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Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division e-news masthead; photograph of sanderling
October 2008
Subscribe here. (It's free.)

Also in this issue:
* Rattlers on the move
* Georgia's smallest bat
* Learning at Smithgall
* A little-known migrant

WILD Facts
The phrase “leaves of three, let it be” helps people identify and avoid poison ivy. This woody vine creeps across the ground and often climbsphoto of poison ivy. Thick, older vines appear hairy because they have lots of aerial roots. An oil called urushiol causes the rash that results from touching any part of the plant, regardless of the time of year. Smoke from burning poison ivy also is potent. Breathing it can cause lung inflammation. Urushiol can even spread to your skin by petting a cat or dog that has been in poison ivy or touching contaminated shoes or clothing. The chemical can persist for months and even years. In case of skin contact, immediately wash with rubbing alcohol or soap and cold water. Allergic rashes can develop within hours or a few days, but blister fluids do not spread poison ivy to other areas. As much as you may fear getting poison ivy, don’t be too quick to get rid of it in your yard. Many gamebirds, songbirds and mammals eat the berries, which ripen in fall and persist into winter, when other foods are scarce. Besides, leaving poison ivy alone seems like the best way to avoid getting it.
In education
Get your environmental lesson plans here. The Georgia Department of Education and members of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia recently revised and posted enviro-lesson plans suited to Georgia Performance Standards for grades K-12. Copies are also available at Georgia Standards Online.

D.C. updates
The U.S. House passed the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008 by a 293-109 vote Sept. 19. House Resolution 3036 is aimed at better preparing teachers to engage students about the outdoors and providing the money for it, including through nonprofits. Advocates say the legislation will help counterbalance the trend of kids spending too little time in nature -- and paying for it with problems like obesity and depression -- and federal emphasis on math and reading standards that eclipse environmental education. Next comes the Senate, where a companion bill is pending. Further votes this year are not expected, though.

Up close
Eastern small-footed bat
Myotis leibii
photo of eastern small-footed bat
One small bat
: The eastern small-footed bat is Georgia's smallest bat. It weighs less than 6 grams and measures barely bigger than your thumb.
Looks: Chestnut-brown fur with black accents, a black facemask, pointy ears and, of course, small feet.
Range: From eastern Canada and New England to Alabama and Georgia and as far west as Oklahoma. Found in Georgia only in the state's most northern part.
Family: Young are born May through July in nursery colonies.
Hanging out: This is Georgia's only bat species known to regularly roost under large rocks and boulders and in rock crevices. Rare but hardy, small-footed bats spend winters hibernating in caves hanging upside down, their feet gripping rock crevices and cracks. During summer, they often seek refuge under rocks or in exposed outcrops and crevices warmed by the sun.
Bugging out: Emerging at sunset, small-footed bats fly in erratic patterns to catch flies, mosquitoes and other insects. Like Georgia's other 15 bat species, the small-footed bat helps control pest insect populations. Bats sometimes eat their weight in insects in a night.
Status: The eastern small-footed bat is considered imperiled or critically imperiled in almost every state it inhabits. Little is known about the species. The small-footed bat is listed in Georgia as a species of concern.
How to help: Protect and prevent excessive disturbance at caves, exposed rock outcrops and cliffs. Also protect stream and wetland habitats. Small-footed bats, like most other bats, often forage over water.
Sources: DNR wildlife biologist Trina Morris; Bat Conservation International

Ranger reports
TIP Day: Oct. 18 not only marks opening day of modern firearms season for deer but also Turn In Poachers Day in Georgia. Gov. Sonny Perdue will promote the program, which funnels tips about poaching to Wildlife Resources Division rangers. Calls leading to arrests can also lead to rewards. Or, callers can remain anonymous. Report poaching to (800) 241-4113, or e-mail
Hawk down: Responding to a tip, Ranger 1st Class Kevin Dyer recently cited a Union County landowner who shot and killed a hawk. The misdemeanor charge: killing a bird of prey. In a separate incident last spring, Capt. Rick Godfrey drove up on a man shooting at a hawk near Dawsonville. The man said the red-tailed hawk was after his chickens. He was also charged.

Ask a biologist
Q: Why are invasive plants such a problem?
A: Nongame Conservation Assistant Chief Jon Ambrose and botanists Mincy Moffett and Lisa Kruse reply ...
Invasive plants compete with native species, change the structure of the local plant community and interfere with the way plants and wildlife evolve in a given ecosystem. They can also play host to exotic plant diseases that native plants cannot fight off. Including animals, invasives of all stripes cause an estimated $137 billion dollars a year in damage to agricultural, horticultural, industrial and municipal systems. (Check out this invasives cost calculator.)
Everyone has seen how damaging a plant like kudzu can be, growing on buildings and utility poles and covering roads and signs. Invasive plants can also severely impact recreational areas, limiting public enjoyment of native wildlife.
What can you do? Learn your plants. Only plant non-invasive species and remove invasives such as Chinese privet, kudzu and English ivy from your property. Buy plants from nurseries that promote native and non-invasive species. For a list, check the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council.

Your money at work
A popular certificate program in native plants is in its second year at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The Athens outreach, started in part with state Nongame Educational and Watchable Wildlife funding, teaches participants to identify, cultivate, propagate and conserve plants native to the state. The program is done in cooperation with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance. The Garden operates as part of the University of Georgia. Classes -- here's the 2008-2009 schedule -- are taught by experts, including botanists and ecologists with the Garden and the Wildlife Resources Division's Nongame Conservation Section. Nongame Educational and Watchable Wildlife grants are funded by sales of Wildlife Resources' nongame wildlife license plate sales and the Give Wildlife a Chance income tax checkoff.

Nongame in the news
* Savannah Morning News: "Area reef named for conservationist," Capt. Spud Woodward's article about renaming artificial reef for the late conservationist Jane Yarn. (Sept. 25) Video of sinking R/V Jane Yarn as the reef.
* The Brunswick News: "Prime birding season is here," about coastal bird watching in fall, including Colonial Coast Birding Trail and Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival. (Sept. 22)
* The Moultrie Observer: "All eyes on the gophers," about Animal Planet filming the release of young gopher tortoises at Reed Bingham State Park. (Sept. 18)
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Georgia turtles’ future slippery," about ongoing DNR efforts to protect state's freshwater turtles. (Sept. 14)
* The (Gainesville) Times: "Declaring war on pest plants," about Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council's statewide meeting and workshop. (Sept. 12)
* Savannah Morning News: "Four manatees found dead in river," about apparent ship strike that killed four of the endangered animals in the Savannah River. (Sept. 9)
* Savannah Morning News: "Exotic gecko found in Savannah," about state's second documented occurrence of an Indo-Pacific gecko.(Sept. 8)
* Florida Times-Union: "At-risk turtles face fate as pets, soup," about ongoing DNR efforts to protect state's freshwater turtles from unregulated commercial harvest. (Sept. 7)

Upcoming "Outdoors"
"Georgia Outdoors" episodes on GPB.
* Season premiere Oct. 3: 9 p.m. "Fire Ecology;" 9:30 p.m. "Ocmulgee River Watershed"
* "Fire Ecology:" 6 p.m. Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7
* "Healthy Outdoors:" 9:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, 6 p.m. Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14
* "Backyard Habitat:" 9:30 p.m. Oct. 17, 6 p.m. Oct. 18
* "Pine Mountain:" 9:30 p.m.
Oct. 24, 6 p.m. Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28
* "Monuments of the Past:" 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31, 6 p.m. Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4
Details online

* October: Rivers Alive clean-up month.
* Oct. 2-5: Gopher Tortoise Council annual meeting, Jekyll Island. 
* Oct. 3-4: Aquatic Conservation Science Symposium, UGA, Athens.
* Oct. 4: CoastFest 2008, Ga. DNR Coastal Resources Division, Brunswick.
* Oct. 7-10: 6th Eastern Native Grass Symposium, Columbia, S.C. 
* Oct. 11: Tortoises Release Day, 2 p.m. at Reed Bingham State Park, Adel.
* Oct. 9-13: Georgia's Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival, Jekyll Island.
* Oct. 16-17: Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance meeting, John Tanner State Park, Carrollton.
* Oct. 25-26: Georgia Reptile Expo, North Atlanta Trade Center, Atlanta.
* Oct. 27-29: Environmental Flows: Water for People and Nature in the Southeast, Classic Center, Athens.
* Oct. 28-31: Longleaf Alliance regional conference, Sandestin, Fla.
* Oct. 29-31: Georgia Urban Forest Council Conference, Augusta.
* Nov. 8, 9: Native grass seed collection events led by Georgia Important Bird Areas 1-4 p.m. Nov. 8 at Panola Mountain State Park, Stockbridge; noon, Nov. 9 at Sprewell Bluff State Park, Thomaston. (678) 967-9924;
* Nov. 7-9: Hemlockfest 2008 to raise funds, awareness about hemlocks and the woolly adelgid threat, Starbridge (near Dahlonega).
Submit items.

Photo credits (from top):
* Sanderling. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
* Poison ivy (left). Linda May/Ga. DNR
* American chaffseed (right). Phil Spivey/Ga. DNR
* Cloudless sulphur. Terry Johnson
* Eastern small-footed bat. Dirk Stevenson
* Timber rattlesnake. John Jensen/Ga. DNR
* Learning at Dukes Creek. Trout Unlimited
* Savannah sparrow (after being banded). Charlie Muise
* Moon over Crooked River. Cheryl Conner

Rare plant discovery
highlights fire benefits

photo of American chaffseed   Some plants and animals are generalists. They live in a variety of habitats. Others are specialists, persisting only where very specific conditions occur.
   The endangered American chaffseed ranks among the latter. Schwalbea americana needs open pine forests or savannas, undisturbed soil and frequent fires, especially during the growing season. With fewer than 35 small populations reported in Georgia, this plant most often occurs in the ecotone or habitat transition zone between upland forests and wetlands.
   Which is why the recent discovery of chaffseed at Doerun Pitcherplant Bog Natural Area near Moultrie is classic and exciting evidence for habitat management.
   The state acquired the 650 acres from the Barber family in 1996. The family had effectively used dormant-season controlled burns to manage the rich bog habitats. Yet not until two cycles of growing season fires, in 2006 and this year, did the elusive chaffseed show itself, emerging from the ashes of a burn done in June. Naturalist Wilson Baker found the perennial herb tucked away on a mesic slope beside a narrow creek drain in mid-September.
   Mike Harris, Nongame Conservation Section chief for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, said the discovery confirms “the importance of prescribed fire in ecotones for restoring special coastal Coastal Plain habitat.” In Georgia’s Coastal Plain, the transitional zone between upland pine forests and wetlands is often the most diverse habitat for plants.
   Restoring fire-adapted habitats such as longleaf pine forest and pitcherplant bogs, as well as promoting the prescribed fire these ecosystems need, are priorities in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan. The comprehensive strategy guides Wildlife Resources and state Department of Natural Resources efforts to conserve biological diversity.
   Doerun Natural Area sports the first documented chaffseed on state-owned land. Continued prescribed fire will perpetuate it and other herbs and grasses at Doerun, including the site’s many carnivorous pitcherplants, Nongame Conservation botanist Tom Patrick said.


"Georgia Outdoors" opens its 17th season at 9 p.m. Oct. 3 with an episode called "Fire Ecology." The show repeats on GPB channels 6 p.m. Oct. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7.

Out my backdoor
Fall’s overlooked migrant
By Terry W. Johnson
   By autumn’s official arrival, the fall migration of birds such as warblers, flycatchers and vireos has passed us by. But between those last waves of early fall migrants and Jack Frost’s transformation of our countryside into a tapestry of vibrant fall colors, Georgians can see another migration: that of the cloudless sulphur butterfly.
photo of cloudless sulphur   Most have no idea these gossamer-winged beauties migrate. You might even be wondering if you have seen a cloudless sulphur. Chances are you’ve seen more than your share.
   Cloudless sulphurs are fairly large with wingspans of 2½ to 3 inches. Their underwings are greenish-yellow and have a number of small silvery spots. The butterfly gets its name from the topsides of its wings, which are bright lemon yellow and free of markings.
   Many butterflies migrate. But the cloudless sulphur’s passage is the most spectacular. In late summer, cloudless sulphurs from as far north as Canada begin moving south. They fly about 12 miles a day, rarely stopping long enough to feed, as if on a mission that can’t wait.
   Most head for wintering grounds in south Florida and beyond. Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin both wrote of clouds of sulphurs seen on their voyages. One is left wondering if these were cloudless sulphurs. Although I haven’t seen cloudless sulphurs over the ocean, I have found thousands washed ashore on Sapelo Island, the apparent victims of capricious winds.
   Turk’s cap and pineapple sage are two nectar plants cloudless sulphurs seem to prefer at this time of year. Both have bright red blooms that act like cloudless sulphur magnets. Other late-blooming plants that are great sources of nectar for resident and migrating butterflies in your yard include goldenrod, aster, swamp sunflower, liatris (blazing star), zinnia and salvia. Read more.
   The next time you spot a cloudless sulphur visiting flowers, stop and enjoy the butterfly’s beauty and reflect on the perilous journey facing this seemingly fragile creature. It is a backyard moment worth savoring.

Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, a noted writer and expert on backyard wildlife, and executive director of TERN, the friends group for Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section.

photo of timber rattlesnake

A season for rattlesnakes
   Peanut combines stirring clouds of dust. Hunters slipping through woods of green and rust. Both sights are signs summer has turned to fall in South Georgia.
   Here’s another: rattlesnakes. The start of harvest and hunting mirrors birthing and mating season for rattlers. One result is more human-snake encounters, as the young disperse and males are on the move.
   Rattlesnake females heavy with the young they’ll deliver live and possibly settled into a sheltered place to give birth also may be less likely to move and more likely to rattle. “They’ll stand their ground a little more,” said John Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with Wildlife Resources.
    Meanwhile, males are searching out females. Breeding season for Georgia’s rattlesnake species – eastern diamondback, timber (commonly called canebrake in south Georgia) and pigmy (the standard spelling when referring to North American herps)  – runs from late August through mid-October.
   Neither sex is looking for trouble. The venomous snake’s fearsome reputation exaggerates the threat. While totals by species are not available, deaths from all snakebites nationwide ranged from three to 12 a year from 1999 to 2004, according to federal statistics.
   Instead, indications are that rattlesnakes and particularly eastern diamondbacks are declining. They rate in Georgia among the so-called “unlucky 14,” species such as coyotes that can be killed without limit.
   Jensen had two words for encountering a rattler in the woods.  “Walk away."

photo of class at Smithgall Woods
Middle school students study macroinvertebrates
at Dukes Creek in a Trout Unlimited program.

Public lands profile:
Smithgall Education Center
Outdoors classroom without equal
   Sheila Humphrey has a classroom without equal. About 3,000 children a year visit Smithgall Woods Regional Education Center, where Humphrey, as the center’s educational coordinator, and others teach them about nature-based topics varying from animal adaptations to stream ecology.
    “The kids when they’re leaving say, ‘This is the bestest field trip we’ve ever had,’” Humphrey said.
Middle school students study macroinvertebrates at Dukes Creek in a Trout Unlimited program.
   Thanks go to staff and setting. The center is part of Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek Conservation Area, a 5,600-acre Heritage Preserve and state park restored from years of hydraulic mining and timber cutting by the late media entrepreneur Charles Smithgall. The state acquired the property near Helen in a gift-purchase in 1994. At Smithgall, Blue Ridge foothills blanketed in forest bow to Dukes Creek, a top trophy trout stream. Visitors can hike, bike, fish, hunt, camp, observe wildlife, attend a parks program and sample corporate-styled lodging.
   But at the heart is the educational center. Started in 1997, this partnership with the Pioneer RESA and the Georgia Wildlife Resources and parks divisions reaches out to students and teachers at Smithgall and in schools. The center is one of six Wildlife Resources operates.
   Humphrey logged nearly 19,000 contacts with children and adults last year. Most involved outreach programs, which are open to all ages. But as tight budgets put field trips at risk, Humphrey, a retired teacher, stresses the value of the educational structure, hands-on aspects and outdoors experience offered at Smithgall for third-grade and older students.
    “All of our programs address the Georgia Performance Standards. So they can be covered in a really neat way that’s going to be totally different from what the kids are getting in the classroom.”
   And in a place where nature is experienced at its bestest. Read more.

Getting there

* From Helen: Take Ga. 75 north to Robertstown. Turn left on Alt. Ga. 75 and go 2.2 miles. Turn into Smithgall Woods at the stone pillars.
* For more: Sheila Humphrey, educational coordinator, (706) 878-3087 or

    *October sports two back-to-back nature weekends: DNR Coastal Resources Division's CoastFest Oct. 4 in Brunswick and Georgia's Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival Oct. 9-13 on Jekyll Island. The latter highlights fall migrations rich in shorebirds such as red knots, marbled godwits, western willets and "wave chasers" like sanderlings.
photo of Savannah sparrow   * The Georgia Important Bird Areas program needs volunteers to help collect seeds from native warm-season grasses Nov. 8 at Panola Mountain State Park and Nov. 9 at Sprewell Bluff State Park. Wildlife Resources will use the seeds to restore native grasslands, increasing key bird habitat. There's no heavy lifting. According to coordinator Charlie Muise, "The work ... can be done by nearly any person who can walk across a field of tall grass on the side of a very small hill."
   * Georgia volunteers with the experience and skills to identify frog calls are sought for the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program. There are about 78 survey routes statewide and only 20 people to run them, three times each at night. Take this call quiz to see if this is your calling.
   * Gopher frog restoration at The Nature Conservancy's Williams Bluffs Preserve near Blakely is bound for PBS. ArgoFilms recorded the recent release of metamorphs and tadpoles for a NATURE series show next spring on global amphibian declines. Filmmaker Allison Argo sees the project led by Wildlife Resources and Atlanta Botanical Garden as "one of the few ... positively good news stories" about amphibians.
   * A juvenile bald eagle is back in the wild after being released Sept. 6 at Dodge County Public Fishing Area near Eastman. The Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University rehabilitated the 3-year-old female after she was found two months ago near a Dumpster in Chester, emaciated, covered with lice and her right eye injured.
   * Much farther north, a pair of bald eagles apparently nested and raised at least one eaglet in Vermont this spring. The Green Mountain State had been the only state in the lower 48 without nesting bald eagles.
   * The Georgia Sea Turtle Center named veterinary director Terry Norton the center's director Sept. 5. Norton, a key player in the Jekyll Island center since 2001, had been interim director and will continue to lead veterinary services.
   * ESPNOutdoors columnist Gregg Patterson is pressing hunters and anglers to wage war against invasive species. The Web site also features the related trailer of a U.S. Forest Service video that includes feral hog control on Ossabaw Island.
   * Aviatlas is a new birding project documenting birding hotspots around the globe. User contributions are key.

photo of moon over Crooked River
Parting shot
Cheryl Conner took this shot called
"Moonlight over the Crooked River," winning
the photography contest held during the
Experience Coastal Georgia Festival held
last month at Crooked River State Park near
St. Mary. More on the park and the contest.

Georgia Wild
volume 1, issue 6

   Georgia Wild is an e-newsletter produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species, those not legally trapped, fished for or hunted. The newsletter is 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.
   Call (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 fee at all county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms or through online renewal.

photo of nongame wildlife license plates


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