Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are large turtles that can grow more than a foot long and weigh up to 35 pounds. Common snapping turtles have long tails and necks and rough shells. Snapping turtles are found throughout eastern North America including all of Georgia. In Trinity Lakes, the mud bottom ponds with lush aquatic vegetation are especially favorable. While snapping turtles are often thought of as aggressive predators, these turtles, in fact, are omnivores whose diet consists partly of plant matter. Snapping turtles spend most of their time underwater waiting for their next snack to float by. They are not aggressive animals, but like any wild animal, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. The common snapping turtle is not protected and is considered locally abundant in Georgia. In some areas, it is harvested for food.
When sounds of their “honking” fill the air, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts look to the sky in search of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). These remarkable birds have become more common in Georgia. Although Georgia has established a hunting season for Canada geese, these birds are a protected species under state and federal law and can only be hunted according to Georgia’s migratory bird regulations. Canada geese fly in a distinctive V-shaped flight formation, with an altitude of more than 3,000 feet for migration flight. The front position is rotated since flying in front consumes the most energy. The maximum flight ceiling of Canada geese is unknown, but they have been reported as high as 29,000 feet. Each summer, in late June and early July, geese go through a molting process during which they lose their ability to fly until they grow new flight feathers. The lifespan in the wild of…
Yellow-Bellied Slider Turtles (Trachemys scripta scripta) are among the most abundant of all basking turtles and native to Georgia. Any time the weather is mild and the sun is out, slider turtles rest on logs, stumps or rocks. Slider turtles are abundant in the ponds and streams of Trinity Lakes and can subsist on a vegetative diet, but are not normally able to capture healthy fish. Sliders can live more than 30 years in the wild. In Trinity Lakes, it’s common to see them sunbathing in a group or even on top of one another and, if you get too close, they’ll slide back into the water with a splash.
Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are large raptors. They have small heads and narrow but strongly hooked bills. The bare skin of the head is black. There are two types of vultures in Georgia, black vultures and turkey vultures. Turkey vultures have red skin on their head. At Trinity Lakes, both types of vultures can be found. One-on-one at a carcass, black vultures lose out to the slightly larger turkey vulture. But flocks of black vultures can quickly take over a carcass and drive the more solitary turkey vultures away. Vultures play an essential role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. These birds pick decaying carcasses clean which help prevent disease outbreaks. A world without vultures would be an awful place filled with disease and decay.
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is found throughout Georgia in both rural and urban areas. In Trinity Lakes, you can find both red foxes and gray foxes. The easiest way to identify the difference between a red fox and a gray fox is the tail. Red foxes have a white-tipped tail and gray foxes have a black-tipped tail. Red foxes are considered carnivores because a large portion of their diet includes rabbits, rats, mice, squirrels, birds and insects, however they also will eat fruits, nuts and berries. When preyed upon by coyotes or bobcats, red foxes utilize speed and endurance to elude predators. This adaptation is what made this species so popular for fox and hound hunting. Foxes are quite common. Although foxes are primarily nocturnal hunters, it is not uncommon to see a fox during the day. If you see a fox, the best advice is to simply leave…
American Mink (Mustela vison) have dark brown fur and a long tail. They weigh up to 3 ½ pounds, slightly less than a house cat. Mink can emit a strong musky odor, like skunks, but the distance the odor travels is more limited. In Georgia, mink are most commonly found from North Georgia through the Piedmont to Macon including Trinity Lakes. Mink are fierce predators and may kill more prey than they can consume including fish, crawfish, insects, frogs, snails, muskrats, rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, snakes, young snapping turtles, waterfowl and bird eggs. Mink have an important place in the history of mankind. For thousands of years, furs were necessary for human survival. Today, since mink are sensitive to pesticides and pollution, they serve as an ‘indicator species’ for environmental contamination in watersheds.
With the eradication of the Red Wolf across Georgia, the Coyote (Canis latrans) has filled the void statewide. Resembling a small dog, a coyote has pointy ears and snout, mottled color fur and a bushy tail. A group of coyotes is called a band. Coyotes are considered an invasive species in Georgia. Coyotes visit Trinity Lakes in search of rodents and even deer. The local coyotes at Trinity Lakes keep a distance on the northern side of Trinity Creek, and shy away from human contact. Coyote attacks on humans are very rare. If mated with dogs, a female coyote can produce a coyote/dog hybrid called a “coydog.” However, this is uncommon due to the unsynchronized breeding cycles of the two species. Despite its nuisance reputation, the coyote serves to maintain a balance in Georgia’s rodent population.
The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is a common dabbling duck found in Georgia. The male mallard is unmistakable with a glossy green head. The female is predominantly colored mottled brown. In Trinity Lakes, the mallards enjoy feeding on the sedges surrounding the lakes and acorns from the oak trees. The average life expectancy is three years, but they can live to twenty. The predation-avoidance behavior of sleeping with one eye open, allowing one brain hemisphere to remain aware while the other half sleeps, was first demonstrated in mallards, although it is believed to be widespread among birds in general.
The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most common rabbit in Georgia and can be found in Trinity Lakes. It has dense brown to gray fur on its back with a white underside and white or “cotton” tail. Adults weigh 2 to 4 pounds with a home range that covers 4 to 13 acres.. Cottontails are very productive with up to seven litters per year with 4-7 bunnies per litter. The bunnies are weaned from their mother after 14 days Brush and briar thickets provide important cover from predators and mortality rates are greater when rabbits venture into open areas. Annual mortality rates average about 80% per year as predators include coyotes, bobcats, foxes, owls, and hawks.
Beavers (Castor canadensis) were almost eliminated from Georgia because of unregulated trapping and habitat loss. Wildlife restoration efforts were quickly successful and beavers are thriving statewide today. Beavers are found in the creeks and ponds of Trinity Lakes. Beavers are North America’s largest rodents and live on both land and in water. Their broad flat tails are used for stability while sitting, feeding or chewing trees. Beavers create their own shelter in the form of either bank dens or lodges. Dens are created by digging a series of holes in the water banks. The beaver’s most famous signature is the dam. Wetlands created by beavers provide excellent habitat for plants, animals, waterfowl and migratory birds. The wetlands also serve as a filtration system trapping sediments and improving water quality.