Fauna: Perimyotis subflavus

Studio portrait of a tricolored bat, National Geographic Photo Ark

Tricolored bat
Perimyotis subflavus

Tricolored bats are very small, weighing about the same as a U.S. quarter, though its wingspan can reach up to 10 inches across. Their fur is a mix of black, brown, and light brown, giving them their name. The species used to be called Eastern pipistrelle, but a 2019 DNA test showed they in fact are not related to the Pipistrellus genus. The new genus, Perimyotis, indicates its similarities with the Myotis or mouse-eared bats.

Larisa Bishop-Boros – A healthy hibernating tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus)

The first known specimen was collected in Georgia by John Eatton Le Conte, a naturalist and a captain in the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Among other locations, he was stationed in the Savannah harbor and at Ossabaw Sound. Le Conte’s tricolored bat specimen was studied and categorized by zoologist Frédéric Cuvier in 1832.

Tri-colored bat with visible WNS symptom, USFW, Darwin Brock

Males are solitary, while females can sometimes be found living in small colonies. They may take up residence in a cave but they are also found in trees, overhanging water. Scientists have also recently discovered colonies living in tree lichen (like Spanish moss), presumably because the lichen has natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-insect properties. This is especially important as the tricolored bat is susceptible to the deadly white-nose syndrome, which has killed about 70% of the population since 2006.  Though numbers have stabilized, this bat remains on the Endangered Species List as “vulnerable and threatened.”

Like most bats, this species hunts in early evening and at night, using echolocation to find its prey. It eats mainly insects like mosquitoes, moths, cicadas, and ants. It loves to hunt in areas near water, especially. It’s a very efficient hunter and is able to consume a quarter of its own weight within a half an hour.

Fauna: Acipenser brevirostrum

NOAA

Shortnose sturgeon
Acipenser brevirostrum

The shortnose sturgeon is a hefty freshwater fish that can be nearly five feet long, weigh upwards of 60 pounds, and generally live about 30 years — some females have been known to live 70 years! Though they can be found feeding in saltwater environments, they live, and spawn, entirely in coastal, freshwater rivers, including the Ogeechee.. Because of this, their survival depends on two types of healthy ecosystems. Shortnose sturgeon are currently listed on the Endangered Species List.

Native Americans fishing, John White, 1530. Public domain.

Sometimes called a ‘living fossil,’ the shortnose sturgeon has been thriving in coastal areas for millions of years. There is evidence that the species has been fished by humans for at least 4,000 years. However, overfishing contributed to a swift decline in the late 1800s. According to NOAA, In 1890, more than 7 million pounds of sturgeon were caught in that year alone. In 1920, only 23,000 pounds of sturgeon were caught.

via NY Post

Their trademark ridged back is formed by bony plates called ‘scutes,’ giving them the appearance of armor. They lack teeth but have bony plates in their esophagus which serve to crush their food. They use their barbels — sort of like fish antennae — to find insects, crustaceans, and bivalves on the ocean floor or river bottom. 

Due to their low numbers, protecting their habitat and spawning ability is crucial to the species population. Sturgeon require free flowing, unobstructed rivers and streams in order to swim upstream and spawn. They also need healthy intertidal zones to feed and rest.

Fauna: Pandion haliaetus

Larry Stamm/Audubon Photography Awards

Western osprey
Pandion haliaetus

This large bird of prey can often be spotted in the Ogeechee watershed as they feed almost exclusively on live fish. They are adept hunters, diving in shallow waters and pulling up fish in their opposable talons. As a species they have adapted fairly well to living near human settlements. They often built sturdy nests on tall structures like telephone poles and channel markers, as well as trees overlooking waterways.

The nests are put together from sticks and other natural materials but can grow to be more than 10 feet wide over many years. Aside from breeding and nesting, ospreys are usually solitary birds. They hatch 1-4 fledglings each year and their numbers have stabilized since the ban on DDT which harmed their eggs.

Ospreys at Nest, by Jake Dingel, PGC

The birds seem to live about 15-20 years, and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they have been known to log more than 150,000 migratory miles in their lifetime. One can spot the osprey with its mostly white coloring, especially on the underneath side of their nearly 6-foot wingspan. They sport the well-known hooked beak look of a bird of prey.

Artwork by Caroline Rose

You can watch local osprey nests on Skidaway Island. The live cameras are operated by Skidaway Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Watch baby ospreys grow up, leave the nest, and adults come home to roost, or choose clips of past highlights. 

Fauna: Strix varia

Photo by Tom Ingram/Audubon Photography Awards

Strix varia
Barred owl

The barred owl is one of the most prominent bird figures in the Southeastern United States. With a rather sedentary lifestyle, this bird hunts, fishes, and lives year-round in the Ogeechee River Basin. Often, an owl’s dwelling place can be found in a hollow tree trunk or in a previously abandoned nest but spotting the barred owl is a rarity. It boasts a brown and white speckled hide that blends perfectly into any mature forest. A birder is likely to hear its voice long before detecting its camouflage presence. 

Barred owls can weigh anywhere from 1 to 2.5 pounds, carried on a wingspan of up to 4 feet wide. Like many birds of prey, the owl has a muted flight presence that allows it to catch prey off guard. Breeding pairs generally mate for life, or at least for several consecutive years. They may lay 1-5 eggs per year, though 2 or 3 is most common. Juveniles will begin exploring outside of the nest at about 4 weeks old.

Photo by Janet Strozzo Anderson

The barred owl is responsible for finding its own dinner, made feasible by its ingenious features. The owl has extremely large eyes that capture as much light as possible, making dusk and nightfall into primary hunting hours. Its nocturnal nature is combined with keen ears, and prey is often unaware it is being stalked.

Choosing small rodents like mice and rabbits to frogs, snakes, or lizards, the barred owl is an opportunistic predator. Of course, its hunting skills are rivaled closely by fishing interests. As a native of the Ogeechee River Basin, it is known for gliding over the water and hooking fish with coveted grace.

Lauren Porter contributed to this post.

Fauna: Moxostoma robustum

Image by Duane Raver

Moxostoma robustum
Robust redhorse

Once thought to be extinct, the robust redhorse has been rediscovered and stocked in a few waterways, including the Ogeechee River. Missing from the scientific record for 122 years, it was conclusively identified again in 1991. 

A sizable fish, they can be up to 17 pounds and live nearly 30 years. They are in the sucker family and eat bivalves, using strong teeth for crushing and grinding. This is especially helpful to natural populations as they will consume the invasive species of Asiatic clam. However, the fish will also consume aquatic insects.

via GA DNR

With such a gap in the known history of the animal, scientists are still learning about the species. They seem to require still or slow-moving areas with gravel or silty beds for spawning. Once they reach adulthood, they prefer to live in riverbanks with woody treefall or branches. The health of the population is threatened by habitat loss, primarily from sedimentation.

Since its rediscovery, there has been a current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognizing the importance of the robust redhorse and its delicate situation. The MOU includes the GA Department of Natural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, SC Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service, Duke Power Company, Georgia Power Company, Georgia Wildlife Federation, South Carolina Aquarium, and South Carolina Electric and Gas Company. The parties agree to be actively committed to the restoration of the species.

The Ogeechee River was chosen as a site to stock because of a lack of invasive predators, some gravel spawning areas, and a lack of major impoundments. From 1997 to 2004, about 43,000 young robust redhorse, were released into the Ogeechee River at three different locations.

Followup research in 2008 and 2011 found that the stocked fish were growing and reaching maturity, but that spawning has only been successful in one location near Louisville. Work still needs to be done to make sure this rare species can thrive in the Ogeechee River and throughout the southeast.