Thursday, November 30, 2006
With highs again near 80 F, it was another banner day for seeing reptiles. Second graders from Fennell Elementary School in Hampton County and cadets from The Citadel saw 7 Eastern Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus), 5 Banded Water Snakes (Nerodia fasciata fasciata), 1 Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina), numerous Carolina Anoles (Anolis carolinensis), and numerous Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta). The Barred Owl (Strix varia) took time near the boardwalk to hunt the abundant prey lured out by the warm weather. The garbage cans were too smelly for the normally-nocturnal Opossum in the image to resist.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because the cold front will push through tomorrow bringing rain and at least a 20 degree drop in the high temperature!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
While we walked around the boardwalk and thought of species to include in a new FBF-specific field guide, plenty of snakes made appearances in the unseasonably-warm weather to ensure their entries on the pages. There was a Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) sunning on the fallen cypress by #4, a young Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) sunning on a branch by #7, a hefty Eastern Cottonmouth sunning near its den at the base of a cypress along the boardwalk spur at #11, another Eastern Cottonmouth half out of its stump den just outside the nature center, and the Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) shown in the image that was swimming near #5. Unfortunately, a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) found the driveway quite warm and a visitor's car quite heavy.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
Skinny from Texas appeared at FBF today. Skinny, whose homepage is here, is a travel bug for the Global Positioning System (GPS)-based geocaching. Skinny was deposited in the nearby cache For The Birds (GC4460) here .
Each of Mrs. B's 4th grade students at Kenneth Davis Elementary School received a travel bug tag and created a travel bug to explore the world outside of Texas. Unfortunately, Skinny appears to have spent most of the time since June in the bottom of some geocacher's backpack. In the image, Skinny is already reading about the Francis Beidler Forest. We'll make up for the lost time and ensure that the students in Texas become experts on the spectacular, virgin, old-growth forest!
There is one issue with Skinny. It appears to be a warthog or possibly a feral hog (Sus scrofa). Feral hogs have become a problem at FBF due to their destructive rooting behavior and their prolific reproduction. We'll assume Skinny is a tourist and will be moving on once the learning has been accomplished.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is closed today to allow the staff to enjoy the day with their families. The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in the image was showing his best in May along the driveway into the FBF. We're betting that today he is thankful, as we are, for the sanctuary in the swamp and for all those that help preserve this and other natural areas.
Happy Thanksgiving! We'll keep the menu a secret from Tom.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The treefrog in the image found that the rain gauge is not only a moist spot to spend the day, but the acoustics are terrific!
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
DAVID LAUDERDALE, Packet columnist
Published Sunday, November 19, 2006
Finally, some good news about coastal birds -- too often reported clinging to life on a wing and a prayer because bulldozers don't make good nesting sites.
Turtle Island between Daufuskie Island and Savannah has been designated an Important Bird Area.
A flock of local and state bird enthusiasts were to cross the waters to Daufuskie Island on Saturday to toast this good news about one of the last remaining undisturbed barrier-island beaches in South Carolina.
Turtle Island is uninhabited by humans, and the birds are making the most of it. That's crucial as the Lowcountry becomes urbanized at an alarming rate.
To be an Important Bird Area speaks loudly for the value of land conservation. But it doesn't carry a big stick. It's not a politically binding designation that would hold up in court.
It simply recognizes the 1,720-acre island as an important nesting, resting or foraging place for shorebirds. It is a safe haven for the piping plover, which is protected under the
Endangered Species Act, and three other birds on Audubon's "watch list": the American oyster catcher, Wilson's plover and the red knot. And at least 1,000 birds from seven other species, including the black-bellied plover and the least tern, occupy the island at least part of the year.
The Turtle Island success story really started on Dec. 1, 1975. That's when the old Union Camp, now part of International Paper, donated it to The Nature Conservancy. It quickly was transferred to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and is now the Turtle Island Wildlife Management Area.
Tom Murphy, a DNR biologist, sees the new designation as proof of his agency's good stewardship and careful monitoring of birds. Audubon South Carolina has been working for years to identify Important Bird Areas. Turtle Island is the 41st site in the state, covering a total of 1 million acres. Others nearby are the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, the Pinckney Island and Savannah National Wildlife refuges, Bay Point Island on Port Royal Sound, and the Webb Wildlife Management Area near Ridgeland.
And when we talked Friday, Murphy shared more good news about birds in our neck of the Lowcountry: The population of sea birds -- gulls, pelicans and terns -- is starting to bounce back after declining for many years.
A new man-made island near the Savannah River jetties helps. The 5-acre Tompkins Island is a mound of the cleanest sand dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Savannah River channel. This made-to-order Club Med for birds was finished two years ago, and the hanky-panky started immediately. Within two months, 1,700 pairs of birds were nesting there. This year, it's up to 5,000 pairs. And due to a lack of predators on the island that's almost a mile offshore, the birds are "very productive," Murphy said.
Public awareness and involvement is more important than ever. Ann Shahid, the Important Bird Areas coordinator for Audubon South Carolina, needs volunteers to monitor bird populations. She can be reached at email@example.com, or 843-462-2150.
Lowcountry residents need the birds, and they need us. If the birds are healthy, so are we.
Monday, November 20, 2006
The 5th graders from Harleyville-Ridgeville explored the world of macroinvertebrates along with their tour around the boardwalk. Macro (very large in scale; can see without a microscope) invertebrates (without backbones) are used to determine the general water quality here in the swamp. The image shows a dragonfly nymph, which is a predator of other macroinvertebrates.
Some organisms are pollution-intolerant, while others can literally swim in sewage. By taking an inventory of the organisms living in the swamp and determining the percentage of pollution-intolerant to pollution-tolerant species, we can determine the general water quality. The water in Four Holes Swamp is exceptional! If changes occur, we can detect them quickly and look upstream for the cause.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
While receiving instructions prior to a paddle around the western side of Daniel Island, our group saw an immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swoop into the spartina and grab a Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). The attack occured just beyond the palmetto in the image. The eagle quickly flew to a low branch in a nearby oak and began plucking its meal. The Bald Eagle was chosen as our national symbol in 1782 due to the fierce demeanor displayed today. However, the bird is often a timid carrion-eater.
In partnership with Nature Adventures Outfitters, Audubon South Carolina provides kayak tours down Beresford Creek to the Cooper River boundary of Daniel Island to give residents a better sense of the marsh ecosystem that surrounds them. After the exciting start, we saw Tricolored Herons (Egretta tricolor), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea), Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus), Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), and more.
Friday, November 17, 2006
The enthusiastic and curious 3rd graders from Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary School visited the swamp today. They learned about bird bill adaptations through practical experience. They each had a bill type represented by either a stapler remover, an eyedropper, a nail, tongs, tweezers, or a clothespin. There were various food items represented by spaghetti, bowtie pasta, staples in cardboard, colored water, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Students kept their bill as they rotated through each station of food and attempted to "eat" (see the November 3rd entry).
While on the boardwalk, the students saw evidence of how the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) uses its bill (see November 4th entry). They also were able to get a close look at the bill of a Barred Owl (Strix varia) and hear several "hoot" at each other (see November 10th entry). Those calls will be posted here shortly.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
A powerful and destructive front moved across the southern United States over the last few days. The thunderstorms and wind associated with that cold front moved over the swamp around 1:30 a.m. this morning. The first image shows the front as it moves off the coast of South Carolina.
Dead branches on a tree are brittle and do not bend in the wind like branches consisting of living tissue. Therefore, the boardwalk was not only covered in leaves and cypress needle that were destined to fall, but there were also plenty of twigs, branches and limbs. At the edge of the swamp, where the ground is often not covered by water, a Sweet Gum tree was marked with a handsome sign. Substantial rain last week and again last night coupled with strong winds toppled the healthy tree. Fortunately, it fell parallel to the boardwalk and did not necessitate repairs. As you stroll the boardwalk, take note of the fresh lumber. Under the boardwalk or next to it you will see the limb or tree that, due to age, rot or weather, has lost its battle with gravity and smashed the over 30-year-old lumber.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The animal in the swamp that generates the most questions is die Schlange. Most students want to see one during their school group's visit, while many adults have an unwarranted (because animals are seldom on the boardwalk) fear of this creature. Eine Schlange im Sumpf is a snake in the swamp.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Today, the staff at the Francis Beidler Forest marked the boundary lines for land recently acquired within the Four Holes Swamp watershed.
Bright blue paint and Audubon's "No Trespassing" signs now announce the sanctuary's expanded presence. In the image, the three blue lines draw attention to the three blazes cut into the tree, which in turn witness (face toward) the post marking the corner. Two blazes on a tree would face and signify a nearby boundary line as it runs between corners.
The well-marked boundary lines and "No Trespassing" signs are required by law to ensure property owners do not lose rights to their land or possible the land itself. For example, if someone were to walk onto the property to fish and the property was not marked with "No Trespassing" signs or the individual was never asked to leave the property, after some years they could claim the right to fish on the property. Also, if someone were to farm across the boundary line and was never told to stop, they could eventually claim the land as their own.
Therefore, even though Audubon South Carolina is eager for everyone to share the beauty and wonders of the habitat we are protecting, we ensure that protection by diligently marking and posting our boundaries. Interested visitors can experience the virgin, old-growth swamp via a 1.75-mile boardwalk or with a guide on the canoe trail...simply contact the staff (see www.beidlerforest.org).
Saturday, November 11, 2006
It's deer hunting season in South Carolina and with it comes the baying of hunting dogs. Unfortunately, hunting dogs cannot read "No Trespassing" signs and are oblivious to their disruption as they race through the sanctuary. The two dogs shown in the image apparently had enough of hunting for the day and stood outside the door barking. They earned a stay in the kennel until their owner retrieved them.
The deer population is healthy, if not overly so. Hunting is a viable wildlife and habitat management practice. However, hunting with dogs that are incapable of honoring property boundaries is incompatible with a sanctuary and the peaceful experience it promises.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Today, students from Vance Elementary School toured the boardwalk in the warm sunshine. While moving along the second half of the walk, the calls of Barred Owls (Stix varia), "Who? Who? Who cooks for y'all?" could be heard. Owls have the advantage when hunting at night as their prey cannot see them approaching, but they can hunt successfully in the daytime also.
Barred Owls seem to eat anything within their power to kill. They eat mostly small mammals, especially small rodents (voles, mice, shrews). They also eat mammals like squirrels, wood rats, rabbits, opossums, chipmunks, hares and even bats. Other prey items include insects, crayfish, fish, reptiles (snakes and lizards), amphibians, and a good percentage of birds (caught as they roost on branches). That's quite a diet! Most of these prey items are not sufficiently aware to avoid a daylight attack from an owl.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Students from North Charleston High School had gorgeous weather as they made their way around the 1.75-mile boardwalk. Several Eastern Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) were seen sunning themselves along with a Dark Fishing Spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) carrying her egg sac and the Praying Mantis shown in the image.
A Praying Mantis generally eats other insects by waiting motionless to ambush and impale prey with their spiked front legs. However, some apparently are highly ambitious predators and take prey as large as a hummingbird! (see http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/site/backyardbirds/hummingbirds/mantis-hummer.aspx)
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Yesterday's rains have already had an effect along the boardwalk. Water has pooled in the low areas and rain that fell upstream in the Four Holes Swamp watershed will be flowing past the boardwalk over the next few days.
The image shows the Francis Beidler Forest property outlined in red, while the the Four Holes Swamp watershed is shown shaded in white. Water in this watershed comes almost entirely from rain that falls within its boundaries. Water to the north flows to Lake Marion or Lake Moultrie, water to the south flows to the Edisto River and water to the east flows to the Cypress Swamp and eventually to the Ashley River. All of the water in the Four Holes Swamp watershed eventually flows into the Edisto River just upstream from Givhans Ferry State Park.
Four Holes Swamp is like a bathtub with the drain always open. If water (rain) is not added, the water will eventually drain (or evaporate) out of the swamp. Only the deep spots or holes will retain water, which allows those animals that depend on water to survive.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Today's warmer weather, heavy rain and ensuing puddles have elicited an amphibian chorus. The treefrog pictured here is either an Eastern Gray Treefrog or a Cope's Gray Treefrog. The two look identical though the Cope's Gray Treefrog has half the number of chromosomes and a slower trill than the Eastern Gray Treefrog. More Francis Beidler Forest amphibian images can be seen at: http://www.beidlerforest.org/education/amphibians.htm
Worldwide amphibian populations are in decline with a third of the 5,700 species considered threatened. In the last 20 years, 168 amphibian species have become extinct. Habitat loss is the main factor for the decline with disease, overexploitation (pet trade), and climate change being contributing factors. Recently, however, a new and deadly efficient culprit has been identified.
Chytrid fungus invades the amphibians' skin and distrupts their water balance. No continent has been spared as scientists rush to collect specimens from the wild in an effort to prevent additional extinctions. The fungus likely was spread by African frogs used for medical purposes or South American bullfrogs imported live for their meaty legs. South Carolina is included as an area where amphibians are "most threatened." (National Geographic, Jan. 2006)
Monday, November 06, 2006
A Palamedes Swallowtail (Pterourus palamedes) caterpillar makes its preparations for the cooler winter months by constructing a chrysalis. A butterfly constructs a chrysalis while a moth constructs a cocoon. The caterpillar changes from green to yellow-orange prior to constructing its winter shelter. This change is minute compared to the metamorphosis that will occur before the adult butterfly emerges in the spring!
The large eye-spots at the front of the caterpillar are designed to divert a predator's attack, possibly allowing the caterpillar to survive. A strike at the actual head, which is closer to the branch, would likely be fatal.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
A cold front came through yesterday and today finally felt like fall. The skies are clear and the air crisp. The calls of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be heard throughout the swamp. When this bird migrates south for the winter, it ends up here.
As you walk through the swamp, you may see rows of holes drilled in trees with some drilled from the ground to the crown. All of these holes are the work of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The bird will either eat the sap oozing from the holes or the insects that are attracted to the oozing sap. In the spring before the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers depart, returning Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may use these sap wells to supplement their diet.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Third graders from Williams Memorial Elementary School learned about bird bill adaptations through practical experience. They each had a bill type represented by either a stapler remover, an eyedropper, a nail, tongs, tweezers, or a clothespin. There were various food items represented by spaghetti, bowtie pasta, staples in cardboard, colored water, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Students kept their bill as they rotated through each station of food and attempted to "eat".
In the images, students are shown trying to "eat" individual sunflower seeds using stapler removers. The staple remover bill represented a bill found on raptors, which is designed to tear flesh and not eat seeds. Though the students had some success at this station, it was not their most efficient stop. Obviously, none of the bills worked well at all of the stations and some, like the eyedropper, only worked well at one station.
In the end, students saw that bird bills are adapted to exploit every niche. Additionally, they saw that if all birds shared the same diet, only a smaller population of bird could be sustained.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
On this beautiful, warm day in the swamp, 6th and 7th graders from Clay Hill Middle School learned about the classification of living things (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). We used the example: Kingdom=Earthlings, Phylum=Americans, Class=South Carolinians, Order=Dorchesters (county), Family=Summervillians, Genus=SHS or FtD (high schools), Species=Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.
The Eastern Cottonmouth shown in yesterday's log is scientifically known as Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus. That's a mouthful for most of us because the words are derived from Greek and Latin. Agkistrodon is derived from Greek meaning "fishhook" and refers to the recurved fangs, while Latin provides piscis meaning "fish" and voro meaning "devour". Students created a creature adapted to thrive in a swamp environment. Using a list of Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, the students named their creation. The example above shows the newly-discovered Megaorus macropod (big mouthed bigfoot).
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
How many natural lakes exist in South Carolina? If you thought zero, you are correct! All the lakes in South Carolina are the result of human engineering, generally dammed rivers for hydroelectric power.
Using the "Hydrophobic Horse" activity from the SC MAPS curriculum, 8th grade students from Clay Hill Middle School learned about the drainage basins in South Carolina. For the activity, students image that it is 1730 and that they have just made the three-month journey across the Atlantic to the shores of South Carolina. Their horse has had enough of water and refuses to cross any water between the coast and the destination at Mt. Sassafras, South Carolina's highest point. The students needed to trace a path for the journey that avoided any water crossings.
"Man, there's alot of water in our state!"