Wildlife Viewing Guide
From the breathtaking mountains and rivers of her northern borders and the gently rolling Piedmont, to the fertile plains and the scenic marshes along her coast, Georgia boasts a rich diversity of scenery and habitat. This grand heritage is documented on the following pages by 76 of the innumerable sites in Georgia at which wildlife abounds. The observant visitor to one of these sites may see both game and nongame (non-harvested) species, of the furred, feathered, or scaled variety! The thrill of seeing these individual creatures will be second only the thorough enjoyment of experiencing nature in its entirety.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is excited to join the Georgia Wildlife Federation in providing residents and visitors to our unique state a publication which accomplishes more than simply directing individuals to geographic locations. For veteran wildlife watchers, the Georgia Wildlife Viewing Guide is the tool you have been waiting for. For amateur observers, the Guide is an introduction to some of our state's most impressive natural resources. And it is an introduction to a new way of seeing the world around you.
A share of the proceeds of this publication will go to the Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program of the Department's Wildlife Resources Division. Funded almost 70 percent by voluntary contributions, the Nongame Program conducts projects aimed at conserving and enhancing nongame species, including over 100 animals found on the Protected Species List. Through our efforts, the Wildlife Resources Division hopes to ensure that the wildlife found in our state today will be here tomorrow and forever for future generations to enjoy.
This guide is organized according to travel regions, with sections representing each of nine geographic areas within the state (see Georgia Map). At the beginning of each section, you will find a map of the travel region showing locations of all the sites in the book located in that region, which are then described in the following section. The brief site descriptions in this guide are intended to provide an introduction to the site's natural history and wildlife viewing opportunities. The descriptions also include detailed notes regarding how to get to the site, who manages the site, where to call for more information, on-site facilities, and other relevant information. The following symbols are used where appropriate for easy reference:
To assist in locating sites designated as wildlife viewing areas, the WildlifeResources Division, Georgia DNR has begun placing signs along highways near these areas. Look for this sign associated with the sites mentioned in this book, or other designated wildlife viewing areas throughout the state.
The agency has a mandate to conserve, protect, and enhance the nation's fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The USFWS is primarily responsible for the mangement of migratory, freshwater and anadromous fish; protecton and recovery of endangered species; enforcement of federal wildlife laws; research; and administration of the national wildlife refuge system and national fish hatcheries.
The National Park Service is charged with administering the units of the National
Park System in a manner that protects and conserves their natural and cultural
resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
Part of the mission of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is to promote and encourage the conservation and preservation of the State's natural and cultural resources. We are pleased to contribute to this valuable guide, which will promote wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation.
Chartered by Congress to stimulate private giving to conservation, the foundation is an independent nonprofit organization. Using federally-funded challenge grants, it forges partnerships between the public and private sectors to conserve the nation's fish, wildlife, and plants.
The Georgia Power Company is proud to support the publication of the Georgia Wildlife Viewing Guide. The company also provides access to many Georgia Power Company lands and lakes for public recreation. For information about public access opportunities, call 1-800-846-4612, or visit the company home page on the Internet.
The U.S. Forest Service has a mandate to protect, improve, and wisely use the nation's forest and range resources for multiple puposes to benefit all Americans. Georgia's national forests, the Chattahoochee and Oconee, contain 863,000 acres, and are home to many species of wildlife.
Ducks Unlimited, Inc. is a nationwide member organization which has protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat through its financial support of waterfowl habitat conservation and restoration. The development of its M.A.R.S.H Project (Matching Aid to Restore State Habitats) has also created some of the best wildlife viewing sites in the nation. A number of Georgia's M.A.R.S.H. Projects are included in this book. All are outstanding wildlife habitats.
The Georgia Wildlife Federation is proud to sponsor this viewing guide as part of its mission to educate the public regarding the spectacular wildlife native to our state.
If your time is limited for wildlife viewing in Georgia, you might want to check out these superlative sites.
This guide has been designed to afford the maximum opportunity to see and learn about Georgia's wildlife. A little advance preparation can greatly enhance your wildlife viewing experience. The viewing sites described are only a representative sample of the outstanding opportunities that exist across the State. Generally, these are sites that are open to the public, accessible without extraordinary effort, and offer a reasonably good chance of seeing the wildlife described. On a given day, however, some of these conditions may work against a successful wildlife viewing experience. Don't be quick to be disappointed. That's how the study of nature is - unpredictable. Remember to use the information presented here only as a guide to be added to the personal techniques you develop over time.
You don't have to be an expert, but it helps to know your subject in advance. As any field biologist will relate, luck often plays a significant role in spotting wildlife. You can greatly improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time, however, by understanding a little about the daily activity patterns and biology of the animals you wish to see. Find out if the animals are:
Field guides to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, and other animal groups, as well as those for tracks, nests, and food habitats, contain answers to these kinds of questions. Most bookstores and libraries carry such references, which typically provide maps showing the approximate distribution of each animal and describe the habitats in which it can be found.
Some birds are migratory, spending only part of the year in Georgia. Early morning is when birds tend to be most active. If you're not a morning person, you can still observe owls and other nocturnal birds. The distinctive calls and songs of many birds are often the best way to locate and identify them. Some species perform most of their daily activity in or near wetlands, others in open meadows, and still others deep in the forest interior. Noting the kind of habitat a bird is using may also provide clues to its identity, particularly for birds that occur in a limited range of habitats.
As a rule, few mammals will be spotted in midday. Some species, like white-tailed deer and cottontail rabbits, are most active at dawn and dusk, but many more are nocturnal. By looking closely, you can detect abundant evidence of their night-time activities, such as browsed twigs, gnawed branches or tree trunks, piles of droppings, tracks, and nests.
Like mammals, most reptiles and amphibians leave their daytime hiding places and resume feeding and other activities under the cover of darkness. You may be able to locate some of these animals by driving slowly along less-traveled roads at night, particularly on warm nights with some precipitation when animals may be crossing the road. Reptiles you may see during the day include lizards, skinks, and water snakes or aquatic turtles basking on logs along rivers or in swamps. Many amphibians appear above-ground only a few weeks out of the year to breed, adding to our perception of them as rare. Often they are not as rare as appearances suggest, but they tend to be out on rainy nights when few people are outdoors. Most amphibians require moist environments and many spend part of their life cycle in the water.
Insects are scarce in winter, which is fortunate if you're visiting a site that supports a large mosquito population, but not if you are looking for moths and butterflies, most of which pass the winter in inactive pupal stages. Many insects begin life in an interesting aquatic stage before transforming into a dragonfly, stonefly, or other winged adult.
By paying attention to local weather reports, you won't be unpleasantly surprised by sudden changes in temperature or precipitation. Bring a change of clothes in case of rain or if there's a good chance you might get muddy and wet. Because of Georgia's large size and diverse environments, climatic conditions can vary greatly among geographic regions of the State. Waterproof footwear and a rain poncho can keep you out in the woods while others are running for their vehicles, preserving your camera and other equipment at the same time.
Certain tools will enable you to get a closer and better look at the wildlife you encounter. Binoculars are a must, particularly for viewing and identifying birds and other animals that like to keep a healthy distance. Ornithologists often use spotting scopes, which are more cumbersome but offer fantastic viewing.
Many would-be photographers have missed their "shot of a lifetime" while fumbling with a camera carrying case or lens cap. Having your camera out and ready to shoot ensures you will be prepared to take advantage of unusual wildlife encounters. Carrying a small hand lens or magnifying glass may come in handy for observing details. Some field guides use small, barely distinguishable features to separate one species from another, assuming, of course, that your subject is in hand. See below for more words of caution regarding handling wild animals.
Lack of reasonable caution or unbridled enthusiasm by the wildlife viewer can present problems that diminish viewing opportunities and may create unsafe conditions for both the viewer and the wildlife. Understanding and applying some simple principles will help avoid such situations and enhance what may become a life-long memory or family adventure in the outdoors.
Have a plan. It is advisable not to venture out alone, particularly in isolated areas. Let others know your travel plans and schedule so you will be missed if something goes wrong, and so others will know where to begin looking for you.
Wildlife is just that. Part of the excitement of catching a glimpse of a wild turkey or coyote is that you are observing the activity of a shy creature that exists independently of our care. Although providing food and cover for wildlife in your backyard may be helpful to many species, feeding wildlife on publicly owned lands can seriously hinder efforts to manage wildlife populations in a scientific manner and can create problems for local managers and visitors. Habituating wildlife to the presence of humans greatly increases the chances of negative interactions that could result in injury to people, the animal, or both. Any animal acting in a way inconsistent with its normal behavior should be avoided, because of the likelihood of disease. For example, an adult raccoon walking about in the middle of the day could be carrying rabies and should not be approached.
Most wildlife is not a threat to us when properly respected. As more and more habitat for wildlife disappears, you can consider it a very fortunate event to encounter a large indigo snake or other unusual species while hiking. Countless snakes are killed on Georgia highways each year, but few people are bitten by snakes, and it is exceedingly rare for a snake bite to be fatal. Nonetheless, you should be familiar with the six venomous species found in Georgia - copperhead, cottonmouth, coral snake, eastern diamondback, timber and pygmy rattlesnakes - and give any of these you encounter a wide berth. If you or a companion is bitten, the best course of action is to:
Drastic measures such as using suction or tourniquets are not recommended if you are within easy reach of a medical facility (i.e., within one hour). In some cases, venomous snakes inflict a "dry" bite, that is, one in which no venom is actually injected. Be familiar with these and other first aid techniques and keep a good first aid kit and manual with you in the field.
The best home for wildlife is its natural environment. Wildlife watchers should resist the desire to make a domestic pet of wild animals. In general, wildlife found in Georgia do not make good pets. Logic should tell us that an animal well-suited to a natural habitat will be ill-suited to our homes. There are several other very good reasons to resist the urge to bring home a lizard, snake, bird, a fawn, or other animal you encounter.
Nongame Species: It is unlawful to capture or kill nongame wildlife except fiddler crabs, coyotes, armadillos, groundhogs, beavers, starlings, English sparrows, pigeons, and venomous snakes. Rats, mice, frogs, freshwater crayfish, freshwater turtles, salamanders, and freshwater mussels may be captured except for the species on Georgia's Protected Species List. All others are protected by law, and it is illegal to hold them without a permit issued through the Georgia DNR, Wildlife Resources Division. These permits are granted for educational and scientific purposes only.
Endangered Species: Some nongame species have additional protection under state and federal laws. Because they are threatened with extinction, it is a punishable federal offense to harass, capture, or harm any animal listed as threatened or endangered. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Georgia DNR, Wildlife Resources Division can provide a list of these species.
Game Species: Designated game animals may be taken under certain conditions. A hunter taking a game animal must first purchase a permit (license), and then must observe exact conditions, such as: a specific time of year, time of day, size, and number and sex of the animal; wearing specified clothing; using a specified type of firearm, with specified type, caliber, power, and composition of ammunition; and attending a course of training in hunter safety. "Wanton waste" is also illegal, so that a hunter may not shoot an animal without the intent to retrieve and utilize that animal.
Most "babies" are not abandoned. Even though it may appear that a young animal has been abandoned because you can't immediately locate an adult, this is not true in many cases. Female rabbits, for instance, return to nurse their young in the nest only a couple of times per day, which could give the impression that the young animals have been abandoned. It is also untrue that human scent will deter birds from caring for their young if placed back in the nest, so a fallen nestling should be returned to its nest if it can be done quickly and safely. Otherwise, the best policy is to leave it alone.
Another reason for leaving wildlife in their natural homes is the difficulty and expertise required to care for wild animals properly. They may easily become sick and die without the proper nutrition and medical care. A network of licensed wildlife rehabilitators exists throughout the State. These rehabilitators are qualified to receive injured and abandoned wildlife and return them to health, with the aim of releasing them back into the wild. Contact the Wildlife Resources Division or a local nature center for information on a rehabilitator in your area.
Respect the rights of others, human and non-human alike. When hiking, respect "no trespassing" signs and others' property. Likewise, respect the dens and nests of wildlife. Standing dead trees, rocks, and logs provide valuable cover and breeding sites for reptiles, amphibians, and cavity-nesting birds and mammals. Some species are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. For example, bats that hibernate in caves have a decreased chance of survival if they are awakened by the noise and activity of visitors to the cave. When aroused out of hibernation, bats consume the precious energy stores they need to survive the winter cold.
Violations of any Georgia wildlife law may be reported to Project TIP (Turn In Poachers, Inc.) at 1-800-241-4113
Similar books from many other states are part of the Watchable Wildlife Program coordinated by Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C.
Reservations for all Georgia State Parks can be made by calling (770) 389-7275 (in state) or (800) 864-7275 (outside Georgia).
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