Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites
Winter 2013             

Dear Junior Ranger,
Winter is a relaxing time to enjoy the natural world.  In this issue, Signs of Winter, we will look for things in nature that are best experienced during this quiet time of year - from mistletoe to waterfowl (like the American Coot - the Cool Critter pictured in the last issue).
It is also a great time of year to attract birds to your backyard and listen for the first calls of spring peepers.
Cindy Reittinger
Chief Naturalist, Georgia State Parks
Also in this Issue:
* Who Lived Here?  New Contest!
* Ask the Naturalist
* Try This!
* Under the Mistletoe
* Spring Peepers?
* Winter is for the Birds
* Outdoor Fun

Cool Critter
Can you identify this cool Georgia critter? 

Correctly identify this animal by January  20th and be entered to win a free Park Pass - good for free admission to all Georgia State Parks for a whole year!  Email your answer to the Chief Naturalist.

Don't forget to include your first name, and your age.

Who Lived Here?

Correctly identify the historical figure who once lived at this historic home by January 20th and be entered to win free admission to visit the site with your family.  Email your answer to the Chief Naturalist.

Ask the Naturalist
Have a question about nature?  Junior Rangers can submit their questions to the Chief Naturalist.

Dear Chief Naturalist,
When do owls mostly come out?
                    Michael, age 10     
                    Douglasville, GA

Dear Michael,
Owls are nocturnal which means they are active at night.  They start to stir at dusk so you might catch a glimpse of one but, you are more likely to hear them.

Great horned owl photo
The great-horned owl is heard more in the winter than any other time of the year in Georgia.  Listen after dark for the deep hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-oo, hoo-oo of Georgia's largest owl.  It lives in city neighborhoods as well as wild places.

Try This - Make Suet!
Simple Suet Recipe
2 lbs. of lard
1 2-lb. bag of white or yellow corn meal
1/2 canister of oatmeal (18 oz. size)
2 cups of black oil sunflower seed

Makes 8 cakes.  They are called "cakes" but you don't bake them!

Melt the lard in a large pot on the stove.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.  Pour the mixture into baking pans to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches (I use two 10" x 10" foil pans lined with aluminum foil).  Put the pans in the refrigerator overnight.  When the suet has hardened, cut each pan of suet into four even-sized square "cakes".  Wrap each cake in plastic wrap.  Put all of the cakes into large freezer bags and store them in your freezer until needed. 

Learn More About It
Check out these titles at your local library:

Decking the Halls: The Folklore and Tradition of Christmas Plants by Linda Allen
The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible by Sally Roth
Waterfowl of Eastern North America by Chris G. Early
Why Ducks Do That by Chuck Petrie

Photo Credits
Canvasback:  Roy Brown
Spring Peeper: John Jensen
Panola Diamorpha, Linda Patrick

Rafts of Ducks
Many ducks live here only in the winter.

If you want to see ducks in Georgia - lots of ducks, winter is the perfect time.   Large groups of ducks (which are called rafts) are found on many of the large lakes in our state parks.  Many like the canvasback, pictured above at Reed Bingham State Park, breed in the north and spend the winter in Georgia.

Under the Mistletoe
Did you know it grows in Georgia?

Now that all of the leaves have fallen, there is nothing to obstruct your view of mistletoe growing in the treetops.  This small plant best known as a holiday decoration gets "planted" by birds who eat the berries.  The seeds which are surrounded by a sticky film, pass through the bird
and stick to trees when they come out the other end of the bird.
Spring Peepers?
In the northern U. S. the whistling "peep" of this small frog is a sign of spring.  Here in Georgia the spring peeper is more like a winter peeper due to our mild climate.  It is one of the first frogs to start calling and may be heard as early as January when nighttime temperatures are above 35 degrees.
Things to do:
*  Take walk in your neighborhood and look for mistletoe in the treetops.
Listen to a chorus of spring peepers.
*  Visit a pond at night and listen for spring peepers.
*  Visit a large lake and look for rafts of ducks

Winter is for the Birds
Now is a great time to put up a feeder!

Food is harder to find in the wild during the winter so birds are easily attracted to backyard feeders.  You can purchase a variety of seed mixes to put in your bird feeder; the best all-round bird seed is black oil sunflower seed.

Suet feeders are a good way to attract birds in winter.  Suet, which is animal fat, is high in calories and provides birds with the high energy they need to stay warm in winter.

What birds can you expect to see?    
Cute photo of tufted titmouseBirds you are most likely to see at your bird feeder include the tufted titmouse (pictured to the right) Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, blue jay and the  carolina wren.  Common ground feeders include the mourning dove and a small dark grey bird with white outer tail feathers (seen when it flies) called a dark-eyed junco.  Juncos live in Georgia only during the winter.  
Things to do:
*  Click on the links above to see, hear and learn about each of the birds mentioned.
*  Put up a bird feeder in your yard
Listen to a great horned owl
* Go outside at night and listen for owls

Outdoor Fun
Ducks on the Lake
Visit the large lakes at these state parks and look for rafts of ducks.

Elijah Clark                         Florence Marina Mistletoe                            Red Top Mountain
Reed Bingham                    Richard B. Russell
Seminole                            Tugaloo

Pools of Red
Diamorpha in bloom

Visit Panola Mountain State Park in late February to early March and see the colorful "red carpets" of elf orpine (a tiny plant that scientists call Diamorpha smallii).  It forms colorful mats in outcrop pools creating a dramatic display against the gray rock in the stark winter landscape.  Explore the Outcrop Trail on your own or attend one of the guided hikes held on Saturdays.


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