Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count - February 14-17

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds!

Participants count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes (or longer) during the four-day period. Participants can count birds for a single day or during all four days of the GBBC. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. For example, if three robins are spotted in the yard, the count for robins would be three. Later, if a single robin is spotted in the yard, the count for robins would remain at three (most seen at one time) and not increase to four. Once you finish counting, simply visit the GBBC website (http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/), create your FREE account, and submit your checklist.

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. This is a tremendous opportunity for teachers to address science, social studies and math standards while helping scientists learn about birds in our hemisphere!

Pileated Woodpeckers - David Youngblood
By knowing where the birds are, scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn much regarding the current state of birds. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Barred Owls - David Youngblood
The GBBC is a citizen-science project where everybody’s help, no matter how small, is valuable. Help make sure the birds from our community are well-represented in the count. It does not matter whether a report is for five species on a backyard feeder or for 25 species spotted during a day's outing to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.







There are plenty of ways to participate!  You do NOT need to be an expert on birds.

You can find tips here for counting birds, especially large flocks.

There is a poster of some common backyard birds here.

Facebook

Twitter using #GBBC


If you’re looking for a fun way to get involved, consider joining Audubon staff during our FREE public bird-watching walk on the Sawmill Branch Trail in Summerville, SC on Saturday, February 15th. We will meet in the parking lot for the Sawmill Branch Trail at 8 a.m. and count birds for the GBBC for about two hours. This is a free and easy way to learn more about the birds in your area AND contribute important information for the GBBC!

More details about our public bird-watching walks can be found here: http://beidlerforest.audubon.org/saturday-morning-guided-bird-walks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Longleaf Pine Restoration

On January 14, 2014, staff and volunteers from the the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest planted longleaf pine seedlings on approximately five acres of land previously growing loblolly pine.  This small planting was a part of a larger project funded by a grant from the Alcoa Foundation and American Forests Global ReLeaf Partnership for Trees, in which approximately 65 acres was converted from loblolly pine to longleaf pine.  Currently, nearly 200 acres of the Francis Beidler Forest is longleaf pine.

In previous blog entries, we have described why we wish to restore the native longleaf pine forest ecosystem and how we manage those longleaf pine stands.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is unique. The longleaf pine is a hardy species resistant to wind, insects, disease and fire, which can subdue its frequently-seen cousins the Loblolly and Slash Pines. The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem developed with fire and it remains healthy as long as it periodically burns. Historically, these fires would have been caused naturally by lightning and allowed to burn slowly through the forest. The result would have been the near elimination of leaf litter and debris and the competition from hardwood tree species. Additionally, longleaf pine seeds fare better on exposed mineral soil, so the next generation of longleaf pines gets its start after a fire clears the forest floor.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is greatly diminished throughout the Southeast and the total acreage continues to decline. Previously, over 90 million acres supported the unique longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem, while only two million acres remain today. Some reasons for this decline include the suppression of fires, intense logging, a switch to faster growing pines, and the clearing of land for agriculture and development. Not only is the total longleaf pine/wiregrass acreage declining, over 30 species of plant and animals that are associated with that ecosystem are currently listed as threatened or endangered, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker!


After the logging of the loblolly pines, the site had some remaining debris and emergent hardwood trees killed with herbicide.
Site before burning - Mark Musselman
The site was burned in December to remove debris and competition prior to planting the longleaf pine seedlings.
Site after burning - Mark Musselman
The longleaf pine seedlings, grown in containers at a nursery, arrived packed in moisture-conserving boxes.
Collis Boyd, longleaf and equipment - Mark Musselman

Buckets were used to carry the longleaf pine seedlings into the site.


Dibbles, orange metal tool, were used to open a wedge-shaped cavity in the soil in which to place the seedling. Once the seedling was in the ground, the dibble was placed in the soil behind the seedling and the soil between the dibble and seedling was compressed to seal the seedling in the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Occasionally, an extra step on the soil was needed to ensure a complete seal within the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Only the western portion of the site remained to be planted...
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
 ...and the light rain made the day more interesting.
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman



Monday, September 30, 2013

Potpourri

Shifts in job responsibilities and the ongoing boardwalk construction have kept us from blogging. Here are some of the things we have been doing.

Hog management continues to be a full-time job. As noted in previous blogs, hogs are not native to any North American habitats and they cannot exist without adversely affecting the places they inhabit.
Wild hogs inspecting a trap
We have had limited success in eliminating hogs from the property as they can move off of our property and they breed throughout the year. Here two adults and four young hogs inspect the trap, but avoid entering it.  Below, hogs have inflicted serious damage to a neighbors soybean field. Wild hogs cause an estimated $1.5 billion (that's with a "b") in agricultural damage each year in the United States alone. Those costs do not include damage to water quality or to native ecosystems.

Wild hog damage to nearby soybean field - Mark Musselman

Although the wild hogs near the center have learned to avoid the trap, deer, raccoons, and this bobcat cannot avoid the game camera's motion sensor.
Bobcat on patrol
Boundary painting is an important and never ending task. To avoid confusion at the property lines, the lines must be clearly marked. Signs are posted denoting the various state and federal restrictions on the property and survey blazes are painted to further highlight the property line location.
Boundary line paint - Mark Musselman
Currently, the Francis Beidler Forest (FBF) has 102 miles of exterior boundary lines plus an additional 30+ miles of interior boundary lines. Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is being used to manage the FBF property, but all the data must first be collected and verified. The map below shows all of the lines that are overdue for painting, have an unknown status, or are due for painting in 2013.
Boundary lines remaining to be checked and/or painted in 2013
If you thought, "That looks like everything," you are close. However, in addition to painting when visiting the lines, location data on the survey corners, access points, and signs are gathered to be entered into the GIS database. The on-the-ground data collecting has helped us detect errors in Berkeley County's GIS database, thereby allowing them to revisit survey plats and update their files to accurately reflect our property lines. There is still work to be done with all three counties (Berkeley, Dorchester, Orangeburg) in which FBF holds parcels.

The new boardwalk continues its march and has moved beyond the fork. You can follow the progress on this map.
Boardwalk construction at the fork - Mark Musselman
Boardwalk construction at the fork - Mark Musselman

As construction has now moved beyond the fork, access has been restored for all individuals. Visitors will now walk out on the newly constructed boardwalk (see below) to the fork and then walk on the old boardwalk along the edge of the swamp, which is the reverse of the normal direction on the boardwalk. Once visitors encounter the construction zone on the front side of the boardwalk, they will need to retrace their path back to the nature center. Construction is scheduled to be completed by April 2014.
New boardwalk completed up to the fork - Mark Musselman

One does not need to go deep into the swamp to encounter wildlife. Plenty of birds are in the parking area, especially now during migration, but an occasional water snake ventures up to the high ground in search of a meal. Below a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) found a sunny spot on a log and allowed for a few pictures to be taken.
Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
Longleaf Pine restoration work in March removed some of the competing oaks.
View in March 2013 - Mark Musselman
The view of the same site was quite different this week. Wiregrass grows in bunches, but the grass grows long and lies down over a wider area. Small animals can easily move beneath the drooping grass while benefiting from the cover it offers from predators. When it is time to burn, the wiregrass will allow the fire to carry across the plot.
View in September 2013 - Mark Musselman
In addition to the wiregrass, a multitude of native plants are flowering. We will post images in a separate blog once we have identified all of the plants.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Boardwalk Construction Continues

The construction of the new boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest continues with workers reaching the high ground between the nature center and the boardwalk fork. The lack of rain over the last week has allowed the construction bypass trail to dry out, so the boardwalk is open again except for individuals with certain mobility limitations. Once construction reaches the fork, there will be no need for the off-boardwalk bypass trail and access will be regained for all individuals. You can keep track of the construction progress by visiting the boardwalk map here.

Boardwalk Construction - Mark Musselman
Boardwalk Handrails - Mark Musselman
While checking the boardwalk for fallen limbs and damage, we noted some birds in migration and other wildlife on or near the boardwalk. American Redstarts have been seen recently and we spied both a Northern Waterthrush (also calling) and a Louisiana Waterthrush along the edge of the swamp between #174 and #179.

Near the Meeting Tree at #120, we observed a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the boardwalk handrail and later spotted it picking at crayfish-filled raccoon scat near the hollow tree at #179.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
It posed nicely for some additional shots, which we can add to our library.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
On the second platform out at Goodson Lake, we found a large, non-venomous, fish-eating Brown Water Snake taking advantage of the sunlight and the low visitor count.

Brown Water Snake - Mark Musselman
How can anyone be frightened by this mug?

Brown Water Snake - Mark Musselman

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Boardwalk Has Begun

The good news is that the new boardwalk has begun! The bad news is that the continued rain has flooded the off-boardwalk trail bypassing the construction. PLEASE call before visiting to ensure that access has been restored to the boardwalk.  Once construction reaches the high ground, flooding will not be an issue. Once construction reaches the fork, no off-boardwalk travel will be necessary and there will no longer be limits on accessibility for individuals with mobility issues.

New Boardwalk Construction - Mark Musselman
Nearly Completed Section - Mark Musselman
Story Map

Click here to view the story map.

Bookmark this page and return periodically to follow the construction progress.  We will post images and markers on the map as construction reaches various milestones.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Boardwalk Replacement to Begin

Help us spread the word!
Beginning August 5th and until further notice, access to the boardwalk at Beidler Forest will be limited due to replacement construction.

Boardwalk Replacement Material - Mark Musselman
As the first quarter mile is replaced, visitors will need to step down from the boardwalk and walk across uneven terrain around the construction area before stepping back up to the boardwalk. Therefore, those with mobility issues will be unable to access any portion of the boardwalk actually in the swamp.

Access to all will be regained once construction reaches the loop portion of the boardwalk.

Limited Access Zone - Mark Musselman
If you have any questions regarding boardwalk access, please all 843-462-2150.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Come High Water!

The rain over the last weeks has produced water levels not seen along the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest since the spring of 1997.  Although feet below the aftereffects of Hurricane David in 1979, when walking on the boardwalk would put one knee deep in water, this has been a significant water event for Four Holes Swamp.  We have posted a video at the end of this blog.
Hurricane David High Water Mark - Mark Musselman
A nail about a foot above the base of the Mockernut Hickory tree marks the extent of the water dumped by Hurricane David.  The current rain event has pushed water up to the base of the tree.
Marsh Rabbit - Mark Musselman
Although Marsh Rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris) are comfortable swimming, they apparently have their limits.  This individual was high in the pine woods directly behind the Loblolly Pine sign.

Water in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
Water often pools in the pine woods, mainly in depressions created by tip-ups when Hurricane Hugo knocked down 80% of the canopy.  However, during this rain event, the high ground was flooded and the water was running across the pine woods.

Water in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
White Ibis in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
A trio of White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) were foraging in the high pine woods because everywhere else in the swamp was too deep for wading.  We were not sure what they might be finding as the newly submerged habitat is not known for crayfish or fish.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) was wading in the water on the opposite side of the boardwalk from the White Ibis.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
Approaching the fork in the boardwalk, the water could be seen up to the cross supports.
Swamp Edge - Mark Musselman
Although the boardwalk is relatively level, the 1977 construction was mainly accomplished by volunteers not professionally certified in carpentry, so the keyword is relatively.  The low spots could be detected by the various depths of water across the deck.
Approaching Fork in Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
In some cases, the water had already receded.
Water Over Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
Fork on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
The return portion of the boardwalk parallels the edge of the swamp and is often dry under the boardwalk.  In the image below, the water can be seen close to the deck.
High Water at #20 - Mark Musselman
At the #3 rest area, the water is up to the deck supports though the reflection off the water gives the impression of space below the boardwalk.
High Water at #3 - Mark Musselman
If any Prothonotary Warblers had nests below the level of the nest boxes on the signs, the nests were submerged and a loss.
Sign at #3 - Mark Musselman
Looking out from the rest area at #3, not a single one of the thousands of cypress knees can be seen due to the high water.
No Knees Visible From #3 - Mark Musselman
The cypress tree felled at #4 by Hurricane Hugo was under water except for a small portion at the root end.
Water Over Fallen Cypress at #4 - Mark Musselman
 Looking back at the Meeting Tree, the water can be seen approaching the boardwalk deck.
High Water at Meeting Tree - Mark Musselman
High Water at Meeting Tree - Mark Musselman
The high water limited the above-water options and made it treacherous for emerging aquatic insects.  A Dark Fishing Spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) made a meal of a dragonfly that had selected poorly and emerged on a boardwalk cross support.
Dark Fishing Spider - Mark Musselman
Dark Fishing Spider - Mark Musselman
The large knee at #5, which many state looks like a wave, is barely exposed above the water's surface.
"Wave" Knee at #5 - Mark Musselman
 Though the knees in the channel at #5 are quite tall, not a one could be seen above the water.
No Knees Visible at #5 - Mark Musselman
Approach to #6 - Mark Musselman
Rest Area at #6 - Mark Musselman
No Knees Visible Beyond 7' Knee - Mark Musselman
High Water at #8 - Mark Musselman
 The shadows make it difficult to see, but the water is just below the deck at the #9 rain shelter.
Rain Shelter at #9 - Mark Musselman
High Water at T on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
High Water at T on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
 Animals of all sorts took advantage of any resting spots out of the water.
Yellow-bellied Slider with Eastern Mud Turtle - Mark Musselman

High Water at #10 - Mark Musselman
Bald Cypress at #10 - Mark Musselman
View of Second Platform From #10 - Mark Musselman
Tower at Goodson Lake - Mark Musselman
Tower at Goodson Lake - Mark Musselman
The average water level at Goodson Lake is 4.0'.  The level at the time of the image on Tuesday was 7.53' down from the morning level of 7.6'.  The heavy rain yesterday will likely counter some drop in the water level.
Goodson Lake Gauge - Mark Musselman
Looking back from the tower at Goodson Lake to an area that is almost always dry or extremely shallow, the water can be seen covering all the cypress knees, including one that had been used as a nesting site by Prothonotary Warblers earlier in the season.
Boardwalk to Second Platform - Mark Musselman
 A Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) could find no dry ground except for the boardwalk.
Southern Toad at #10 - Mark Musselman
Elsewhere, a small Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) also sought high ground on the boardwalk.
Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
The high water has basically eliminated all above-water basking sites except for the boardwalk we installed.  Fear not!  After taking the first image from a significant distance, the snake quickly retreated as we tried to get a more artistic ground level shot.  Dry is nice, but humans are huge and scary and retreat is the best option.  Remember, the majority of people have problems with snakes once they begin to mess with the snakes.
Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman


If you have not seen the swamp with high water, do not wait another 15-20 years for the next event!