Charlie Elliott offers nature-savvy winter programs

Looking to educate the kids or even yourself on wildlife and the importance of preserving habitat for animals and plants? Then you might want to consider visiting the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield where staff will offer several winter programs and activities designed to make visitors more nature-savvy.

Below is the scheduled list of programs at Charlie Elliott for January and February.

Adopt-A-Highway Clean-up - Friday, Jan. 18, 2 to 4 p.m.

Normally reserved for registered Charlie Elliott volunteers, the quarterly adopt-a-highway clean-up along the three-mile stretch of highway north and south of the center's entrance is open to anyone interested in participating. Participants will pick up litter along the side of the road and must supply their own heavy gloves; the center provides orange vests and trash bags.

Charlie Elliott wildlife interpretive specialist Linda May said the clean-up helps restore wildlife habitat, educates people about littering and prevents littering.

"People are less likely to litter a clean area than they are one with trash, so that's kind of the idea - they're less likely to throw litter in a pristine area," said May.

May said that along the road there's plenty of trash such as paper products, food wrappers, plastic and glass bottles, cans, twine and plastic cups, much of which would not break down for hundreds of years if it were not picked up.

"I joke with people that this is a cultural experience because you can make a profile on the typical person who litters. They eat at convenience stores and fast food restuarants, they play the lottery, read lewd magazines and drink alcohol," said May. "The bottles are the worst because when they hit the ground, they shatter and it's almost impossible to get all the pieces up."

May said depending on the number of volunteers that show up, the group could gather between 10 and 20 bags. Those interested should meet Linda May at that visitor's center at Charlie Elliott before heading to the clean-up.

Family Nature Walk: Winter Wildlife Survival - Saturday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Charlie Elliott wildlife interpretive specialist Karen Hoydick will use live animals, such a reptile and bird, and taxidermy mounts, including fur, to discuss how animals and plants cope with the cold winter months. She'll cover behaviors like migration and hiberation, and talk about how animals adapt to low temperatures. For example, the beaver, which stays active during the winter months, has two types of fur - an undercoat and a shiny topcoat that is oily and waterproof - which helps insulate it. After the lecture, Hoydick will lead the group outside to look for signs of how certain animals, like birds and squirrels, continue to thrive in winter. Hoydick said the program is appropriate for young and old alike.

"I'm hoping to appeal to families with children, rather than just adults," said Hoydick

Fascinated by Birds - Wednesday, Jan. 30, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Did you know that an owl cannot move its eyes within the sockets but can rotate its head up to 270 degrees to view what is in back of it? Or that a hawk which is flying a mile up in the air can spot a field mouse on the ground? These are just a few of the fun facts participants will learn during the Fascinated by Birds presentation given by Linda May.

Visitors will first view a half-hour documentary, "Eyewitness: Bird," and then have an opportunity to see birds of prey live and up close. May expects to have on hand a bard owl and a red-tailed hawk, two birds that often hunt in the same areas, though during different times - the hawk in daylight and the owl under cover of night. She'll discuss how the owl's hunting strategy is to sneak up on prey and swoop down using wings with frayed feathers so as not to make a sound. The hawk, on the other hand, is more muscular, streamlined and aerodynamic; it uses its speed and binocular vision to capture meals.

Though the two birds are common and native to Georgia, the general public rarely, if ever, gets a glimpse of them.

"People don't get to see them up close. The owls are out at night and the closest you can get to a hawk is to see it at the top of a telephone pole," said May.

Endangered Species - Wednesday, Feb. 20, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Charlie Elliott wildlife interpretive specialist Pete Griffin will present a bald eagle and an indigo snake or gopher turtle to launch into a discussion about why animals go extinct and what the public can do to help threatened and endangered species. He'll recount the success story of the bald eagle, which was on the brink of extinction in the 1970s due to DDT weakening the egg shells. Griffin will also review the plight on the alligator in the mid-1900s when the animal was almost extinct due to overhunting. Because of hunting restrictions enacted after 1970, alligators are now thriving.

In addition to hunting and chemical contamination, wildlife also becomes threatened and endangered because of a more pressing and less easily controlled issue, which Griffin will discuss.

"The number one reason this happens is habitat loss," said Griffin.

Winter Bird Walk - Saturday, Feb. 23, 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources' expert birder Tim Keyes will lead a group of visitors on a search for wintering birds as diverse as sparrows, ducks and birds of prey. Participants will go on short walks and drives between sites within the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center boundaries, so be sure to bring binoculars and filed guides and wear boots or shoes that can get wet.

All programs are free and based at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Visitor's Center, 543 Elliott Trail, Mansfield. Space for participants is limited and preregistration is required by calling 770-784-3059.