Georgia Power raises DNR to new heights

Georgia Power’s loan of a rare piece of equipment to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has helped the state learn more about a rare bird only recently confirmed to be a nesting resident in Georgia.

The DNR is pursuing a three-year study of the swallow-tailed kite, a modest-sized black-and-white bird with a remarkable wingspan that lets it soar effortlessly over the forests of southeast Georgia. Best recognized by the forked tail reflected in its name, this raptor migrates from the Southeast, especially Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina, to winter in Brazil, according to E.J. Williams, DNR wildlife biologist in charge of the study. Williams has logged more than 200 reports of swallow-tailed kites which have been sited by a diverse group, including biologists, botanists, foresters, hunters, conservationists, and interested citizens from all across Georgia.

In a more direct approach in early April, she teamed with Georgia Power environmental biologist Jim Candler for a visual survey of the bird’s habitat along the Altamaha River basin. Their portable lookout tower for the census was an aerial platform, known as the Condor, used by Georgia Power for work on its taller transmission lines. The Condor can unfold and stretch to almost 150 feet, easily giving the occupants of its fenced platform a view across the top of the forest canopy. Georgia Power mechanic Glenn Willis drove the semi-trailer rig and operated the Condor for Williams, Candler and other wildlife experts at more than a dozen observation points between Jesup and Brunswick during the three-day survey.

“We really couldn’t do this survey without that piece of equipment. It would cost us thousands of dollars a day to rent such a thing,” Williams said. “And Glenn (Willis) has turned out to have a fantastic eye. He’s found half the birds so far.”

One site, near the juncture of Wayne, Long and McIntosh counties, proved especially fruitful, as the group spotted five swallow-tailed kites barely 10 minutes after clearing the top of the canopy. The group spotted 16 individual birds from the Condor.

Williams said that the visual survey helped to locate possible nesting sites. To confirm those nests the DNR has contracted with swallow-tailed kite expert Dr. Ken Meyer of the AVIAN Research and Conservation Institute. Meyer is leading the three-year research effort, which is being funded by proceeds from the Wildlife License Plate program. The nesting season for swallow-tailed kites typically runs from April to June, during that time biologists working with Meyer will search areas where the birds have been spotted for nests. The cooperation of Georgia Power and of Georgia’s timber companies, which own large parcels of the swallow-tailed kite’s favored habitat, has been essential to the success of the survey, she said.

“This sort of environmental partnership between Georgia Power and the state is not unusual,” Candler said. “We’re cooperating with the Georgia DNR in a number of projects that involve sharing knowledge and resources. We are always looking for opportunities where our resources, such as equipment, land or manpower, fit a need in the effort to conserve our environment.” Georgia Power has a history of environmental conservation efforts from protecting endangered species such as the green salamander or persistent trillium flower to helping restore populations of raptors such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagles, according to Candler.