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Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division e-news masthead; photograph of flatwoods salamander
May-June 2008

WILD Facts
Salamanders vs. lizards
Because many adult salamanders and lizards are about the same shape and size, you may have trouble telling one from the other. Here are a few tips:
* Salamanders are amphibians with moist, smooth skin. Lizards are reptiles with dry, scaly skin.
* You’ll never see claws or more than four toes on salamanders' front feet. Lizards have five toes with claws.
* Salamanders usually stay in or near water, where they return to breed and lay gelatinous eggs. Lizards breed and deposit leathery eggs on land.

In education

Posters a plus for 3rd-graders
A poster series depicting Georgia’s diverse nongame and endangered flora and fauna is appearing in third–grade classrooms statewide. The 59,000 posters produced with support from Georgia Power, The Environmental Resources Network and nongame wildlife license plate sales were recently delivered by Wildlife Resources staff to regional and local public school offices. The aim: Steer students down a road of exploration and discovery.

Petey receives fitting honor
Some know her as the environmental educator behind Momma Bass. Others as Georgia Project WET’s first coordinator, a Twilight Twirler or a force for green Photograph of Petey Giroux. education in PTAs statewide. Regardless of how you know Petey Giroux (pictured at left), you know she’s a determined leader. This spring, the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia presented her the Eugene Odum Lifetime Achievement Award.
More from waterSmart's Deron Davis.

Legislative updates
Giving conservation credit
Here's the score on land legislation from the 2008 General Assembly. With House Bill 1274, lawmakers approved expanding state income tax credits for donated conservation lands. Major changes increased the span of years for which credits can be used and qualified "discounted" property sales for credit. House Bill 1176 soups up the Georgia Land Conservation Program, allowing conservation-
focused nonprofits to apply for loans and state natural resource agencies to receive program grants. Gov. Sonny Perdue signed both bills into law April 24. Voters decide Nov. 4 whether to change the state constitution via House Resolution 1276 to reduce property tax assessments on large forested conservation tracts. The "Super CUVA" proposal (Conservation Use Valuation Assessment) would nix a 2,000-acre cap on eligibility, granting tax relief for large forest landowners. Finally, the down side: Perdue's fiscal 2009 request for $35 million in land conservation was sliced to $10 million. Half is earmarked for projects of state significance, the rest for local projects.

From the field
A camp to remember
Silver Lake. River Creek. The Wade Tract. Magical places that yielded magical sights and sounds -- from a peek at squirming young red-cockaded woodpeckers to laughs over male moorhens fighting for a favored log -- during 2008's first birding boot camp. And not all highlights had feathers. Find out more in this "From the Field" account, new to Georgia Wild.
Also: Take a firsthand look at Rx fire.

Photograph of an eastern indigo snake.
Up close
Eastern indigo snake
Drymarchon couperi
Relative: Once treated as a subspecies of Drymarchon corais (the western indigo), the eastern is now considered separate from other Drymarchon species. Eastern indigos are also called blue indigo or blue gopher snakes.
Status: Federally and state-listed as threatened.
Found in: Most of Florida, south Georgia and possibly southern Alabama and South Carolina. Georgia populations are concentrated in Coastal Plain longleaf pine sandhills. Gopher tortoise burrows offer shelter for the diurnal (active by day) snakes.
Description: North America's longest snake. Adult males reach more than 8 feet and up to 11 pounds. Color: glossy or bluish black.
Not so fast: Though sometimes confused with speedy black racers, indigos are comparatively slow moving.
Wide-ranging: Deliberate but steady. Indigos have the largest home ranges of any U.S. snake. Ranges exceeding 3,000-4,000 acres have been documented in south Georgia.
On the menu: Indigos eat almost anything, from birds to turtles to rattlesnakes, chewing or simply swallowing prey.
Threats: Habitat loss, death by car and people, pet trade collection (which is illegal), fewer gopher tortoise burrows and gassing of burrows by rattlesnake hunters.
And no threats: Indigos are non-venomous and rarely bite humans, even if handled.
Source: "Amphibians and
Reptiles of Georgia"

By the numbers
Banking on wildlife
For every $100 of the $1.6 billion spent in Georgia on watchable wildlife, about $24 paid for bird food, says a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. The rest went to:
* Camera equipment (plus film): $22.
* Lodging: $9.
* Transportation: $7.
* Food for other wildlife: $7.
* Nest boxes, bird houses, etc.: $7.
* Food: $6.
* Plantings: $3.
* Binoculars: $2.
* Magazines and books: $1.
* Membership dues, donations: $1.
* Other: $11.

Ranger reports
No, you can't shoot robins
Two men were cited for killing a protected species after a complaint led Wildlife Resources Cpl. Larry Dean to the remains of about 75 robins near an Eastman home. The 19- and 20-year-old Eastman residents shot the birds with a pellet gun over about two weeks, leaving the carcasses on a nearby lot. Complaints about the dead robins and apparently errant shots that hit car windows led to a 911 call in early March. Dean said the men didn't seem to know it was illegal to kill songbirds. A probate judge possibly took that into account. Each man was fined $35. They also had to pick up the dead birds.

Nongame in the news
* The Florida Times-Union: "'Nikon' offers snapshot of promising year for turtles," outlook for 2008 sea turtle nesting on Georgia coast. (April 30)
* The Post-Searchlight (Bainbridge): "Perdue visits here to announce conservation plans, acquisition," concerning Silver Lake, Conserve Georgia. (April 25)
* Georgia Public Broadcasting: "Georgia Gazette" interview with nongame biologist Clay George about right whales. (April 16)
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Collecting frog voices is riveting work," about DNR's role in the North American Amphibian Monitoring effort. (April 11)
* Athens Banner-Herald: "Drought draining numbers of local water life, scientists say," on impacts of drought, growth, other factors. (March 11)
* Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Biologists, students survey fish in fragile creek," about sampling Conasauga River tributary with high school students. (March 22)
* WALB-TV (10): "Rangers clearing Reed Bingham," about prescribed burn at state park. (March 25)

* May 10: International Migratory Bird Day.
* May 17: Outdoor Festival and J.A.K.E.S. Day (archery, fishing, shooting, wildlife shows and exhibits), 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Mansfield.
* May 27-28: DNR Board committee (1 p.m. May 27) and full meeting (9 a.m. May 28), DNR offices, Atlanta.
* June 21-27: Georgia River Network's Paddle Georgia 2008 (Thomaston to Montezuma on the Flint River).
* June 22-28: Pollinator Week.
* June 24-25: DNR Board committee (1 p.m. June 24) and full meeting (9 a.m. June 25), DNR offices, Atlanta.
* Sept. 27: National Public Lands Day.
Submit items.

Photo credits (from top):
* Masthead: Hymenocallis coronaria (shoals spider-lily) along Flint River. Ga. DNR
* Teen birder adds to YBC species checklist. Ga. DNR
* Petey Giroux with EEA award. EEA
* Book cover: UGA Press
* Silver Lake tract: John M. Hall
* Eastern indigo: Dirk J. Stevenson
* Young gopher tortoise: Ga. DNR
* Whooping crane. John, Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

Georgia Wild:
volume 1, issue 3

Georgia Wild is a bimonthly e-newsletter produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species, those not legally fished for or hunted. The newsletter is delivered free to subscribers. Subscribe or see archive issues here.

Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section conserves and protects Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. The section receives no state funds, depending on grants, donations and fundraisers such as nongame license plate sales, the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff and Weekend for Wildlife.

(770) 761-3035 for details on direct donations. The nongame plates -- the bald eagle/U.S. flag and ruby-throated hummingbird -- are available for a one-time $25 feet at all county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms or through online renewal.

Images of the nongame wildlife license plates.
Youth bird event rates 'awesome'
   Brad and April Brown dared go where few parents of five children younger than 8 would: to a two-day birding event, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division's Youth Birding Competition May 2-3.
   But after a full day of birding, the McDonough family had seen about 30 species and socked away as many memories. Photo of a teen birder marking the event species checklist.
   "It has been a really awesome experience," said Brad as his family relaxed at the wrap-up banquet and awards ceremony at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
    Highlights from the third annual statewide bird search included 126 participants ages 3-18, about 200 bird species seen, more than $3,600 raised for conservation, 195 pieces of art submitted for a first-ever T-shirt contest and some 200 people wearing blue Youth Birding T-shirts printed with Kelly Redford O'Mara's winning painting of a blue-gray gnatcatcher.
   But for organizer Tim Keyes, a Wildlife Resources wildlife biologist, the highpoint was hearing Delaney Matthews, 3, assure her mom that "hoo hoo ho-hoo is an owl," a barred owl to be exact. "It was fantastic!" Keyes said. Full results.

Public lands profile: by Phil Spivey
Silver Lake, golden site
    William Bartram wrote of “magnificent savannas and … delightful (pine) groves” in his late-1700s travels through the South. Now, Georgians can glimpse the forests that thrilled the fabled naturalist and once covered 150,000 square miles from Virginia to Texas.
    In January, the state Department of Natural Resources, with help from others, bought about 3,900 acres in southwest Georgia’s Decatur County from International Paper. Called the Silver Lake tract (pictured below), this property near Bainbridge is rich in critical habitats and wildlife described in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
   Mature, uneven-aged longleaf habitat much like Bartram described covers about 1,800 acres. Decades of controlled burns have maintained an open, park-like setting, providing habitat for early successional and grassland species such as loggerhead shrikes and Bachman’s sparrows.
   About 18 red-cockaded woodpecker family groups – the first naturally occurring population of the endangered birds on state property – make their home in mature longleaf pines. Bobwhite quail and wild turkey use the grassy understory. Longleaf specialists like the Florida pine snake, coachwhip and gopher tortoise are common. Deer take refuge in hardwood hammocks. Namesake 350-acre Silver Lake supports nesting pairs of ospreys, at least one bald eagle nest and several small rookeries of wading birds.
    The news gets better. The state plans to add 4,500 acres of adjacent forest this year. In April, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced funds to buy 2,600 acres. Silver Lake will open as a wildlife management area for hunting, fishing, bird watching, hiking and other uses in August.
    For Silver Lake, the future is golden. More details.

Photo of longleaf pine habitat at Silver Lake tract.

New herp book bridges info gap
   "Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia" looks like a cross between a field guide and a coffee table book: splashy color, waves of information.
   Due out as soon as June from The University of Georgia Press, the nearly 600-page book catalogs in detailed but readable fashion Georgia's some 170 species of frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards, crocodilians and turtles. Even people who get the heebies hearing the title might find the rich color photographs, range maps and species accounts from 54 experts illuminating.
Cover of    "We designed the book to have a wider appeal," said John Jensen, lead editor and a senior wildlife biologist with Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section. "We tried not to use scientific jargon where a commonly understood synonym could be used as effectively."
   Jensen and fellow editors Carlos Camp of Piedmont College, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory herpetology specialist Whit Gibbons and Nongame program manager Matt Elliott spent years compiling the reference, which trailed an atlas of the state's herpetofauna but dug deeper -- into museum records and field trips -- to fill a need for scientists and laymen.
   "Georgia is one of the few states that didn't already have a book ... and Georgia has some of the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the country," Jensen said.
    That variety, topped only by Texas, is threatened by habitat loss. Amphibians and reptiles are particularly vulnerable because they are less mobile. Elliott hopes the book "educates people on what we have out there. ... And makes them want to conserve what's left."
    Pre-order ($39.95) at The University of Georgia Press.

More on amphibians and reptiles ...
* Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
* General information on Georgia’s frogs and toads.
* Tips on attracting amphibians.
* "Calls of the Wild," a CD of Georgia's 31 frog and toad species.

Plant efforts catch public eye
   Georgia plants and conservation are making headlines.
   * The Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, of which Wildlife Resources is a charter member, has been picked to display materials in the U.S. Botanic Garden exhibition opening this summer in Washington.
    * NatureServe recently ranked Georgia's State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, among the top four in the nation concerning plant conservation. Georgia was also singled out for its specialized plant conservation team. Go team!
    * A February meeting in Macon on native ground covers drew about 60 people -- government employees, researchers and landowners -- and delved into federal, state and other groups' work to restore or maintain native plant communities. Landowners who want news of any
upcoming events can contact Nongame program manager Jim Ozier.

Test your flora smarts
* There are 23 plants in Georgia federally listed as threatened or endangered. Can you name five? Answers.
(FYI: The state lists 672 plants as species of concern.)
* Also: Game for some botanical trivia?

Survey probes diverse sandhills
   An ongoing survey of Georgia’s sandhill environments will provide vital details on rare species such as the gopher tortoise, designated the state reptile.
   As spring gives way to summer, biologists and botanists with the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section are again checking sites in a three-year project to document and conserve one of the state’s most biologically diverse habitats.
Photo of a young gopher tortoise.    “Sandhills have a stark beauty and unique species assemblages that make them fascinating places to work. They are like mini-deserts found in a humid, sub-tropical climate,” said Nongame program manager Matt Elliott.
    Data on topics as varied as soil condition and keystone animal populations will provide a reference for more research. For example, gopher tortoise numbers are declining because of habitat loss, disease and illegal collection. The sandhills inventory can help stem that trend by identifying the blend of well-drained sandy soils, food plants and open areas gopher tortoises need.

Ask a biologist:
Drought vs. rare aquatic species
   How does drought affect rare aquatic species? Aquatic zoologists Brett Albanese and Jason Wisniewski of Nongame Conservation had this to say:
   The effects depend on factors such as underlying geology, land use and persistence of drought conditions. While drought decreases available habitat and kills aquatic species when streams or stream sections dry up, many species can recover when more average stream flows return.
    Depending upon their life cycle pattern and mobility, some species will recover more rapidly. Freshwater mussels may take decades to rebound because of their slow growth rates and complex life cycle. Fish recover more rapidly. But rare fish with slow movement rates and small geographic ranges are more vulnerable to population losses.
    Drought can also undercut aquatic species when streams don't dry up. Pollutants and nutrients are more concentrated during low flows. That can cause water quality problems, such as less oxygen and higher temperatures, or nuisance algal blooms. Multi-year droughts compound impacts, making it less likely species recolonize or reproduce.
    E-mail your questions about nongame or habitats, and look for the answer in your in-box or the next Georgia Wild.

   *The falcon Web cam is online. Check out this peregrine pair and three nestlings on a 51st-floor balcony in Atlanta.
   * A dip this spring in occupied bald eagle nest territories -- 110 compared to 114 in 2007 -- is no cause for concern. Nongame program manager Jim Ozier sees potential for Georgia eagle numbers to increase.
    * The number of right whale numbers sightings rose. About 150 of the imperiled whales were spotted off the Georgia coast during the winter calving season, up from 87 last year.
    * To celebrate International Migratory Bird Day May 10, check out Birds in the Park, a 9 a.m.-1 p.m. family event at Atlanta's Piedmont Park, or the bird programs from noon-6 p.m. at Little Ocmulgee State Park in McRae. Can't go? Take a virtual bird-related field trip with BirdIQ or visit to find the nearest event.
    * Georgia state parks are packed with nongame programs. Samples for the season include "Grow Your Own Native Plants" (Smithgall Woods), "Snakes Alive" (Tugaloo) and "Endangered Species" (Panola Mountain).Photograph of a whooping crane.
   * As of late April, whooping cranes were incubating eggs in six nests at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin. Georgia is on the endangered cranes' migration route between Florida and Wisconsin, where in 2006 Necedah boasted the first wild hatchling whoopers born in the eastern U.S. in more than
100 years.
   * What do Zebulon and Chula, Ga., have in common? Both are home to top finishers in the statewide Give Wildlife a Chance Poster Contest. Twelve kindergarten through fifth-grade winners were recently picked from about 5,000 participants.
    * A federal judge has sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over whether Florida's black bears warrant Endangered Species Act protection. The suit by Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society and others to class the bears as a subspecies alarmed groups like the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation.
    * Residents in Germany read about hairy rattleweed and vorgeschriebenes feuer, or prescribed fire, after a Wildlife Resources release on a burn to help the endangered south Georgia plant circled the world. Property owner and project partner Rayonier forwarded the news, which spread to German and Spanish Web sites and
    * Wildlife Resources botanist Tom Patrick was among the trillium notables who gave talks during the recent Mount Cuba Center Trillium Symposium in Delaware. His topic: trillium conservation in Georgia.
    * Here's to the 200,000-plus species of bugs, birds and other creatures that pollinate the 75 percent of flowering plants that need it: Pollination Week is June 22-28.
    * Nongame's Jason Wisniewski isn't leaving for Hollywood but he did make a splash as the stand-in for a stream-crossing-challenged critter in this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service video. A video on mussels is in the works. Minus the "Rocky" score.


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