, a significant source of right whale deaths. The alleged violations occurred between November 2009 and January 2011 outside of New York City; Charleston, S.C.; Mayport, Fla., and -- in Georgia -- Brunswick, King’s Bay and Savannah, Ga. One vessel was charged with 16 counts of speeding. Cases against six other vessels are still open.

Peregrine: by Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Rare species
Peregrine falcon
Falco peregrinus Tunstall
This raptor with pointed wings and wingspans of up to 44 inches is widely recognized as the world's fastest bird, diving on prey at speeds estimated near 200 mph. Peregrines migrate through coastal Georgia en route from and there are two nests sites on tall buildings in Atlanta -- SunTrust Tower and Four Seasons Hotel -- that are consistently used. The last and only natural peregrine nesting site in the state was documented at Cloudland Canyon in the 1940s.

Read more about peregrine falcons and other wildlife in DNR's rare species profiles.

Your top 5 stories
Last month, we listed nine top Georgia Wild stories from 2011 and asked you to pick the ones you found most interesting. The top five favorites from last year, starting with the most popular:
  1. "Hunting for hellbenders"
  2. "Shorebird with Georgia ties weathers Irene"
  3. "Survey maps way to monitor indigos"
  4. "Dolphin rescued (and videoed)"
  5. "Rockcress makes comeback at Black’s Bluff"

    New rules to protect all of Georgia's native freshwater turtles from overharvest were approved by the Board of Natural Resources in late January. The regulations will allow the DNR to monitor and reduce the harvest of wild turtles, while also accommodating turtle farmers in the state. News coverage: Macon's WMAZ-TV; Georgia Public Broadcasting.
  Winter is the season for white-nose syndrome surveillance. Although this disease deadly to bats has not been detected in Georgia, it has been confirmed in Tennessee and North Carolina, and anyone caving in Georgia this winter is encouraged to report the presence or absence of bats and any signs of WNS (here’s how).  As always, practice clean caving, and decontaminate between sites! More updates: Estimated deaths top 5.5 million; $4 million to combat WNS.

Entangled right whale
   A North Atlantic right whale trailing fishing gear proved too elusive when Nongame Conservation Section staff and conservation partners tried to disentangle the adult female off Little Saint Simons Island Jan. 19. The good news: The whale looked in good shape, and the line running through her mouth did not appear life-threatening, giving biologists hope she’ll be able to shed it. News coverage: Savannah Morning News.
   Hear that? Frog call surveys as part of the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program began this month in Georgia. As part of the national effort to monitor amphibian population trends, three times a year more than 40 people – including volunteers and 12 Wildlife Resources Division employees – document the frog species they hear along set driving routes across the state.
   A Wildlife Resources Division program to help hemlocks on Dawson Forests Wildlife Management Area survive the wooly adelgid treated 18,321 trees last year. The Mountain Stewards, a partner group, spent 1,185 volunteer hours on the project, and the plan is to treat more areas on the Dawson County WMA this year. Also see: “UGA study offers hope for hemlocks."

Nelson's sparrow
   About 95 sharp-tailed sparrows -- including Nelson's and saltmarsh sparrows -- and nearly 170 seaside sparrows were banded as part of Nongame Conservation Section research into wintering sparrows at Georgia saltmarshes. Thirty-six of the birds caught had been banded last year, underscoring the high site-fidelity of these secretive sparrows. Also see: “Saltmarsh sparrow beats banding odds"  (October 2011).
   In the news: Nongame biologist Jason Wisniewski collaborated on an 84-page mussels publication used as a Florida Museum of Natural History bulletin and the foundation for an upcoming book on Florida’s freshwater mussels.
John Jensen, a Nongame herpetologist, received a U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Partnership Award for helping reintroduce federally threatened eastern indigo snakes at Conecuh National Forest in Alabama. Jensen and Nongame Program Manager Matt Elliott helped Alabama’s state wildlife agency acquire permits and collect 24 gravid indigos from Georgia (all returned to the capture sites after laying eggs and clearing a health check). Charles Seabrook, the longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution environmental writer, has a new book with UGA Press, "The World of the Salt Marsh."
   By the numbers:
  • 75 – How many years the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has been in existence (a yearlong celebration is planned).
  • 8,000 – The number of longleaf pine trees Nongame’s Nathan Klaus and Ashley Harrington planted on Fall Line Sandhills Wildlife Management Area.
  • $30,000 – Georgia Ornithological Society’s award to DNR of almost that much for habitat management including dike repairs at Altamaha Wildlife Management Area and controlled burns at Paulk's Pasture Wildlife Management Area and Moody Forest Natural Area. (Another $14,000 went to Georgia Audubon's Important Bird Area program for work on Altamaha WMA, Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area and Panola Mountain State Park.)

   "Claxton rattlesnake roundup gets a makeover," Savannah Morning News
  "Georgia officials limit turtle harvest with permits," The Associated Press
   "Savannah River named 'endangered place,'" Savannah Morning News 127
   "Buckhead attorney tracks rare falcons from the perfect perch," BuckheadPatch.com
   "Roundup ends in Claxton," The Statesboro Herald
   "Nature Conservancy protecting 304,352 acres in Georgia," Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
   "Turkey vultures invade neighborhood," Thomasville Times-Enterprise
   "Sea level rise raises marsh concerns," The Brunswick News
   "Feral hogs damaging property near Fort Benning," Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
   "Georgia Aquarium opens frog exhibit," WXIA-TV (Atlanta)
   "Comedian Jeff Foxworthy puts 1,000 Harris County acres in conservation plan," Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
   "FAA grants waiver allowing ultralight-led migration to continue," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
   "Tree Top Excursions at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center," Chattanoogan.com
   "Turtle rules limit harvest," (coverage of public hearing) Georgia Public Broadcasting
   "Sign up now for Georgia’s 2012 Youth Birding Competition," AmmoLand.com
   "Psychological warfare tactics fight a vulture infestation," WALB-TV (Albany)
   "Disappearing diamondbacks relocated to longleaf woods," The (S.C.) Post and Courier
   "Congress funds white-nose syndrome fight," Georgia Public Broadcasting
   "Thurmond Lake toxin again threatens eagles," The Augusta Chronicle
   "First right whale calf of season spotted off the Georgia coast," Savannah Morning News
* Masthead: A crew banding sharp-tailed sparrows along the U.S. 17 causeway includes, from left, Brandon Noel of Georgia Southern University, Nongame's Tim Keyes, Georgia Important Bird Areas Program Coordinator Charlie Muise and Nongame's Nathan Klaus. Robert V. Horan III
* Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Dirk J. Stevenson
* 2011 Youth Birding Competition T-shirt Art Contest winner -- a red-breasted nuthatch by Rosemary Kramer.
* Swamp pink seedlings. Carrie Radcliffe
* Swamp pink flower. Alan Cressler
* Right whale entangled in fishing gear off Georgia's coast. Georgia DNR, NOAA Research Permit No. 932-1905
* A Nelson's sparrow caught, banded and released on the Jekyll Island causeway. Robert V. Horan III
* Eastern chipmunk. Terry W. Johnson
* Rachael Wallace with a large eastern indigo snake. Mark Wallace

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 5, issue 1
Georgia Wild archives

In this issue:

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake
Claxton fest drops
wild-caught rattlers

Event expands focus on wildlife, snakes

   Here's the latest buzz on an event next month wildlife enthusiasts will not want to miss:
   The 2012 Claxton rattlesnake festival will not include buying or selling wild-caught rattlers, a first in the south Georgia event’s 44-year history.
   What is now the Claxton Rattlesnake & Wildlife Festival will have plenty of rattlesnakes, however, and even more wildlife than before.
   The Evans County Wildlife Club, which organizes the popular festival, decided recently to drop the “roundup” aspect. The move answers concerns by conservationists including sportsmen and wildlife biologists about the impact of snake hunting on rattlesnake populations, particularly eastern diamondbacks, which are declining. Collection can also affect the gopher tortoise burrows used by these predators and other wildlife, from gopher frogs to indigo snakes .
   Club president Bruce Purcell said the conservation focus fits the organization. Purcell also noted that the numbers of rattlesnakes and snake hunters involved had slipped. “I think the time was right to make a change,” he said.
   Set for March 10-11, the festival will have scores of captive rattlers, a popular draw. There will also be snake demonstrations and wildlife educational programs such as one featuring birds of prey from Georgia Southern University’s Wildlife Education Center, plus exhibits of Coastal Plain sandhill wildlife including the gopher tortoise and federally threatened eastern indigo snake, a turkey calling contest, arts and crafts vendors, a parade, beauty queens, races, and an archery tournament, casting contest and other activities for youth.
   The two-day festival attracts some 15,000 visitors to Claxton, just off Interstate 16 in southwest Georgia.
   The decision to exclude rattlesnakes from the wild has drawn praise nationwide. Purcell said he has received emails and calls of support from people from Pennsylvania to south Florida.
   Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams has commended the club’s decision, saying, “We certainly support the direction they’re going.”
   Started by communities to remove the threat of rattlers near houses and businesses, today’s roundups include only a fraction of so-called nuisance snakes. Wildlife biologist John Jensen of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section said most of the rattlesnakes come from areas far away from homes. Some are captured on “wild” lands where they pose virtually no danger to people.
   As for what Purcell calls the Claxton roundup’s evolution, Jensen said, “Switching to a festival that celebrates wildlife and the role they play in the ecosystem is … a great change.”
   Other conservationists will agree.

Rattlesnake & Wildlife Festival
  • When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 10; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 11.
  • Where: Evans County Wildlife Club, just west of Claxton, off Ga. 280.
  • Highlights: Snake-handling demonstrations and educational programs, wildlife exhibits, turkey calling contest, more than 100 arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, a grand parade, beauty queens, essay contest, 1-mile fun run, 5-K run, live entertainment, children’s games and activities such as a casting contest, and a 3-D archery event.
  • Admission: $5; free for ages 5 and younger.
  • Details: (912) 739-3820 or (912) 739-1391; www.claxtonevanschamber.com

Swamp pink surprise
Introduced at a mountain bog,
rare plant produces seedlings

By Carrie Radcliffe
   Swamp pink had a red-letter day last October.
   That’s when scientists and students working at a Chattahoochee National Forest mountain bog uncovered the first known instance in Georgia of a swamp pink that had been planted to help restore this imperiled species actually producing seedlings.
Swamp pink seedlings    Students from Southeastern Technical College in Swainsboro had teamed with U.S. Forest Service and the DNR to help restore a mountain bog, one of the rarest natural communities in the Southern Appalachians. As workers cut and moved brush away from patches of sphagnum moss containing sensitive plants, botanists documented a surprise years in the making.
    Since 1995, member organizations of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance have maintained collections of rare plants for conservation. The Alliance has also “safeguarded” rare species in native habitats, adding to existing wild populations from plants in cultivation and introducing plants in other suitable places. Mountain bogs are the most important of these safeguarded habitats.
   One of the first safeguarding efforts involving mountain bog species revolved around swamp pink (Helonias bullata), a unique member of the lily family. In 1942, botanist Wilbur Duncan made the first recorded occurrence of swamp pink in Georgia, describing the plant’s beautiful flower as rose-pink with blue anthers.
   Swamp pink is now federally listed as threatened. Georgia represents the southern extent of its range. Here, the plant was once restricted to a single bog on private land where ditching and agriculture had permanently altered the site’s hydrology.
    Despite efforts to moderate the ecological damage, the bog has become overgrown and shaded, diminishing its ability to support rare bog species. Swamp pink is the only rare plant left. It persists by its thick rhizomes. Seedlings have never been seen here, and the last time the plants were observed blooming was in 2008.
    Yet, Atlanta Botanical Garden propagated hundreds of plants using seed collected  from this lonely colony of swamp pink. Many of those plants have been used to create safeguarding populations in the Chattahoochee National Forest, where volunteers with The Botanical Guardians keep close watch over them, reporting updates to the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.
Swamp pink flower    In 2010, guardians saw that one introduced swamp pink outplanted nearly two decades ago had finally produced a flower and dispersed seed. (This followed clearing around bogs earlier that year that increased sunlight on the areas, work funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.)
    Then, last fall, the work group involving the Southeastern Tech students discovered many swamp pink seedlings next to the plant that had flowered and set fruit the year before!
Beyond this being the first documented swamp pink seedling recruitment in Georgia, researchers are excited because reproduction and recruitment are the first steps toward establishing a healthy population of rare plants.
    Jennifer Ceska, conservation coordinator for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, said swamp pink has been “a puzzle for safeguarding.”  “And after 20 years of intelligent tinkering to finally hit on the combination of needs for this species to reproduce in the wild feels like a huge success.”
    Swamp pink is being safeguarded in three protected Georgia mountain bogs. Other rare bog plants and animals, such as mountain purple pitcher plant, Carolina laurel, Cuthbert’s turtle-head, Canada burnet and bog turtles, are also being safeguarded.
    Thanks to collaborative restoration efforts, these species restricted to one or only a few naturally occurring sites in Georgia are being conserved in managed areas – efforts their survival may depend on.

Click here for researchers' comments and other details regarding the swamp pink find. 

Carrie Radcliffe is a botany intern with the Nongame Conservation Section, a Botanical Guardian and mountain bog project coordinator for the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance. The swamp pink discovery was also featured as a U.S. Forest Service success story.

More about ...
Mountain bogs
In Georgia’s Blue Ridge province, very few of these small, fragile wetlands remain intact. Although a vast network of boggy areas once spread across North Georgia, as the region was settled, most wetlands were drained and ditched for agriculture and development, leaving only some of the more remote bogs. Even these do not persist without natural disturbance from periodic fire or beaver activity, both of which have been greatly suppressed. Biologists and volunteers monitor bogs and regularly hand-prune invading trees and shrubs to keep them open. Each bog is unique and is managed using an adaptive approach that evolves as restoration goals are met. Mountain bog restoration is a high-priority conservation action in Georgia's Wildlife Action Plan.

Out my backdoor

In winter, chipmunks
are mini-mysteries

By Terry W. Johnson 
  Although I have been watching wildlife in my yard for decades, I probably enjoy it more today than when I was a boy. One reason why is the more I watch, the more I encounter mysteries that beg to be solved.
   Take the eastern chipmunk. For weeks this fall I enjoyed watching chipmunks gathering sunflower seeds beneath my bird feeders. They would stuff their cheek pouches until they bulged with seeds, then, with tails pointed skyward, they would scamper to their burrows.
   A few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t seen a chipmunk in quite some time. I can’t say when they disappeared any more than I can pick the date that the chimney swifts using my chimney left for their wintering grounds in the Amazon River basin.
Chipmunk   Knowing that chipmunks escape winter by hibernating in burrows stocked with seeds, I assumed I wouldn’t see a chipmunk until spring. That’s why I was surprised to see one out and about during a recent spell of unseasonably warm weather. The sighting made me wonder, if chipmunks truly hibernate, why had this one left the safety of its underground home so early in the new year?
   In the spirit of notable sleuths like Jessica Fletcher and Sherlock Holmes, I launched an investigation aimed at unraveling the mystery. My detective work revealed that, while biologists have been researching chipmunk hibernation for quite some time, perplexing questions regarding this common backyard resident still baffle the experts.
   Until recently, many researchers questioned whether or not the eastern chipmunk was a true hibernator. Most hibernators remain inactive for months during hibernation, living off fat stored in their bodies. Chipmunks, on the other hand, wake up from time to time to dine on nuts and seeds stored in their underground larders. During these times the animals rarely leave their burrows.
   The experts also doubted that chipmunks’ respiratory and heart rates and body temperature dropped as low as other animals that hibernate. However, studies using recent technological advances show that these vital signs do plummet to exceedingly low levels, similar to those of other true hibernators.
   A chipmunk normally takes 60 or more breaths per minute. While hibernating, they take fewer than 20. The animal’s heart rate slows drastically, from 350 to only 15 beats a minute. And an eastern chipmunk’s body temperature, normally ranging from 96 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, cools to only 42 to 45 degrees.
  Just as baffling, eastern chipmunks living in the northern reaches of their range hibernate for several months, while here in Georgia they often hibernate for only a few weeks. Even chipmunks inhabiting the same area can display different hibernating behaviors. Locally, some chipmunks don’t hibernate at all. Others hibernate for only a brief time, and even others hibernate for weeks on end!
   A chipmunk can even change its hibernating behavior from year to year. However, researchers generally agree that hibernating chipmunks are most apt to leave their burrows during unseasonably warm weather early in winter.
   There are other unanswered questions: What triggers hibernation in chipmunks? What influences the length?
   We do know chipmunks don’t simply enter their burrow one day and immediately begin hibernating. It appears that these small mammals prepare gradually for hibernation. This involves going through times when they alternate between active and semi-active periods, with their breathing rate slowing and their body temperature going down. The times of inactivity also grow longer.
   I suspect that, in spite of the hard work of top-notch researchers across the country, all of the mysteries swirling around the hibernation of this furry sprite will not be solved in the near future. In the meantime, I have dozens of mysteries relating to my backyard neighbors that I need to investigate.
   If you will simply take the time to watch the animals just outside your backdoor, you will, too.

Read Terry's full column on hibernating chipmunks here!

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 rick.lavender@dnr.state.ga.us.)

When a chipmunk hibernates, it coils into a ball. If you accidentally unearth one, the chipmunk’s eyes would be closed and it would feel icy cold. It can take an animal in this condition a few hours or more to awaken from its slumber.

Parting shot
Rachael Wallace with indigo snake
What a snake! This eastern indigo, held by Rachael Wallace, was caught and released late last year on a private Bryan County tract where DNR has a conservation easement. The snake was almost 7 feet long and weighed just less than 7 pounds, said Rachel's dad Mark Wallace, who conducts permitted surveys and monitoring for the federally threatened snakes at the site. In Georgia, indigos are closely associated with longleaf pine habitats, such as sandhill and turkey oak scrub, where stump holes and gopher tortoise burrows provide shelter in winter. Learn more in DNR's rare species profiles.
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Our mailing address is:
Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
Nongame Conservation Section
2070 U.S. Highway 278 S.E.
Social Circle, GA 30025
Phone: (706) 557-3327
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Georgia Wild copyright © 2012 Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Nongame Conservation Section. All rights reserved.


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