'Hot' Invasive Found on Coast

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Ga. Wild Masthead: wood stork colony

Editor's note: Because of a digital glitch, the previous Georgia Wild did not include all images. With apologies for the delayed display, you can now see the complete issue -- including Ron Determann's trademark machete and a swimming eastern diamondback.

A new high for wood storks

Aerial of wood stork colony

Feds down-list species to threatened; Georgia marks best nest year

Banding wood stork

   June 26 proved a banner day for the bald wading birds with the big beaks.
   Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell traveled to Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge to announce that wood storks will be down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
   Soon after, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources released the results of this year’s wood stork nest surveys, which documented the most nests in the state since the surveys began by air in the 1990s.
   The estimate: 2,932 nests in 22 colonies, from Camden to Brooks County. The previous high was 2,696 nests in 2010. But last year’s count reached only 1,873. Annual nesting fluctuations are normal.
   Wood storks, America’s only true stork, nest in colonies over water and depend on wetlands for food. The species was listed as endangered in 1984, as the loss and alteration of wetland habitats in Florida undercut the population. The birds were projected at risk of extinction by 2000.
   Wood storks survey leader Tim Keyes of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section said down-listing is a tribute to conservation efforts and the resilience of wood storks, which “have moved into new habitat types and adapted to different hydrologies than their historic south Florida range.”
   Many wood storks now nest in Georgia, which has about 20 percent of the U.S. nesting population.

How you can help

   DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve wood storks and Georgia’s other rare and endangered animals and native plants. Yet the agency receives no state general funds, depending instead on fundraisers, grants and donations.
   Help support this vital work by purchasing an eagle or hummingbird license plate.
   Thanks to a law change this year, starting as soon as July 1, buying or renewing these and other DNR wildlife plates will cost only $25 more than a standard tag, and more of the fees will be dedicated to conserving Georgia wildlife. Learn more

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Surveying dwarf sumac

Saving the day for dwarf sumac

   Intensive management paired with perseverance is paying off for Georgia’s two known populations of endangered dwarf sumac.
   During a survey this month at one site – Lower Broad River Wildlife Management Area in Elbert County – Drs. Jenny Cruse-Sanders of Atlanta Botanical Garden and Mincy Moffett of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section found 750 male stems and another 100 female stems of Rhus michauxii.
   Eight years ago, there had been only two visible male stems!
   But that was before botanists and volunteers with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance stepped up management, including prescribed fire and canopy thinning, efforts aided significantly by DNR’s Game Management Section.
   Another promising sign: A DNR-supported study by Atlanta Botanical Garden and UGA has revealed at least 10 different genotypes in the male population. As Moffett wrote, “most of the genotypes were just lying dormant beneath the burden of woody competition and shade during those ‘lean’ years.”
   That diversity bolsters prospects of recovery.
   The project roots even include a romantic twist. In 2010, researchers introduced female plants from the state’s other population, in Newton County, to the then all-male stand in Elbert (Love story with leaves,” February 2010). Because each population was single-sex and the species is dioecious – male and female reproductive organs are in separate individuals – the 75-mile gap separating Rhus males and females limited the populations to asexual reproduction (rhizome sprouts).
   All jokes about matchmaking aside, with stewardship in place and the genotypes safeguarded, scientists can now explore what Moffett calls “the lack of sexual reproduction” riddle for Georgia’s dwarf sumac.

Rundown on Rhus

Surveying dwarf sumac
  • Dwarf sumac is known from only Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The species is state and federally listed as endangered and ranked by NatureServe as G2/S1 (globally imperiled; critically imperiled at the state level).
  • The females outplanted at Lower Broad River have survived better than expected and a few have set fruit and produced viable seed (more below). But possible hybridization with other native sumacs, such as smooth and winged sumac, is a concern. Genetic studies by Atlanta Botanical Garden and Columbus State University are exploring the issue.
  • The first fruits from the females introduced at Broad River were collected in 2012. Two seedling plants from those fruits – the project’s first seed-produced offspring – are thriving in a greenhouse at Atlanta Botanical Garden.
  • The Lower Broad River survey included Greening Youth Foundation interns from Spelman College and Jeff Killingsworth of Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm in Lexington. The interns are working with Atlanta Botanical Garden as part of a project funded via an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The Atlanta-based foundation works with diverse and underserved youth and young adults to develop environmental stewards.

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‘Hot’ invasive found near Jekyll

Brazilian pepper

   Coastal Georgians are urged to keep an eye out for Brazilian pepper after the aggressive invasive tree was found June 20 on the Jekyll Island causeway, the state’s first documented report of the species.
   Gabie Phillips, a Student Conservation Association intern with the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, discovered the plant, also called Brazilian peppertree, near the causeway entrance. Closer checks revealed small trees and sprouts scattered across about 1,000 square feet.
   DNR natural resources biologist Eamonn Leonard, a leader in the Coastal Georgia invasive species group, is asking anyone who finds other suspected sites to email him, and include photographs.
   Native to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Brazilian pepper was imported to Florida in the 1840s as an ornamental plant, despite the fact that it’s related to poison ivy and poison oak and can cause allergic reactions. Less-sensitive buyers used its red berries and deep green foliage as Christmas decorations.
   Yet, spread by animals and people, the tree invaded the Sunshine State, infesting more than 700,000 acres. Suited to warm climates, it grows as tall as 30 feet and produces thick canopies that crowd out native plants and wildlife, according to the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. The state’s Exotic Pest Plant Council gives Brazilian pepper its top threat rating.
   Leonard, of the Nongame Conservation Section, and others including Georgia Forestry Commission and Jekyll Island Authority staff treated the Brazilian pepper off the causeway. One tree stood about 15 feet tall.
   Leonard is surprised no one noticed the plants before (though noting that Brazilian pepper can appear similar to winged sumac, a Georgia native).
   He’ll be less surprised if this exotic invader is soon reported elsewhere along the coast.

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   Kogia cow and calf stranded this week on Cumberland Island. Preliminary findings indicate the mother and her young (calf pictured) were dwarf sperm whales. The few Kogia whales that strand each year on Georgia beaches are usually pygmy sperm whales, a closely related species. The last confirmed dwarf sperm whale stranding was in 2005. In the southeastern U.S., the species are considered common but little is known about them.

Kogia calf

   Report stranded marine mammals alive or dead by calling DNR’s stranding hotline, 800-2-SAVE-ME (272-8363), or NOAA’s, 877-433-8299. Biologists advise against trying to return live-stranded animals to the ocean: Powerful flukes can cause injuries and the animals can have communicable diseases. Marine mammals that strand are most often sick or hurt; returning them to sea delays examination and treatment and often results in the animal restranding in worse condition.
   Here’s your chance to help native birds and wildlife habitat near Atlanta. About 30 volunteers are needed to spread native grass seeds Saturday morning, June 28, as part of a grassland restoration project at Panola Mountain State Park. Details (and RSVP): DNR senior wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus and Georgia Important Bird Areas Coordinator Charlie Muise.
   Loggerhead sea turtles topped 560 nests in the state this week. Cumberland Island is easily leading all barrier islands, with more than 150 nests. Meanwhile, 14 sea turtle strandings -- at least three of them from boat collisions -- were reported during a recent week. Updates.

Young peregrine falcon

   The peregrine falcon that fledged this spring from a balcony at SunTrust Plaza in Atlanta appears A-OK. Laura Miller of the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, which helps host DNR’s peregrine nest cam, snapped this shot of the bird, with prey, on Wednesday.
   Mississippi is the latest state to confirm the presence of the fungus known to cause white-nose syndrome, the disease that has killed millions of bats in the eastern U.S. and Canada. White-nose was first documented in Georgia in 2013 ("Bat disease found in Georgia," March 22, 2013).
   A decision on listing northern long-eared bats as endangered under the Endangered Species Act has been extended six months, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 60-day comment period has also been re-opened on northern long-eared bats, one of 16 bat species found in Georgia.
   Cannonballing an endangered manatee comes with a price. A federal judge in Florida recently sentenced two 22-year-old men who lured an adult manatee and calf to a dock with a water hose, then one of the men jumped on the animals. A Facebook video of the harassment led to an investigation, and penalties including fines of $2,000 to $3,000 and 175 hours of community service for each defendant.
   Names in the news: Robert Ramsay will succeed Pierre Howard as Georgia Conservancy president when Howard steps down July 1. Ramsay is the group’s vice president of development and was once better known as a top professional fly-fishing guide. The Board of Natural Resources and DNR Commissioner Mark Williams honored former Nongame Conservation Section Chief Mike Harris at the board's meeting this week. Harris, now at-risk species coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region, was also toasted -- and roasted – recently at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. Gifts at the dinner included a nongame license plate presented to Harris (right) by TERN board member Brooks Schoen and a "spirit of Ossabaw" hog tooth necklace, described by DNR Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd as "the highest honor Nongame's coastal office can bestow."

Mike Harris dinner

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   "U.S. declares wood storks no longer endangered," ABC News, and others via AP
   "Ga. wildlife officials ask for help monitoring bats," WXGA-TV (Macon), and others via AP
   "Birders' Eye View: Discovering an oystercatcher and manatee connection," Savannah Morning News
   "Streaming eagles," The New York Times
   "Sea turtle nesting on track to continue resurgence along Georgia coast," Saporta Report
   "Bacon preservative tested as feral hog poison," WTVM-TV (Columbus)
   "In a long-term experimental demography study, excluding ungulates reversed invader's explosive population growth rate and restored natives," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
   "Lula Lake Land Trust announces grand opening ceremony for Cloudland Connector Trail," WTVC-TV (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
   "Researchers tap into social networks of endangered Indiana bat to aid in habitat management," Virginia Tech
   "Colonial-era dams trigger parallel evolution of Connecticut fish," Yale
   "In emergencies, fire ants get lots of grips to form rafts," ScienceNews
   "See your lawn through a bird’s eyes with YardMap," ScienceNews



   "Alligator snapping turtle identification," Georgia DNR
   "Goats spell trouble for invasive weeds," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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** Masthead: Blackwater wood stork colony in southwest Georgia. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
** Aerial shot showing part of Gilman's rookery in St. Mary's. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
** Volunteer Debbie Dineen helps band a 5- to 6-week-old wood stork. Tim Keyes/Ga. DNR
** Dr. Jenny Cruse-Sanders, center, of Atlanta Botanical Garden surveys dwarf sumac at Lower Broad River WMA with Greening Youth Foundation interns Jamia Robinson, left, and Takiyah Thomas of Spelman College. Mincy Moffett/Ga. DNR
** Dwarf sumac. Hugh Nourse
** Brazilian pepper found off Jekyll causeway. Eamonn Leonard/Ga. DNR
** Kogia calf that stranded on Cumberland. Nicole Brandt/Ga. DNR
** Young peregrine on SunTrust Plaza balcony. Laura Miller/McKenna Long & Aldridge
** Mike Harris, right, with TERN board member Brooks Schoen. Jenifer Hancock/Ga. DNR

Go Wild license plate

Give wildlife a chance!

     The Nongame Conservation Section of Georgia DNR receives no state funds to conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. Instead, we depend on contributions, grants and fundraisers, such as the eagle and hummingbird license plates.

   How can you help?