DNR news: Eagle numbers, new hiking trail and turtles

Wed, 04/23/2008 - 2:53pm
By: The Citizen


Biologist: 2008 results do not point to population decline

Jim Ozier has seen Georgia’s bald eagles soar from fewer than 10 pairs to more than 110 in 20 years. The history helps him put this year’s dip in nest numbers in perspective.

“We’re seeing (eagles) show up in areas where we wouldn’t have thought they would nest,” said Ozier, a program manager with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section. “I think there’s a potential we could see them (increase) for several more years.”

In aerial surveys this winter and spring, Ozier counted 110 occupied nests, 82 of them successful, and estimated 129 young fledged. Last year he logged 114 territories, 91 successful nests and 143 eaglets. Successful nests are those in which eagles are fledged, or raised to the point they can fly.

According to Ozier, who has monitored Georgia’s bald eagles most years since 1988, the “slight drop” almost certainly does not indicate a population decline.

While three newly discovered nesting territories were added to the statewide list, the use of some territories consistently occupied before could not be documented this year.

Ozier expects news of a few late nests to bump up totals. He is also optimistic that the usual eagle hangouts without a nest will be reoccupied in 2009.

Finding the nests is a factor. Although they average 5 feet across and are usually built in the tops of tall pine or cypress trees, eagle nests can be hard to spot, even from the air. Bald eagles typically use the same nest. But each year a small proportion of established pairs build new ones.

If the new nest is near the old, it is usually easy to find, Ozier said. Yet, some are much farther away and might not be discovered for a while, he said.

Conservation laws, restoration work and a ban on the pesticide DDT have helped the bald eagle recover from near-extinction through much of its range 40 years ago.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the species off the federally threatened list in August.

This American symbol and subject of one of Georgia’s nongame wildlife license plates is still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and other federal and state legislation.

Bald eagle nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when Ozier started searching for them. Nesting territories steadily increased, then surged from the low 80s to 96 in 2006 and beyond 100 last year.

Nests are concentrated along the coast, but can be found across the state, usually near major rivers or lakes where the fish, waterbirds and even turtles that eagles eat are abundant. These powerful birds with up to 8-foot wingspans are also moving into areas around smaller bodies of water that are rich in prey.

Georgians who see a bald eagle nest or two or more eagles together are encouraged to contact the Nongame Conservation Section office in Forsyth, 478-994-1438.

When eaglets leave the nest, they are the same size as adults but dark brown, almost black, Ozier said. Bald eagles gain the characteristic white head and tail feathers at 4 to 5 years old.

Buying a nongame wildlife license plate supports conservation of eagles and other species not hunted or fished, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in Georgia. Sales provide crucial funding for the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state appropriations.

The tags — one featuring a bald eagle and the other a ruby-throated hummingbird — are available for a one-time $25 fee at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registrations or through online renewals (http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags).

Bald eagles at a glance

** Size: Adults can weigh 14 pounds, with 8-foot wingspans. Males are slightly smaller.

** Prey: Fish are a staple. Eagles also eat waterfowl, turtles, snakes, rabbits and other small animals.

** Mates: Eagles mate for life. They often use the same nest, adding to it each year. (Nests up to 10 feet wide and weighing a half-ton have been recorded.)

** Offspring: Pairs typically lay one to three eggs by December. The young fledge in three months and are on their own in about four.

** Long-lived: Bald eagles live up to 15-25 years in the wild, longer in captivity.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



At a ceremony April 21, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and the Mountain Stewards officially dedicated a fully accessible trail located at the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

The 1,940-foot boardwalk, located near the Amicalola River at Ga. Highway 53, provides a way for hikers of all abilities to enjoy the trail and in addition, offers easy access for fishing.

Local dignitaries, including Gary Pichon of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners and members of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, as well as WRD and Mountain Stewards representatives were present at the ceremony.

“The new boardwalk is already being used by anglers and hikers, and we have heard nothing but compliments,” says WRD Region Supervisor Ken Riddleberger. “This work will help protect the riverbanks as well as provide easy access for everyone wanting to enjoy the river.”

The National Recreational Trails Program, with the purpose of providing and maintaining trails to support the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, granted funding for the trail.

The Mountain Stewards, a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening and maintaining a network of trails and open spaces in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, provided the design work and labor to construct the boardwalk.

Under an agreement signed by WRD and Mountain Stewards in 2004, both partners have committed to working toward improving and protecting the natural resources of the region and informing the public about Georgia’s natural, historical and cultural resources. The opening of this trail is a continuation of projects partnered by these two groups on Dawson Forest WMA.

Dawson Forest WMA is located near Dawsonville in northeast Georgia. The area covers 25,000 acres and offers many recreational opportunities including; hunting (deer, turkey, small game, dove and waterfowl), fishing, canoe access points, camping, hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching, wildlife observation and picnicking.

For more information on Dawson Forest WMA, visit www.georgiawildlife.com . For more information on the Mountain Stewards, visit www.mountainstewards.org .


WILD Facts: Living a shell-tered life

Turtles may crawl out of their shells in cartoons, but not in real life. A turtle’s backbone is built into the top of its shell, which is called the carapace.

When threatened, a turtle often pulls in its head, tail and legs for protection. In some species, the bottom part of the shell (called the plastron) is hinged, forming such a tight closure that not even a knife can pry the two halves open. This adaptation helps many turtles live 50 years or more in the wild. In captivity, they can live even longer, with some reaching more than 100 years old!

WILD Facts is a regular feature written by Linda May, a wildlife interpretive specialist with the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division.

Georgia Wild explores sandhills, Silver Lake

In the next Georgia Wild, learn about work documenting the natural diversity in sandhills habitat, why the new Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area near Bainbridge is special and which teams came out on top in the 2008 Youth Birding Competition at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

The May-June issue of Georgia Wild, a free e-newsletter about all things nongame, is due out in early May. Subscribe at www.georgiawildlife.com (click “Conservation” and the e-newsletter link).


[Posted April 23, 2008]

login to post comments