Snake Disease Found in Ga.

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GaWild masthead: white-fringed orchid

Botanist Tom Patrick at Sumter Co. site. Bill McAvoy

Found: a Holy Grail of Georgia grasses

Botanists re-discover species last seen here 67 years ago

Hirst Brothers' panic grass

   A rare grass likened in Georgia to a Holy Grail of plants – part history, part mystery – has been found.
   And it has been found in numbers that could make Georgia a cornerstone for conserving the species.
   On Aug. 7, a Delaware Department of Natural Resources botanist who is an expert on Hirst Brothers’ panic grass re-discovered the plant while searching for it in Sumter County with DNR botanist Tom Patrick.
Dichanthelium hirstii, a candidate for federal listing, had been documented in Georgia only twice before: in 1900 and 1947.
   Bill McAvoy of Delaware’s Wildlife Species Conservation and Research Program said it was his last day to look for the grass in Georgia this summer, and almost the last site checked. “I was very excited,” he said.
   And not only because this species associated with limesink ponds had been known to exist in only five meager populations in Delaware, New Jersey and North Carolina. But because McAvoy and Patrick estimate the private land site in Sumter County has as many as 500 plants.
   As DNR botanist Lisa Kruse put it, “Now Georgia has the biggest population in the world.”

   Read DNR’s blog post about finding Dichanthelium hirstii. 

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   “To the best of our knowledge, Dichanthelium hirstii is an indicator of an extremely diverse and healthy ecosystem. Often this species is also with other rare plants … So when you find it, you know that plant community is unique and intact – it’s a special place.”

Lisa Kruse, Nongame Conservation Section botanist

Georgia alder side trip

Bill McAvoy with Georgia alder.

Botanist Bill McAvoy also visited Drummond Swamp in Bartow County to see the world’s only known population of Georgia alder, Alnus maritima subsp. georgensis. The plant is one of three subspecies of Alnus maritima, or seaside alder. Each subspecies is in a different state, one in Georgia, Delaware and Oklahoma. Georgia alder is being petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, and is among hundreds of species being reviewed as part of a lawsuit settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fire spurs rare orchid at Fall Line Sandhills

White-fringed orchid at Fall Line Sandhills WMA. Hal Massie

The rare plant hits keep coming this summer. A DNR Nongame Conservation Section crew including volunteer Hal Massie recently found white-fringed orchid in a Black Creek Tract bog on Fall Line Sandhills Wildlife Management Area. Platanthera blephariglottis is a declining species listed as threatened in most Southeastern states and known from only about 10 sites in Georgia. The plant had never been documented at Fall Line Sandhills, near Butler in Taylor County. Nongame senior wildlife biologist Nathan Klaus said the bog has been burned the past two years to remove the tree canopy and benefit rare, fire-adapted species that require more sunlight. Following a prescribed fire this July, writes Klaus, “the orchid bloomed in appreciation, making itself known to us for the first time.”

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The white-nose syndrome of snakes?

Mud snake with Snake Fungal Disease. Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study

State’s first wild snake with SFD confirmed

   The head of the mud snake looks crusty and scarred, as if the animal has been burned. One eye is dull white. Scales along the snake’s body are dry and sloughing off.
   Snake Fungal Disease is not pretty -- not for one snake, and possibly not for populations of them.
   The disease which some scientists have compared to white-nose syndrome, killer of an estimated 5.7 million bats in the U.S., was documented last month in a wild snake in Georgia.
   An emaciated mud snake found by an Orianne Society volunteer in Bulloch County tested positive for Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, a fungus consistently associated with Snake Fungal Disease. That’s the first free-ranging snake in Georgia the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study has confirmed with Oo.
   First reported from a captive black rat snake in Sparta, this disease marked by severe dermatitis has turned up in growing numbers of wild snakes in the eastern and midwestern U.S. since 2006.
   The impact on wild populations is not clear. Yet, Snake Fungal Disease was implicated in a 50-percent decline in an imperiled population of timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire.
   Comparisons to white-nose are spurred by that potential, and by similarities between Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola and the white-nose fungus.
   Wildlife biologist Dr. Jessica McGuire of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section said that when studying such diseases, “You opportunistically get what data you can, and focus from there.”
   Because mud snakes are so secretive, senior wildlife biologist John Jensen suggests the Georgia case could point to another troubling factor – the ease at which this disease spreads.
   “I guess the take-home message is that all of our snakes may be susceptible.”

Learn more

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   Chattahoochee Fall Line is DNR's newest wildlife management area. Leaders including U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop recently celebrated the opening of the WMA in Marion and Talbot counties, near Columbus. The project involving The Nature Conservancy, DNR and the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning provides 10,800 acres for public recreation. Chattahoochee Fall Line will also serve as a demonstration site for longleaf pine restoration. (In a wild accent to the opening, a swallow-tailed kite did a fly-over during the ceremony!)
   Get the latest news on Georgia bats in a program set for 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at Black Rock Mountain State Park, near Mountain City. Trina Morris, bat research coordinator for the Nongame Conservation Section, will discuss conservation efforts and demonstrate how biologists net and survey bats – all part of the Georgia Bat Working Group Bat Blitz that will use Black Rock as a base for surveys Sept. 4-7.
   Bat watchers who are monitoring roosts for DNR's summer survey are reminded to send in their monitoring forms (the second survey window ended July 30). And for Georgians who would like to help conserve bats, late summer is prime time to put up a bat box!

DNR's Shan Cammack installs sign at Ohoopee Dunes.

   Getting around the McLeod's Bridge Tract at Ohoopee Dunes Wildlife Management Area is easier and more educational since interpretive and directional signs were installed along a new 1.8-mile interpretive trail. Workers included DNR staff and members of Southeastern Technical College’s Forestry & Wildlife Club.
   Summer isn’t over but that hasn’t stopped DNR from starting fall shorebird surveys. These surveys, the first of about 40 per migration season, are part of a regional effort to track declining species of five shorebird species and improve range-wide population estimates  (“Counting shorebirds – across the continent,” Sept. 6).
   Shorebirds will have their 24 hours of fame during World Shorebirds’ Day Sept. 6. In Georgia, Little St. Simons Island will team with Coastal Outdoor Adventures and the Nongame Conservation Section for a shorebirding workshop and tours of beaches and the Altamaha River delta – with 10 percent of proceeds dedicated to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund.
   Science teachers in Georgia, it’s not too late to apply for a $1,000 grant from the Nongame Conservation Section. Funded by the agency’s friends group, The Environmental Resources Network, the grant will be awarded to a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade public or private school teacher who demonstrates exceptional energy and innovation in teaching life sciences. Deadline to apply is Sept. 15.
   Three pairs of juvenile red-cockaded woodpeckers will be moved this fall from Fort Stewart to Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area, near Bainbridge. The work of the Southeast Cooperative Red-cockaded Woodpecker Translocation Project, relocating the endangered woodpeckers from robust populations to small ones with adequate habitat has been a key tool for growing the overall population and helping smaller populations reach self-sustaining levels.

TERN recognizes Outstanding Volunteer Greg Greer

   Names in the news: TERN members including President Brock Hutchins and Nongame Conservation Section staff recently celebrated the selection of Greg Greer (center/left, with plaque) as Outstanding Volunteer of 2014 (Working with wildlife is Greer’s life,” Aug. 11).
   Coming up:
Sept. 13  Georgia Naturalist Rally, Stone Mountain Park.   
Sept. 25  Georgia Prescribed Fire Council annual meeting, Tifton.
Sept. 27Help plant native wildflowers at grassland restoration site (as part of State Parks Day), Panola Mountain State Park, Stockbridge. Call to pre-register, (770) 389-7801.
Oct. 3  Outdoor Learning Symposium, Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Roswell. 
Oct. 4 – 20th Anniversary CoastFest, DNR Coastal Regional Headquarters, Brunswick  
Oct. 16-18 – 36th annual Gopher Tortoise Council Conference, Chehaw Park, Albany.
Oct. 21-24  10th Biennial Longleaf Conference, Ninth Eastern Native Grass Symposium and National Prescribed Fire Council meeting, Mobile, Ala.
Nov. 7-9  Fall BOW program (Becoming an Outdoors-Woman), Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, Mansfield. (Deadline to apply for a BOW scholarship: Sept. 2.)

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   "Watkinsville man promoted to director in DNR's nongame section," Athens Banner-Herald
   "Blitz At Black Rock Mountain will boost understanding of bats," The
   "Record-setting 1,011-pound monster alligator caught by Alabama family," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
   "Save the gators? Yes, there was a time it had to be done," Florida Times-Union
   "Shark-bitten sea turtle improving," Savannah Morning News
   "Race 4 Birds Foundation promotes youth birding,"
   "Other species of birds showing signs of House Finch eye disease," Daily Sun News (Sunnyside, Wash.) and others via AP
   "Project catalogs Georgia's sand," Savannah Morning News
   "What the sparrows told me," The New York Times
   "Southern Company, partners to award Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration grants," WAVE3-TV (Louisville, Ky.)
   "Changes at Streamside in the Southern Appalachians: Loss of eastern hemlock affects peak flows after extreme storm events," U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station
   "Critical habitat designated for loggerhead sea turtles," Savannah Morning News
   "California weighing bird deaths from concentrated solar plants," Minneapolis Star Tribune
   "Orange Park (Fla.) girls under investigation after graphic video of gopher tortoise torture surfaces," The Florida Times-Union
   "Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86," The New York Times
   "‘Little janitor’ merits attention in springs’ health debate, UF/IFAS research shows," University of Florida
   "The way we were," Out There With the Birds blog (Bird Watcher's Digest)


   "Wildlife officials ready to round up menacing tegu lizards," Tampa Bay Times
   "Man drops his GoPro camera in the wilderness, watches in horror as it gets mauled by a fox," BGR
   "Monarch butterfly's reign threatened by milkweed decline," National Geographic

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Parting shot: a summer surprise

DNR staff with eastern indigo. Dirk J. Stevenson/The Orianne Society

DNR wildlife biologist Kara Day and technician Robert Horan show a male eastern indigo snake found during a check of longleaf pine-wiregrass habitat on public land in south Georgia. Eastern indigos, federally listed as threatened, are seldom spotted in summer. The 5 ½-foot-long snake  was marked with a PIT tag and released. Day and Horan, of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Game Management Section, were joined by Dirk Stevenson, Fire Forest Initiative director of The Orianne Society, and environmental educator Greg Greer. Stevenson writes that at this size the snake is sexually mature. "But it’s unknown if such ‘small males’ are successful breeders in the wild. In a healthy population, competitors would include a number of larger male indigos (about 7 feet in length and close to 9-10 pounds; twice his mass) eager to engage in ritualized combat bouts for the right to occupy the burrow lair inhabited by a breeding female.”

** Masthead: white-fringed orchid at Fall Line Sandhills WMA Black Creek Tract. Hal Massie
** DNR's Tom Patrick at Hirst Brothers' panic grass site in Sumter County. Bill McAvoy/Delaware DNR
** Dichanthelium hirstii in Delaware. Bill McAvoy/Delaware DNR
** Delaware DNR botanist Bill McAvoy checks Georgia alder in Barrow County. Mincy Moffett/GaDNR
** White-fringed orchid at Fall Line Sandhills WMA. Hal Massie
** Mud snake with Snake Fungal Disease. Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study
** DNR's Shan Cammack installs a sign at Ohoopee Dunes WMA. GaDNR
** TERN members and DNR honor Greg Greer as 2014 Outstanding Volunteer. Rick Lavender/GaDNR
** DNR's Kara Day and Robert Horan with eastern indigo. Dirk J. Stevenson/Orianne Society

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