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Georgia Wild masthead; dolphin image
Wildlife Resources Division logo

November 2009
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Also in this issue
* Dolphin contaminants Q&A
* Discovery Area upgrade
Why dogwoods deliver
A sandhills education
* Barn owls
in profile

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Give wildlife a chance
* Buy a conservation license plate.
* Contribute to the tax checkoff.
* Donate directly to the Nongame Conservation Section.
* Join TERN, the Nongame friends group.
   Each option supports the Nongame Section, which receives no state funds to conserve Georgia’s nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. Donations are also tax-deductible. Details: (770) 761-3035.

card image

Speaking of giving
Help wildlife and your gift list by donating to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund in honor of someone. We'll send you or the person honored a holiday card recognizing the gift. And you'll receive more than our thanks: Donations are tax-deductible! Please contact (770) 761-3035 or shirley.hall@dnr.state.ga.us for details.
WILD Facts
How does a woodpecker repeatedly hammer into trees without hurting its head? An extra layer of cartilage between its strong beak and head serves as a shock absorber, allowing this bird to continually drum in comfort. Stiff tail feathers and sharp-clawed toes also help woodpeckers stay upright while pounding. These federally protected birds bang their beaks into trees and sometimes house siding to announce their territory, find insects for food and excavate nest cavities. The sapsucker, a type of woodpecker, also bores rows of holes in live trees to get sap. With fewer insects around in winter, woodpeckers are regular visitors to suet birdfeeders.

sandhills project image
In education
This month, 27 educators walked wild places like Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area, had their picture taken with an indigo snake and learned about pitcher plants and other unique flora during a workshop exploring Coastal Plain sandhills. The project, funded by a Wal-Mart Foundation grant, is banking on the teachers to translate details about this diverse habitat into lesson plans, fact sheets and other classroom resources for 3rd- through 7th-graders. The first of two Advanced Project WILD workshops, held Nov. 12-14 at Little Ocmulgee State Park, gave the group an up-close look at sandhills. The second session – participants must attend both for professional credit – is Jan. 14-16 at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. There, teachers will tackle the hard work of creating curriculum and supporting resources. Considering educators’ enthusiasm, the workshops are working. “They were like, ‘When can we finish this? I can’t wait to take it back to my school!’” Project WILD Coordinator Mary Terry said. Read more.

D.C. talk
Legislation to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund is up for debate in the Senate. According to the National Wildlife Federation, S. 2747 would permanently provide $900 million to the program that steers offshore oil and gas revenues toward land acquisition, natural resources protection and habitat restoration. The fund, created in 1965, has protected everything from wildlife refuges and national parks to Civil War battlefields and city green spaces. But while $900 million a year goes into the fund from oil and gas leases on federal lands, Congress often spends much of that for other purposes, according to a Wildlife Federation release. The $300 million currently allocated, the most in years, is only a third of full funding. Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Max Baucus of Montana introduced the legislation, which has some support in the House.

barn owl image
Up close
Barn owl
Tyto alba
Also called: Ghost owl, monkey-faced owl, heart-faced owl, stone owl, hissing owl.
Family: Only member of the Tytonidae family in North America. The Tyto alba pratincola subspecies is represented in Georgia.
Key characteristics: 12-18 inches tall with females larger than males; wingspan is about 42 inches. Sports a distinctive heart-shaped, white facial disk with dark eyes and thin, pale-colored beak. Feathers are cinnamon-beige along the back and upper wings, mottled with black and gray; underparts are primarily white with black spots. Fringes on leading edges of wing feathers reduce turbulence and make flight almost noiseless. Asymmetrical ears allow for detailed detection of sounds.
Range: Most widely distributed owl species in the world. Found in much of North, Central and South America, as well as parts of Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Once common in Georgia (namely in Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and Ridge and Valley regions), but now considered rare to uncommon.
Habitat: Open fields, riparian vegetation and marshes; rarely found in forested areas.
Eats: Small mammals (mainly rodents) as well as birds, usually red-winged blackbirds. May also eat small number of snakes, lizards, large insects, frogs and fish.  With a metabolic rate higher than other owls, this species eats significantly more rodents. Catches of as many as 60 mice in an hour have been recorded!
Telltale signs: Swallows prey whole, then regurgitates pellets at roost sites. Pellets consist of prey’s fur and bones (aiding in the study of this raptor’s diet).
Sounding off: Unlike other owls, this species does not hoot. Its vocalizations include screeches, hisses and screams (listen). Call types may have prompted ghost stories, considering the barn owl’s ghost-like appearance and habit of living in old buildings.
Breeding behavior: Usually monogamous, but will find another mate if one disappears. Mainly pairs up from March-September, but may breed any time during the year, depending on when food is abundant. Like other owls, does not build a nest. Lays 3-11 eggs (averages 5-7) at two-day intervals in barns, abandoned buildings, church steeples, hunting blinds, natural tree cavities and, rarely, ground burrows. Female incubates for about 30 days while the male feeds her. The first hatched owlet may be 2 weeks old when the last egg hatches.
Status: Not listed as threatened or endangered in Georgia, but numbers appear lower than in the mid-1950s. Species is a State Wildlife Action Plan priority. Barn owls are listed as endangered in seven Midwestern states.
Threats: Habitat loss and alteration due to more efficient farming, declining dairy industry, conversion of agricultural lands to pine plantations, loss of natural grasslands, and too few large trees with nesting cavities.  Predators may include large opossums and raccoons as well as great-horned owls. Domestic cats contribute to losses. Average life expectancy in the wild is 1-2 years, but the oldest known wild barn owl in North America lived 11½ years. 
Conservation: Accurate data about barn owls in Georgia is needed. However, programs like the Farm Bill that benefit populations of bobwhite quail and associated songbirds may also provide feeding grounds for barn owls. Keeping domestic cats indoors and reducing feral cat populations would help prevent predation. A nest box campaign in substantial habitats may also be beneficial. (Nest box plans.)

Sources include: Birds of Georgia, Carolina Raptor Center, Georgia Breeding Bird Atlas, Owl Pages and others

Nongame in the news
Florida Times-Union (and others via AP): "In Southeast Georgia, C.J. the research dog sniffs out reptiles," about conservation-trained Lab from Project Orianne finding indigo snakes in the Okefenokee. (Nov. 18)
SaportaReport (Atlanta Business Chronicle blog): "Georgia Power's donation to state's DNR to preserve 5,000 acres," about donations including Sprewell Bluff and McGrau Ford WMA. (Nov. 19)
How to Enjoy the Outdoors (blog): "Florida Painted Bunting Observer Team needs help from volunteers," about survey needs for University of North Carolina Wilmington project. (Nov. 17)     
BainbridgeGa.com: DNR release about how bald eagle hooked in limb line at Goat Rock shows hazards to wildlife of unattended fishing gear. (Nov. 18)
Savannah Morning News: "Report compares drilling to coast's natural value," about environmental groups' research pricing worth of coastal fishing, tourism 21 times that of untapped offshore oil, gas reserves. (Nov. 17)
Georgia Magazine (EMC publication): "Let them bloom," brief about nectar-feeder seed packets offered by Nongame Conservation Section. (November 2009)
The Beaufort (S.C.) Gazette: "What's causing the marshes around Huspah Creek to die off?," about marsh dead zones in South Carolina and Georgia, and inquiry into the cause. (Nov. 14)
News4Jax (WJXT): "Jaxport tries to protect right whales," about Jacksonville, Fla., port joining program to promote right whale safeguards among ship owners, operators. (Nov. 13)
CBS: "Brown pelicans no longer endangered," about the birds being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. (Nov. 11)
Savannah Morning News: "As seas rise, planning starts," about new study on higher sea levels and governments growing response to projected changes. (Nov. 9)
The (Macon) Telegraph: "Upson County's Sprewell Bluff park being donated to state," about Georgia Power donating the 3,000-acre acre to DNR. (Nov. 6)
The Brunswick News: "Turtles to winter at Jekyll center," about two cold-stunned, Kemp's Ridley turtles transferred from Maine to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. (Nov. 6)
Wall Street Journal: "Whale Watch: Endangered designation in danger," about U.S. considering regulations on recovering humpback whales. (Nov. 6)
Savannah Morning News: "Summer dredging killed sea turtles," about loss of loggerheads during September dredging in Savannah and Brunswick.
Cheaper than Dirt (shooting sports blog): "Project sees brighter future for Georgia's golden-winged warblers," DNR release about work with USFS to boost birds' habitat on Brawley Mountain. (Oct. 30)
Savannah Morning News: "Turtles nest despite a movie and poachers," nesting season wrap-up ranging from Miley Cyrus to poaching and average nest totals. (Oct. 29)
Florida Times-Union: "Georgia DNR coastal director to retire, return to nature," about Susan Shipman's 30-year career and coming retirement. (Oct. 26) And about Shipman's replacement: Marine Fisheries Assistant Director A.G. "Spud" Woodward.
Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Wanted: Cleaner home for darter," about effort to restore spring near Varnell for the state-endangered coldwater darter. (Oct. 25)
BBC: "Secrets of frog killer laid bare," about discovery that fungal disease chytridiomycosis kills amphibians through electrolyte balance, resulting in cardiac arrest. (Oct. 22)
Moultrie Observer: "Conservation key for Farmer of Year," about Florida cattle, dairy farmer who has 80 percent of property in conservation programs and was named Southeastern Farmer of the Year. (Oct. 20)
Georgia County Government (ACCG magazine): "Coastal Georgia land conservation initiative documents new habitat on Jekyll Island," DNR release about previously unclassified ecological community recorded by Nongame botanists. (October)
Whitehorse Leader (Melbourne, Australia): "Dog to hunt turtle pests in Blackburn Lake," about use of a Labrador retriever to sniff out illegally introduced red-eared sliders. (Oct. 27)

Dec. 1-2: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (Dec. 1), monthly meeting (Dec. 2), DNR board room, Atlanta.
Dec. 5: Right Whale Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sea Walk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
Dec. 14-Jan. 5: 110th Christmas Bird Count. Find a count near you.
Feb. 12-13: 22nd annual Weekend for Wildlife, fundraiser for DNR Nongame Conservation Section, Sea Island.
Feb. 12-14: Georgia Wildlife Federation Great Outdoors Show, Georgia National Fairgrounds, Perry.
Feb. 12-15: Great Backyard Bird Count.
Feb. 19-20: 10th Annual Georgia River Network conference, Jekyll Island Convention Center, Jekyll Island.
Submit events

Photo credits (from top):
* Bottlenose dolphins "strand feeding" -- chasing fish onto mud flats -- near Cumberland Island. Kate Sparks/Ga. DNR
* First-year peregrine falcon captured for falconry on Georgia coast this year. Jim Ozier/Ga. DNR
* DNR botanist Mincy Moffett discusses sandhill rosemary with educator Barb Battalion. Mary Terry/Ga. DNR
* Bottlenose dolphins. Clay George/Ga. DNR
* Barn owl. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
* Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center's Karen Rent working at Brooke Ager Discovery Area. Michael Fulghum/Ga. DNR
* Dogwood leaves and berries. Terry Johnson
* Bean plataspid (Megacopta cribraria). Dan Suiter/UGA
* Green anole. Becky Collins

Georgia Wild

volume 2, issue 11

Georgia Wild is produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species, those not legally trapped, fished for or hunted. The newsletter is delivered free to subscribers. Subscribe or see previous issues. 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 depends for funding 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 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. Also, check here for information on TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section.

falcon image
  To catch
   a falcon

  Though the falconry
  techniques have been
  around for millennia,
  trapping a peregrine
  is not easy …


The first 'take' of a peregrine in Ga. in 40 years

By Jim Ozier
Birds of prey have long been admired for their speed, power and fearlessness. Thousands of years ago, people learned how to capture, train and care for raptors as hunting partners so their awe-inspiring flights of pursuit and attack could be enjoyed more frequently than by chance observations of wild birds. Falcons were always among the most highly valued hunting birds. In some cultures, they were reserved for use by royalty.
   Jump forward to 1970. The ancient sport of falconry was still practiced by a relatively small but passionate following. Yet, because of widespread environmental factors that caused population crashes, one of the most prized hunting birds, the peregrine falcon, had been listed as endangered in the U.S. and could no longer be taken from the wild. Falconers could capture other raptors or buy captive-bred peregrines, but they could only dream as they read romantic, early American accounts of the most dedicated falconers capturing migrating peregrines along our beaches, then enjoying times in the field with the wild-reared birds.
   Not content to say good-bye to the peregrine, falconers helped with captive-breeding and release programs to re-establish falcons to their former range -- a range that once again became suitable for habitation following the ban on DDT use in the U.S. in 1972.

Limited capture won't hurt population
   Fast forward again. The conservation effort proved a success. By 1999, the peregrine population recovered to the point the species could be taken off the endangered species list. Falconers and natural resource agencies then began looking at the possibility of once again allowing wild peregrines to be taken for falconry.
   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service performed a rigorous assessment of band-return data, nest surveys, survival rates (only about half of these birds survive their first year) and other information, and approved a very conservative and sustainable level of take: 1 percent of the lowest estimate of annual production by the northern (migratory) population of peregrines. Models indicate the population could sustain up to 15 percent take with no negative impacts.
   Those decisions came about a year ago. This year, the take allowed for the eastern half of the country totaled 36 first-year, or passage, migratory falcons. The trapping season was limited to Sept. 20-Oct. 20 to best ensure that migrants would be captured rather than eastern residents. (Migrant peregrines winter in South America.) Georgia’s portion of the total amounted to five birds. Following a minor rules amendment by the Board of Natural Resources in August to allow the practice, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources accepted applications for the first legal take of wild peregrines for falconry in 40 years.

5 permits, all Georgians
   Seven people applied: five from Georgia, one from Florida and one from Idaho. The low number can be attributed to the short and sudden application period; the amount of falconry experience required to qualify; the effort, logistics and expense necessary for attempting to trap a peregrine; and the high level of commitment demanded for working with this species.
    The DNR lottery process favored state residents. As it turned out, all five permits went to Georgians.
   I accompanied three of the falconers awarded permits to a Georgia beach in early October to observe the historic occasion and learn about the techniques used. The falconers' professionalism, preparation and dedication were impressive. We observed a couple dozen peregrines during two days of attempted trapping, and even saw six at one time.
   Though the techniques have been around for millennia, trapping a peregrine is not easy. Probably the simplest technique is to cruise a suitable migratory pathway, such as a beach, until a falcon is spotted. Then, a tethered live pigeon fitted with a leather harness featuring several monofilament nooses is released as near as possible to the falcon. If all goes perfectly, the hungry falcon attacks the pigeon and snares a talon in a noose. However, if the falcon is suspicious or not particularly hungry, the pigeon attracts only curious glances.

On the beach: Waiting and warblers
For the most part, the peregrines we saw did not want to play our game. Perhaps the pigeon didn’t look quite right in its harness, or maybe our presence evoked extra caution. Several peregrines made passes at the pigeon, but if they could not flush it from the sand they quickly lost interest.
   A falcon would occasionally leave its perch on the beach, bypass the pigeon lure and head rapidly out to sea, often joined by one or two others that had been perched nearby. A couple hundred yards out, they would begin stooping in turn at a common quarry, either cooperatively or competitively, and within a few seconds one of them would snag a hapless migrating warbler. Then they would all return to their perches to await the next tired victim.
   Eventually, a peregrine got serious with the pigeon and was captured. This first bird, however, was a 2-year-old, so it was immediately released. It flew back to its perch and resumed the warbler watch as if nothing unusual had occurred.
   Later, a beach-cruising passage falcon spied the pigeon and diverted to check out the potential meal. This stimulated another falcon that had been only mildly curious to join in. As they took turns making passes, one of them, a female, made a grab for the lure and became the only wild peregrine taken in Georgia during 2009.
   About 20 others were taken in other eastern states. These birds, which will be very well cared for, will provide many great falconry experiences and might end up back in the wild some day since even well-trained birds sometimes wander off, and some falconers release their birds after a few hunting seasons.
   DNR views restoring the opportunity for a limited take of peregrines for falconry as the fitting culmination to an inspiring conservation success story. We anticipate that additional states, including Florida, will be open for peregrine take next fall, so unless the quota for the eastern U.S. increases, Georgia will likely issue only four permits in 2010.

Jim Ozier is a program manager with Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, part of the Wildlife Resources Division.

dolphins image

Dolphins sampled for insight
into contaminant questions
   Georgia DNR teamed with NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative and Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program and other scientists to catch, examine and release nearly 30 bottlenose dolphins off Brunswick and Sapelo Island in August. The effort was part of a continuing probe into levels of contaminants such as PCBs in resident dolphins, with related work involving dolphin identification and movements. Here, Wildlife Resources Division biologist Clay George answers questions about the project, and the challenge of corralling these popular, intelligent and powerful mammals.
   Click for more from the interview with Clay.

   Q. Tell us about the project.
   A. The idea began in 2003. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography research into environmental contaminants in fish collected from Brunswick and the surrounding area suggested that contaminants from contaminated industrial sites are accumulating in fish and spreading into the ecosystem. Researchers wondered whether the contaminants are accumulating in resident dolphins – top-end predators that live for decades and have abundant blubber that can accumulate large amounts of fat-soluble contaminants. 
   NOAA and DNR biologists began collecting blubber biopsy samples from live bottlenose dolphins in the Brunswick and Sapelo Island areas. A photo-identification component was added in 2007, with help from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Chicago Zoological Society
   Exposure to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, has been linked to liver disease, anemia, reproductive problems, cancer and other health issues in humans and other mammals. Could PCBs be affecting dolphins similarly?
   Planning for a large-scale dolphin capture and health assessment project in the Brunswick and Sapelo areas began in 2008. Last August, more than 50 biologists, veterinarians and researchers from over a dozen agencies and organizations gathered in Brunswick to help.
   Q. How did it go?
   A. It was a huge success. In two weeks, we safely caught, examined and released 29 bottlenose dolphins. Twenty-eight were fitted with temporary tracking devices so their movements can be documented. Tracking continues through this month. Preliminary contaminants analysis should be complete by the end of 2010. Some results will be released earlier next year.
   Q. Exactly how do you capture a dolphin?
   A. It’s simple in concept: Go out in a boat, find some dolphins and encircle them with a large gillnet. A large team then works to restrain the dolphins in a coordinated and safe manner. In practice, it’s much more complicated and requires a lot of skill from folks with a variety of expertise.
   Dolphins use their echolocation sonar to find gaps or holes in the net. They often swim out, under or jump over the net. Dolphins are also a lot larger than most people realize. Adults can be longer than 8 feet and weigh hundreds of pounds. If an animal rolls or thrashes in the net, it can be a challenge to restrain them safely, which is why we had so many folks involved.
   But most challenges are logistical. A typical dolphin capture may require seven or eight boats, 50 people and a lot of equipment.
   Q. What kind of information did you obtain?
   A. Each dolphin received a thorough veterinary exam to evaluate its health. The exams combined should provide a rough picture of the health of resident populations. Extensive data were collected, including measurements, weight, urine for urinalysis, feces for parasitology, a blubber sample and milk (from lactating females) for contaminants analysis, skin for genetics, blowhole swabs for viral and microbiology tests, and blood for a variety of tests and analyses. Also, data from the tracking devices will give us a better understanding of dolphin movements, residency patterns and habitat use.
    Q. How will this contribute to conservation of dolphins or other marine mammals?
   A. A primary goal is determining whether resident dolphins are being negatively affected by contaminants in the Brunswick area. If so, the information can be incorporated into clean-up efforts at industrial sites. Another goal is estimating the size of the “contamination footprint.”
   Results could impact human and ecosystem health. Like humans, dolphins are long-lived, they consume food from the same ocean food web many humans do, they can accumulate large amounts of fat-soluble contaminants and they are prone to similar diseases. For these reasons, dolphins are considered excellent sentinels of human and ecosystem health.
   Q. Any unusual encounters while taking samples?
   A. One of the most interesting things about handling dolphins is the variety of vocalizations they make after being captured. While some tend to be quiet, others make a seemingly constant stream of high-pitched clicks and whistles. I can’t help but wonder what they “see” when they echolocate out of water.

More on the Web from NOAA

Clay George works at Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section office in Brunswick.

Elliott Center Discovery Area
blossoms with work, donations
   Wildlife love the Brooke Ager Discovery Area. So do wildlife lovers. That’s because the area at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center now sports a pollinator garden, a growing bird-feeding station and a spruced up landscape. Thanks go to Charlie Elliott wildlife interpretive specialist Karen Rent, Les and Jaydee Ager, Eagle Scout candidate Noel Hardin, Terry Tatum and a re-discovered garden plan.
   The Discovery Area, named for the Agers’ late daughter Brooke, combines indoor and outdoor opportunities for hands-on learning about wildlife. Field trips target pre-K through 5th-grade students, with customized programs available for other groups. The grounds outside are intended to complement the 10 learning stations inside.
planting garden image   But it wasn’t until after Rent started work at Charlie Elliott in 2007 that attention turned again to a Schoolyard Habitat master plan developed by Tatum, now with the Georgia Wildlife Federation. Not all improvements had been done. Les and Jaydee, a former Garden Club of Georgia president, directed donations honoring Les’ retirement that year as a DNR regional fisheries supervisor to the effort.
   “That donation allowed this project to happen,” said Walter Lane, a Nongame program manager and head of Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
   Rent (pictured planting above) took the reins. Her goals: First, add the pollinator garden, rich in native plants such as buttonbush and flame azalea favored by pollen-spreading insects and birds. Second, redo the beds already in place. Hardin created a feeding station with donated feeders, plants that birds dine on and a bench to watch from.
   Now, the pollinator garden is blooming. Birds are flocking to the feeding station. Plant nametags will be added. More benches will be built. The vision of Brooke Ager Discovery Area as a model Schoolyard Habitat has taken shape. Young and old will benefit, Rent suggested.
   “For all of the programs that I offer … this is going to provide a great opportunity for teachable moments. And, it’s pretty!”
   Rent also sees the gardens as a how-to example for teachers and student chaperones interested in using native plants in their school and home landscapes.
   Lane is thankful for staff and volunteer efforts, and for the Agers’ generosity.
   The wildlife center is near Mansfield, southeast of Atlanta. The Brooke Ager Discovery Area sits beside Clubhouse Lake. Program fees are $5 per child, with a $150 group minimum. Details: (770) 784-3059 or karen.rent@dnr.state.ga.us.

dogwoods image

Out my backdoor

Dogwoods deliver ...
in beauty and wildlife food

By Terry W. Johnson
   As I write this, the leaves of the flowering dogwoods in my backyard are bathed with a blush of red. Soon, they will turn scarlet and, together with their already bright red berries, light up the autumn landscape.
   If the flowering dogwood’s breathtaking beauty is not enough to endear this small native tree to us, perhaps the fact that it is also one of our most valuable wildlife food plants will.
   The flowering dogwood ranges across all of Georgia’s 159 counties. In the wild, it is typically found in the forest understory. While the tree will grow in open sun, it prefers partial shade. It will even grow in heavy shade, but will rarely bloom there. Flowering dogwoods do best in rich, well-drained, acid soils.
   Dogwoods in the wild seem to melt into the landscape in summer and winter. However, during spring and fall, they take center stage.
   One color best describes the flowering dogwood in fall – red. The autumn foliage ranges from maroon to crimson. The plant also is festooned with clusters of half-inch, bright red berries that botanists call drupes.
   Once the berries and leaves disappear in late fall or early winter, the tree seems to slip back into obscurity only to re-emerge in the spring. Then, before their leaves emerge, the trees are blanketed with what appear to be creamy white blossoms. However, botanists will tell you that what we perceive to be white petals are actually showy, petal-like bracts. At any rate, the floral show displayed by the flowering dogwood is second to none.
   Once tender green leaves replace the blossoms, these demure trees again blend into the landscape.
   Dogwoods are more than looks, though. Wildlife of some sort dines on everything from the tree’s wood and foliage to its fruit. Flowering dogwoods are the host plant for the beautiful spring azure butterfly and at least 22 species of moths, including those with unusual names such as the saddled prominent and filament bearer. While the caterpillars of these moths and butterflies munch on dogwood leaves, a multitude of songbirds converge on the trees to dine on the juicy caterpillars.
   Meanwhile, more than 60 species of birds and mammals feed on dogwoods. White-tailed deer eat the foliage and twigs. Raccoons, black bears, eastern chipmunks and both fox and gray squirrels gobble up the bright red fruit. The eastern cottontail and beaver also favor dogwoods.
   Each fall, wood ducks, quail and wild turkeys vie for dogwood berries on the forest floor. More than 30 other species of birds eat dogwood drupes. This list includes woodpeckers (red-bellied, hairy, pileated, red-headed) along with the northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsucker. Our state bird, the brown thrasher, relishes dogwood fruit. The red berries are also choice table fare for northern cardinals, yellow-rumped warblers, northern mockingbirds, thrushes (hermit, wood, Swainson’s and gray-cheeked), and the eastern bluebird and American robin.
   Sadly, the future of flowering dogwoods is uncertain. A deadly anthracnose fungus has killed thousands in recent years. The disease has been devastating in north Georgia. I would not recommend transplanting a dogwood from the wild into your yard, because the tree may be infected with the anthracnose fungus. Instead, buy disease-free trees from a reputable nursery.
   Flowering dogwoods are great additions to urban and suburban yards. Regardless of where you plant them, they will add beauty to your home landscape and provide a dependable source of food for your hungry wildlife neighbors. From my way of thinking, that’s a good deal.
   Read Terry’s full column.

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

But how did the dogwood get its name?
We will probably never know. One legend is that long ago a medicine concocted from its bark was used to treat dogs plagued with mange. Others suggest dogwood is a derivation of “daggerwood.” Daggerwood sticks were sharpened and used to skewer meat for cooking.

   A federal task force recently approved Georgia’s plan for combating aquatic nuisance species, leaving Gov. Sonny Perdue’s OK as the final action before the state is eligible for related federal funding. DNR Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator Keith Weaver said the plan – due online by early next year – identifies 72 problem species, from high-profile flathead catfish to lesser-knowns like Chinese tallow.
   For a whale of a festival, check out Jacksonville, Fla.’s, first Right Whale Festival, Dec. 5 at Jacksonville Beach. The family-friendly event promises fun, food and music, wrapped around a mission of raising awareness of these endangered whales and their calving grounds off the Georgia/Florida coast.
   Meanwhile, back in the ocean: Right whales will soon show up along the Georgia coast. 2009 was a record season, with 39 mother/calf pairs and, on the downside, five whales entangled in fishing gear. (DNR, NOAA and other partners managed to free four of the five.)
   Bird watching doesn’t chill in winter. Warm up your binoculars with the 110th Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 14-Jan. 5 (find Georgia details here) and the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 12-15. 
   The Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group could use help with the 2nd Rusty Blackbird Winter Hotspots Blitz, Jan 30-Feb 15. The search for wintering rusty blackbirds is aimed at understanding their distribution and pinpointing local concentrations. Last year’s results.
   Brownish and big-bottomed, the bean plataspid might not look insect imagelike an attention-getter. But you can understand the headlines when you consider its potential smell (it’s not called globular stinkbug for nothing), foreign descent (native to India and China, this pest has turned up in northeast Georgia) and unusual appetite for kudzu and, unfortunately, legumes such as soybeans.
   Count the brown pelican as another conservation comeback. Once decimated by DDT, the pelican was recently removed from the U.S. list of endangered and threatened species, a range-wide change that trails a 1985 federal de-listing in Georgia and some other states.
   The Coastal Land Summit Oct. 22 in Savannah was a significant next step in the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative, aimed at helping 11 coastal counties work with state agencies and conservation organizations toward sustainable development that doesn't undercut local economies. The initiative "is intended to be a decision-support tool that will ultimately help you get to what will essentially be a win-win situation for your communities," explained Assistant Chief Jon Ambrose of Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section. The diverse group at the summit featured city planners, county commissioners, local landowners, state government officials including DNR Commissioner Chris Clark, business representatives and nonprofit staff.
   People watch: Cynthia Dohner is the new regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region (a change USFWS Director Sam Hamilton announced Nov. 3 at the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conference in Atlanta). Susan Shipman has retired as DNR Coastal Resources Division director and “Spud” Woodward, the division’s former marine fisheries assistant director, has been promoted to lead CRD.
   Read Shipman's farewell column, plus details on the Coastal Land Summit, marsh plants, oyster reef restoration and more in the new issue of Georgia Sound, the Coastal Resources Division newsletter. Download a PDF copy here.

Parting shot
green anole image
Becky Collins' shot of a green anole
in Eatonton certainly caught our eye. For
more wildlife photos submitted by readers,
see Wildlife Resources' Flickr page.

Next month

  • Inside the new breeding bird atlas
  • A hellbender surprise
  • Conserving Radford's mint

Looking back

Links to three previous issues.

Other archives found here.



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