Georgia Wild E-Newsletter: March-April 2008

 

Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division e-news masthead; photograph of flatwoods salamander

March-April 2008

(Editor's note: Upgrades at www.georgiawildlife.com may temporarily disrupt some hyperlinks in this issue.)

WILD facts
When cranes call
If you hear a chorus of trumpeting rattles high overhead in March, try to find a flock of migrating sandhill cranes nearby. Although the migration peak has passed, you may see still see some of these long-necked, long-legged, gray birds heading toward breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada. Despite their large size and loud calls, spotting sandhill cranes in flight can be difficult. They typically migrate thousands of feet high, riding thermals to gain altitude. But their prehistoric sounds can be heard from a mile away. According to fossil records, the sandhill crane is the oldest known bird species alive.
Whooper alert
March is also prime time to spot federally endangered whooping cranes flying north. The some 76 birds that comprise the eastern migratory population of North America's tallest bird (adults reach 5 feet) were scattered from Florida to Indiana as of late February, according to Operation Migration. Please report any whoopers seen to Nongame Conservation Section program managers Jim Ozier in Forsyth, (478) 994-1438, or Brad Winn in Brunswick, (912) 262-3128. Specifics sought include date, time, habitat type, coordinates, leg bands or other markings, number of birds and other information. To keep reintroduced whoopers wild, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership urges people to stay at least 600 feet away from the cranes, be still and speak softly.

In education
Boosting watchable wildlife
A new nature trail at Hugh M. Gillis Public Fishing Area in Laurens County and a well-rooted native plants program at the State Botanical Garden in Athens are two examples of educational and watchable wildlife projects partially funded by state nongame wildlife money. Programs include competitive grants awarded yearly to local governments and conservation groups. (The call for proposals goes out in March; updates posted at www.georgiawildlife.com). The public also benefits from funds spent on wildlife viewing area improvements at state wildlife management and public fishing areas, and habitat and wildlife watching projects at state parks.

Legislative updates
CRP aids pine savannas
As a farm bil rewrite winds through Congress, a new conservation practice that is part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in that legislation will manage 4,800 acres of Georgia pinelands for wildlife habitat. State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) targets habitat for high-priority species. Georgia will promote native pine savannas by taking planted longleaf pine tracts where CRP contracts soon expire and implementing new 10- to 15-year agreements that promote thinning, burning and native ground cover. Northern bobwhite quail, Bachman's sparrow and at least 18 other top-priority creatures stand to gain. The same is true for more than 50 plants listed in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a conservation blueprint. The USDA has announced SAFE projects for up to 420,100 acres nationwide.

Photograph of a hellbender at streamside.





Up close
Hellbenders
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Relative: Only member of the genus Cryptobranchus. Close cousins to giant salamanders in Japan and China. The eastern hellbender found in Georgia is the state's largest amphibian and one of North America's biggest. The longest on record topped 2.5 feet (www.hellbenders.org).
Status: State-listed in Georgia as threatened. Dramatic decline seen in U.S. populations.
Found in: Streams from Appalachian Mountains to the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas. Hellbenders inhabit Tennessee River drainage waterways in extreme north Georgia (state survey overview).
Habitat: Medium to large mountain streams with rocky bottoms and cold, clear water. Water quality is key. Hellbenders breathe mostly through their skin.
Description: Color varies from gray to orange; patterns from dots to blotches. Adult hellbenders have flat heads; thick bodies; slimy, wrinkled skin; and paddle-like tails.
Name-calling: If hellbender isn't bad enough, try mud devil, grampus and snot otter.
Mr. Mom: They have a face only a mother could love but hellbender larvae might favor dad more. Males aggressively guard the eggs after running off the females.
Threats: Habitat degradation and overcollection. Some anglers kill them, thinking they have a venomous bite. Hellbenders are not venomous and seldom bite.
Staying alive: One hellbender in captivity lived 29 years, which may speak to their No. 1 food: crayfish.
Source: "Amphibians and
Reptiles of Georgia"

Ranger reports
Talking TEDs: The incidental capture, injury and death of sea turtles by shrimp trawlers is a major threat to the five turtle species – all federally threatened or endangered – found along Georgia's coast. Conservation rangers will begin inspecting turtle excluder devices (TEDs) at the dock and on the water in May. Sixteen of 23 trawlers checked early last May ran afoul of regulations. The most common violation: TED deflector bars not set at the angles needed to eject sea turtles from the trawl. Strong law enforcement has helped keep turtle stranding rates below average during the 2005-2007 commercial fishing seasons.
Sgt. John Harwell
 
Nongame in the news
*WXIA-TV (11Alive): "In Georgia, the eagle has landed," about January aerial surveys of bald eagle nests (Jan. 19)
*The Daily Citizen (Dalton): "Perdue announces Forestry for Wildlife partners," about three companies honored in the DNR-led program (Feb. 1)
*Buckmasters.com: "Georgia DNR, Nature Conservancy team up for prescribed fire," about a joint seasonal burn crew (February)
*Savannah Morning News: "Rare injured whales monitored off Ga. coast," about two injured right whales in Georgia waters and an entangled whale off N.C. (Feb. 5)
*Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "A wild weekend: Dinner, coastal excursion raise conservation funds," about Weekend for Wildlife fund-raiser and what the money is used for (Feb. 9)
*Macon Telegraph: "Drought harms rare Georgia wildlife but rebound expected," about drought impacts on wildlife (Feb. 11)

Calendar
* March 8: Fire on the Mountain, Sprewell Bluff State Park, Thomaston. Noon start. Rain date: March 15. http://gastateparks.org; Nongame Conservation Section, (478) 994-1438
* March 14-16: Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia annual conference, Unicoi State Park, Helen. www.eealliance.org/
* March 15: Fitzgerald Wild Chicken Festival, Fitzgerald. (800) 386-4642; www.wildchickenfestival.com.
* April 4-6: Georgia Botanical Society 2008 Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, Statesboro. Register by March 12. www.gabotsoc.org/
* April 11-13: Pinewoods Bird Festival, Pebble Hill Plantation, Thomasville. www.pinewoodsbirdfestival.com
* May 10: International Migratory Bird Day. www.birdday.org

Send items to rick.lavender@gadnr.org

Photo credits (from top):
* Bald eagle: Ga. DNR
* Jacob Thompson in the field. Ga. DNR
* Barred owl: Ga. DNR
* Hellbender: Dirk J. Stevenson
* Tracy Feltman holding Alabama shad: Ga. DNR
*
Mary Terry: Ga. DNR
* Prescribed fire in South Georgia: Ga. DNR
* Weekend for Wildlife: Ga. DNR

Georgia Wild:
volume 1, issue 2


"Georgia Wild" is a bimonthly electronic newsletter produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species. The newsletter is delivered free to subscribers. Subscribe here or go to www.georgiawildlife.com. (Access archived issues here.)

The WRD Nongame Conservation Section conserves and protects Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. Staff conduct research and surveys, identify critical habitats, implement species and habitat restoration programs, promote awareness of wildlife conservation needs, provide guidance for managing private lands for the benefit of nongame animals (those not hunted, fished or trapped) and native habitats, help in acquiring conservation habitat, and develop management plans for state-owned natural areas.

New coalition charts course
for Georgia coast's future

   The name of the pocket-sized computers Eamonn Leonard and Jacob Thompson used to help map natural habitats on Jekyll Island might prove prophetic: Nomads.
   Since joining the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division in December, the two wildlife biologists have scoured aerial photographs and done extensive field checks – logging data and marking GPS coordinates with TDS Nomads – as they document vegetation on the state-owned barrier island. The work is a first step in the recently announced Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative. The state Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia teamed for the precedent-setting project to conserve wildlife and natural habitats and promote sustainable development in the fast-growing coastal region.
Jacob Thompson works in the field.    This is where Leonard and Thompson (pictured at left) face an on-the-move future. With a draft map of Jekyll done, the two will focus on the rest of Glynn County, and then 10 other counties. Growth is reshaping these counties and pressuring their myriad natural resources. The Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative lays out a three-year plan for identifying critical habitats, establishing a regional conservation network and providing data, technology and training to help governments and residents make sound land-use decisions.
    The goal is fostering healthy ecosystems and local economies by promoting growth patterns in harmony with the coast's natural resources.
    The role for each group, including DNR's Wildlife and Coastal Resources divisions, is extensive. For Leonard and Thompson, the next task is fine-tuning map protocols. Jekyll provided some surprises. Fieldwork documented 21 plant communities, including three types of maritime oak communities. Fewer had been expected.
    Expanding to Glynn County will pose more challenges. One is the unknown. Or as Leonard said, "What (natural) communities are out there?"
   Keep the Nomads handy.

Photograph of a barred owl.Check here
to help nongame

   What seems like a small thing looms large for wildlife conservation in Georgia. The “Give Wildlife a Chance” State Income Tax Checkoff raises thousands annually for the Wildlife Conservation Fund. That money
in turn helps pay for critical wildlife
conservation projects statewide.
   Mike Harris, chief of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section points out that “donations made to the Nongame Conservation Section are especially important because the section receives no state appropriations for its numerous conservation projects.”
   Pitch in this tax season by filling in any amount more than $1 on line 26 of the long form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ). Donations can be deducted from refunds or added to tax payments.

Study key to shad and locks
   A three-year study is providing needed details on how Lake Seminole’s Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam affects rare Alabama shad and other anadromous fish, species that live mostly in the sea but spawn in freshwater.
   The shad once abundant enough to support commercial fisheries in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa is now listed as a species of concern by NOAA National Marine Fisheries and found only in the northern Gulf of Mexico and contributing coastal rivers. The largest population of Alabama shad is below Woodruff Dam in the Apalachicola River.
   To better understand the dam’s impact on spawning, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Fisheries Management Section and the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit have been investigating how the shad interact with lock operations at Woodruff. Fisheries biologists inserted sonic transmitters into more than 50 shad in March 2005. The fish were tracked to determine population sizes and behavior in relation to the lock.
   Findings sized the population of migrating shad in the tailrace at between 2,767 and 28,184. An estimated 41 percent passed through the lock. Fish relocated in the Flint River as far as Albany.
   “This study helped us see exactly how much the existing hydroelectric and navigation complex of the dam and lock affect this fish species,” said Ramon Martin, Wildlife Resources regional fisheries supervisor.
   The information has been plugged into a multi-agency plan to restore spawning runs of imperiled Alabama shad in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.
Photograph of fisheries technician Tracy Feltman holding an Alabama shad.
Fisheries tech Tracy Feltman with an Alabama shad.

Anadromous fish plan at a glance

  • Over-exploitation and habitat loss to migration barriers contributed to declines of imperiled Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae) and Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi).
  • The hydroelectric and navigation complex may significantly impact anadromous fish behavior in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system. Spawning populations are perceived as critically low.
  • Navigation locks at Chattahoochee River dams may provide passage to migrating fish, but passage efficiency and factors influencing passage have not been evaluated. Determining how fish interact with the dams is key to developing a passage plan. Passage at the two hydroelectric dams on the Flint also must be evaluated to restore access to anadromous fish spawning habitat throughout the basin.
  • Recovery of anadromous fish spawning runs in the ACF system will enhance fishery resources, restore access to unavailable aquatic habitat and aid in the recovery of these two imperiled species.
More study details.

Project WILD leader is a natural
   Who’s teaching Georgia’s teachers how to go wild in the classroom? Mary Terry, of course – the new Project WILD coordinator for Georgia’s educators.
Photograph of Mary Terry.    After serving more than 14 years as an interpretive park ranger/naturalist for Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve in Lithonia, Terry brings to Georgia’s Project WILD program a wealth of knowledge and, most importantly, a contagious enthusiasm and love for wildlife.
    “I have been teaching Project WILD since it began!” Terry said recently. “When I first went to training, I thought, 'How cool is this! What a great way to inform kids and adults about wildlife management and habitats. This is something everyone needs to experience!'”
   Now Terry is helping them. Here's more, including a Q&A with the new Project WILD coordinator.

We make birders ... Sir!
   These boot camp leaders won't make you drop and give them 50, but they might require that you distinguish between bird calls.
   Upcoming birding boot camps held by the Wildlife Resources Division will focus on teaching the identification of Georgia birds by sound and sight, training that can double as an introduction for new birders and a refresher for veterans. Camps are free. Participants are encouraged, though, to help with Nongame Conservation bird monitoring projects such as surveys.
    And as at the Marines' Parris Island, listening is key. Birding boot camps emphasize songs because 90 percent of bird survey work is aural, according to wildlife biologist Tim Keyes.
   The schedule:
    * The Southwest Georgia boot camp April 29-30th covers the newly acquired Silver Lake tract plus River Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and other sites.
    * Piedmont camp May 5-6 includes Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Bond Swamp NWR and Rum Creek WMA.
    * Mountains camp May 8-9 encompasses Coopers Creek WMA, Brawley Mountain, Pine Log Mountain and Brasstown Bald.
    Contact Tim Keyes at tim.keyes@gadnr.org to register.

Also in the birding world
  • Registration for Georgia's Youth Birding Competition is open until March 31, with teams of youths from K-12th grade already prepping for the May 2-3 statewide count that ends at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield.
  • Celebrate Georgia bird life and learn more about birding at the 6th annual Pinewoods Bird Festival, April 11-13 at Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville.
  • International Migratory Bird Day, held annually on the second Saturday in May, marks the amazing journeys many birds make and encourages action to help migratory birds around the globe.
  • Increase the bird population in your yard by selecting and arranging native ornamental trees and shrubs that provide food, cover and nesting areas. Here's how.

Photograph of a prescribed burn in South Georgia.Ask a biologist:
Why burn?
Wildlife biologist Shan Cammack explains the
use of prescribed fire:

   We burn to restore biodiversity and improve habitat for a number of species.
   We burn to reduce fuel loads and keep the forest healthy. Burning promotes a variety of native plants and animals, cycles nutrients back into the soil, helps eradicate some exotic species, and improves the aesthetics of a forest.
   Remember, it's not only forests! Burning is good for pitcherplant bogs, savannas, native grasslands,
blackbelt prairies and Carolina bays – to name a few.
   Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process and to ensure ecosystem health by reducing the risk of wildfires. ... Much of the damage on private lands from last summer’s wildfires in the Okefenokee area was due to fire suppression.

Got a question about nongame wildlife or natural habitats? E-mail kristina.summers@gadnr.org and look for the answer in your in-box or the next "Georgia Wild."

Learning about burning
* Fire on the Mountain! March 8 at Sprewell Bluff State Park near Thomaston celebrates conservation of rare montane longleaf pine habitat through the use of prescribed fire.
* The DNR and Nature Conservancy have formed a joint burn crew that can carry out more prescribed fire across the state.
* View presentations from a 2008 "fire summit" held by Tallahassee-based Tall Timbers Research Station in January.

Noteworthy
   *"Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia" is due out in July from the University of Georgia Press. Along with others, Nongame Conservation employees including senior wildlife biologist John Jensen as lead editor and program manager Matt Elliott as a fellow editor contributed text, photographs and sweat to the 592-page guide more than three years in the making.
    *Fair weather and some fat counts marked the annual midwinter waterbird census Jan. 28. Totals included an estimated 60,000 dunlins, up from 23,000 last year, and seven long-billed curlews, about average for the bird species nongame program manager Brad Winn calls one of Georgia's rarest.
    *Watch www.georgiawildlife.com for news of this year's "Give Wildlife a Chance" poster contest results. Student entries postmarked by March 10 will be judged and winners announced in mid-March, with all state entries displayed at the State Botanical Garden in Athens March 22-April 5.
    *A review of the right whale calving season, which ends soon, reveals that: 18 calves have been documented (the 10-year average is 17); at least two calves have died (cause unknown); more than 55 non-calving right whales have been identified (one of the busiest seasons on record in the Southeast); and genetic samples have been collected from 15 calves, the most in a single season.
    *From 1,000-year-old cypress trees to rare carnivorous plants, the Georgia Botanical Society's Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage promises a rich experience for plant lovers. Registrations must be postmarked by March 12 for the April 4-6 event in Statesboro.
    *Find your place in the wild with the next issue of "The Citizen Scientist," a Wildlife Resources newsletter that profiles volunteer wildlife projects and updates nongame research with a bent on birds. E-mail wildlife biologist Tim Keyes to join the mailing list.

Parting shot2008 Weekend for Wildlife birders on an Altamaha River trip.
Weekend for Wildlife birders led by wildlife biologist Clay George and wildlife technician Kate Sparks get close-up with oystercatchers, willet and marbled godwit at the mouth of the Altamaha River. The February fund-raiser's 20th anniversary was a success, raising $1.14 million to easily top a $1 million goal.

 

 

New Project WILD leader is a natural

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (March 6, 2008) -- Who's teaching Georgia's teachers how to go wild in the classroom? Mary Terry, of course the new Project WILD coordinator for Georgia's educators.

After serving more than 14 years as an interpretive park ranger/naturalist for Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve in Lithonia, Terry joined the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division in February, bringing to the states Project WILD program a wealth of knowledge, and most importantly, a contagious enthusiasm and love for Georgia's wildlife.

Project WILD is one of the most widely used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school throughout Georgia and the United States. The award-winning curriculum helps teachers and youth leaders teach a wide range of subjects such as math, science, social studies, language arts and expressive arts while also explaining the importance of the environment.

As Georgia's Project WILD coordinator, Terry plans and conducts training workshops statewide for educators and others interested in teaching children about wildlife. At the workshops, participants receive two activity guides consisting of more than 170 hands-on activities. Teachers become students, participating in exciting wildlife conservation activities that become valuable resources to take back to the classroom.

In 2006, Project WILD celebrated a milestone, having trained one million educators since its introduction in 1983. In Georgia, more than 20,000 educators have been trained. Using the Project WILD curriculum, these educators have provided environmental education instruction to more than 3 million students across the state, enabling the students to experience the outdoors and gain a deeper appreciation for wildlife and the need to conserve natural resources.

The Georgia Department of Education recognizes Project WILD workshops for Professional Learning Unit credits. Educators can learn more about Project WILD and view a list of upcoming workshops at the Georgia Wildlife Resources Divisions Web site, www.georgiawildlife.com. (Click on the link for education.)

For more information, contact Mary Terry at (770) 784-3059 or by e-mail at mary.terry@dnr.ga.gov.

Meet Mary Terry

What drives Project WILDs Mary Terry to share her knowledge about Georgia's wildlife? Heres a closer look.

Q: What makes you love what you do?

A: I have been teaching Project WILD since it began! When I first went to training, I thought, How cool is this! What a great way to inform kids and adults about wildlife management and habitats. This is something everyone needs to experience!

Q: What began your in interest in nature? In education?

A:: I was lucky to have grown up on a farm where I had access to hundreds of acres of land where I could experience the out of doors and nature. I loved every minute of being on the farm. Like every child, I (illegally) tried to raise the abandoned baby bird and the squealing baby squirrel without much success. My first job in the field was at an environmental education center. There, one of our tasks was to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. I was hooked! I wanted to teach everyone about wildlife. From there, my interests just kept growing. I had always loved wildlife, but now I had a passion to teach!

Q: What have these many years of experience shown you about teaching teachers?

A: Teachers love Project WILD! It gives them activities and lesson plans that are fun and educational for the students. The teacher trainings are so much fun. One of the main things I realized about teachers was something that I find very dear to my heart resources, resources, resources. They love posters, lesson plans and freebies. And so do I!

Q: Why have you stuck with this field?

A: Working with kids, adults, teachers and wildlife professionals who love to explore habitats is a great job! I cannot imagine not working in this field. I get to be outdoors, meet interesting people, see great sites, experience wildlife closely and work in the greatest of environments.