Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grassland For Birds

Audubon South Carolina plans to create perennial, warm-season grassland on 38 acres of newly acquired land on the Spring Branch tract. This grassland will be for the benefit of grassland bird species, specifically sparrows, buntings, bobwhite quail and other ground-nesting birds. Grassland habitat is diminished through conversion to agriculture, conversion to managed forest, and development.

The soils on the plot have been identified and a plan has been created for the grassland restoration. Today, staff from the Francis Beidler Forest used Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to plot the boundaries of the proposed grassland and to calculate the acreage (38 acres). The view in the image is from west to east.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Career Day

Each year, Summerville Elementary School invites parents to come and share their profession with the students. The image shows Mark Musselman, education director, discussing the Francis Beidler Forest and a career in environmental education with a class of students. Using a turkey leg, a Barred Owl's wing and talons, a turtle shell, a beaver skull, a snake skin, a deer skull, various digital images, and an alligator skull, Mark shared with the students the uniqueness of the virgin, old-growth swamp, the relationships of its inhabitants, and the importance of conserving natural areas before they disappear.

Except for live animals, there is little that can trump a hugh gator skull!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Old Forest Roads

Although the original purchase of land for the Franics Beidler Forest contained almost 1800 acres of virgin, old-growth forest, the rest of Four Holes Swamp has been logged. Some logging roads were built out into the swamp. They remain and their effects, mainly the impediment to flowing water, are easily seen. Skidder tracks are harder to discern, except when rain water collects in the low areas (see image).

Elsewhere in our state and country, forest roads appear to have a negative effect even after they have been abandoned. Dr. Raymond Semlitsch, professor of biology at the University of Missouri, studied and reported (here and The Forestry Source, Dec 2006) the effect of forest roads on woodland salamanders. Plant ecologists have documented that road edges receive more sunlight and wind, which has a drying effect on the micro-climate. The study of marco- and micro-invertebrates near roads showed that the "road-effect zone" extended farther than the 35 meters Dr. Semlitsch determined for the salamanders. Since salamanders eat the invertebrates and prefer a cool, damp environment, the absence of food and suitable habitat would certainly have a negative effect on the salamanders.

"The big implication is that, not only do existing roads have effects that go beyond their roadside boundaries, but that these 80-year-old roads that have been abandoned have long-lasting effects, too," Semlitsch said. "So, if you're constantly laying down new roads, you're fragmenting the forest into smaller and smaller parcels." He suggested reusing forest roads, since the footprint has already been established.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tourist in Your Town

This month, over 150 Charleston area residents have taken advantage of the "Be a Tourist in Your Own Town" passes and visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. The pass allows the bearer free access, as is the case at FBF, or discounts to encourage local residents to explore places of interest in our area. Not only is it possible that these local residents will return once they have discovered the unique beauty of the virgin, old-growth forest, but they are likely to share their discovery with friends and neighbors, especially out-of-town guests looking for a memorable experience.

Few people that have learned about FBF (that's where you can help!) and have made the effort to visit have departed unsatisfied with their experience in the swamp. Hopefully, the peace and beauty of the swamp have created 150 excited storytellers and future supports of Audubon's efforts in Four Holes Swamp.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bird Identification

The Francis Beidler Forest staff has installed a computer in the nature center to help visitors identify birds they have seen on the boardwalk or in their yard.

The Thayer birding software loaded on the computer contains 2,788 color photos and songs for 707 species. Visitors simply select the color, size, habitat, location or sound of their bird and the program will show them everything that matches their description.

"Do you know the name of that little brown bird?" could still be a challenge.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Water Quality

Today, quarterly macroinvertebrate samples and water samples were collected at the Francis Beidler Forest. The macroinvertebrate samples will be picked through this weekend and the collected organisms will be sent to Dr. John Morse, Clemson University, as part of his 29-year study. The following data is collected for the water samples: temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, hardness, turbidity, phosphates, nitates, and nitrites. The image shows the dissolved oxygen test in progress.

Both the macroinvertebrate inventory and the chemical water tests provide the staff at FBF with water quality information. The macroinvertebrate inventory provides qualitative results while the chemical testing provides quantitative results. Depending on the number and species of macroinvertebrates present, the staff can determine if the water quality is poor to excellent. Some species are very tolerant of pollution while other species are quite intolerant of pollution. Therefore, a large quantity of pollution-tolerant organisms in the absence of pollution-intolerant organisms would indicate poor water quality. Chemical testing of the water provides quanitative results such as today's Goodson Lake data: 7.0 degrees Celcius, 7.0 pH, and 10 mg/L dissolved oxygen. Obviously, if the water is too acidic or too basic, many organisms cannot survive. Aquatic organisms require oxygen, like terrestrial organisms, though they obtain the oxygen from the water instead of the air.

The water in the Francis Beidler Forest portion of Four Holes Swamp remains high-quality though E. coli is an issue in the upper reaches of the swamp near urban centers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Red-shouldered Hawk

Today, several Francis Beidler Forest staff members saw a Red-shouldered Hawk(Buteo lineatus) on the handrail of the ramp leading to the nature center, near the outdoor classroom and perched 10 feet above the parking area. These hawks prefer forests with an open understory, especially those near water or flooded like Four Holes Swamp. They will hunt from a perch (see image) and pounce on their prey, which include small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and crayfish.

Mating season for Red-shouldered Hawks is from late January to July. They make their nest in the crotch between a limb and the main trunk of a tree. The nest is constructed of sticks and twigs and lined with finer twigs, bark, evergreen sprigs, dried leaves, moss, or down. The chicks will hatch in 28 to 33 days and fledge after an additional 39 to 45 days.

A visitor reported seeing "two fluffy hawk chicks" sitting together on a branch west of the boardwalk on the way to Goodson Lake. Hopefully, we can verify that sighting. Possibly the warm winter weather encouraged the hawks to start their family early.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Office Space

As the staff and educational programming at the Francis Beidler Forest continue to grow, the space in the 1970s-era nature center has become increasingly constricted.

Today was moving day for the education director and the important bird area coordinator as the space previously occupied by one full-time staff member became the office of two full-time staff members. The image shows the new office space (mid-move) for the education director. It is literally a corner office with a view!

Tomorrow will be reorganization day with files in the cabinet and books on the yet-to-be-constructed shelves.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Canoe Trail

The canoe trail at the Francis Beidler Forest stretches two miles upstream from Mallard Lake to a point 300 meters east of the boardwalk at Goodson Lake. Scheduled guided tours are available Mar-May and other times of the year based on water levels, guide availability, and group size.

Although the cooler weather limits the animal sightings, we enjoyed a pleasant paddle through the virgin, old-growth forest. Today, we heard a Barred Owl (Strix varia), a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), saw seven Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta), an Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), and four Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) like those in the image.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Noisette Creek

Audubon South Carolina continues to work with The Noisette Company and its Michaux Conservancy to restore Noisette Creek. Noisette Creek is located at the northern end of the former Charleston Navy Yard (later Charleston Naval Base) and drains into the Cooper River a relatively small area in the "neck" of the Charleston Peninsula.

Various groups and agencies are involved in the actual restoration process. Audubon South Carolina is creating bird survey and water quality testing protocols to be used by students from the nearby Charleston Academic Magnet High School. By collecting information on bird populations and water quality prior to the restoration of the marshes within the Noisette Creek watershed, students and Audubon South Carolina will be creating a baseline with which to evaluate the effects of the restoration efforts.

Yesterday, during a 1.5-hour visit, Audubon staff identified 22 bird species, including Hooded Mergansers, a Brown Pelican, a Common Yellowthroat, adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, more than a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Anhingas, Belted Kingfishers, Pied-billed Grebes, and a variety of common backyard birds.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is February 16-19, 2007! The results for South Carolina in 2006 can be found here. There are numerous non-reporting areas in our state. We didn't make the Top 10 for number of checklists submitted, but we were #10 for total number of species reported. Join us in this Citizen Science opportunity and let's move South Carolina up the list!

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count web site.

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. A selection of images is posted in the online photo gallery.

In 2006, participants reported a record-breaking 7.5 million birds of 623 species. They submitted 60,616 checklists, just 433 shy of an all-time record for total checklists."--birdsource.org

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mystery Crayfish

The mystery was not what creature had previously been constructed of the parts, but what creature had deposited the parts onto the boardwalk. The collection of crayfish parts shown in the image was discovered on the boardwalk 50 meters from the nature center. Detective work is one of the enjoyable aspects of our work as naturalists.

Several animals eat crayfish here in the swamp including River Otters, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Raccoons, White Ibis, and Barred Owls. By looking at the pile of parts, it could be seen that the majority of the pieces were bound together as if they had been squeezed in the one's palm or constricted in an esophagus. The parts did not appear discolored (orange/pink) as one might expect if they had traveled through a digestive system or boiled in a pot. There were no signs in the crayfish parts of other fecal matter or the distinctive white material produced by a bird's urinary system. Therefore, it is unlikely that the pile of crayfish parts came from an otter, a heron, a raccoon, or an ibis as all these animals would pass the indigestible portions of their meals completely through their digestive system. As owls regurgitate the indigestible parts of their meals (hair, bones, scales, exoskeletons), we concluded that a Barred Owl (Strix varia) perched on the handrail (where there was a quantity of white bird waste) after consuming several crayfish and then relieved itself before flying off. The crayfish parts were still quite moist, so we did not miss seeing the owl by much.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bird Roadkill

We do not have any numbers regarding the number of animals killed along roads in and around Four Holes Swamp, but over the years it is obvious that roads are a deadly hazard to many of the species that reside in the swamp. The larger animals usually attract our attention as why drive by, but certainly smaller animals, including birds, suffer similarly when they make contact with a fast-moving vehicle.

On the drive from Summerville to the Francis Beidler Forest along U.S. Hwy 78, U.S. Hwy 178, Beidler Forest Rd., and Mimms Rd., we have seen deer, a bobcat, an otter, numerous Barred Owls, various snakes, raccoons, opossums, a coyote, a beaver, a turkey, rabbits, squirrels, turtles, hawks, domestic ducks, a and Gray Fox dead along the road. Today, we collected a dead Barred Owl along Beidler Forest Road and were able to salvage both talons and wings for use in our education program. We would much prefer to see the owl in the swamp while leading a group around the boardwalk.

Roads are not a natural part of the environment and can cause animal mortalities when they cross established migratory routes or fragment animal habitat. Unfortunately, roads can also be attractive to animals. The grassy right-of-ways along roads and under power lines that often parallel roads provide suitable food for a variety of rodents. Rodents are prey items for larger animals that can become fixated on their prospective meal and oblivious to vehicles approaching a great speed. Additionally, power line poles and trees at the edge of the right-of-ways provide excellent observation posts for birds of prey to survey the open areas along the road. Once they spot their prey and begin their attack glide, they will often cross the road at a height consistent with that of a passing vehicle.

More roads increase the fragmentation of habitat while increased traffic proportionally increases the number of animals killed by collisions with vehicles. In the short term, we can slow down and remain alert as we drive. However, in the future, if we hope to have sufficient habitat and animals living in that habitat, we will need to consider alternatives to more roads as a solution to increasing traffic.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lecture on Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Followup to the blog entry of 1/2/07:

On February 8th, the Charleston Audubon Society will host a lecture by Scott Simon, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas and co-leader of the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Longleaf Pine Planting

On December 21, 2006 (see blog entry), we burned a recently aquired tract of land in order to restore the native Longleaf Pine/Wiregrass forest. Yesterday, over 9,000 Longleaf Pine seedlings (see image) were planted on the same land.

The planting was accomplished by hand. Planters carried the seedlings in large sacks as they moved across the 30 acres. Using a hoedad (blade visible below the right bag in the image), planters made a hole in the soil, dropped in the seedling, closed the hole, took 13 steps and repeated the process over 9,000 times.

Images and GPS coordinates were taken at four locations around the tract. We will continue to take images at the same locations to record the transition of the land from its current state to a mature Longleaf Pine forest.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

We have received our fair share of phone calls detailing Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings ever since news reports of the Arkansas sightings. An article in last month's National Geographic (photo by Joel Sartore) describes this phenomenon and both sides of the debate regarding the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The article also describes other areas in the Southeast that are being searched, including the Congaree National Park and the Santee River below Lake Marion. Although Four Holes Swamp as a whole likely lacks sufficient dead and dying trees to provide adequate prey items for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the virgin, old-growth portion of the swamp protected by The Francis Beidler Forest is ideal (though undersized) habitat.

Wouldn't it be appropriate for a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers to set up home at the Audubon sanctuary in FBF?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mercury in Fish

Mercury in South Carolina fish is a problem. Audubon South Carolina has instituted a program to inform the local rural population regarding the dangers of mercury in fish consumed from Four Holes Swamp. Unfortunately, not everyone has yet to hear the news. Below is an excerpt from The Post and Courier on the subject of mercury in South Carolina waters.

friendly format sponsored by:The New Media Department of The Post and Courier SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2006 8:04 AM
Cash for credits creates mercury pollution loophole
The Post and Courier
Baseball cards. Gold. Mercury-tainted air. All of these have something in common, or will soon: They're commodities that can be bought, sold and traded sometimes for big bucks.Mercury pollution?In a controversial trading plan, South Carolina and other states plan to dish out special mercury emissions credits to power companies. Each credit will have its own serial number, just like a dollar bill, and each credit will represent an ounce of mercury pumped into the air.In South Carolina, these credits could be worth $40 million a year, maybe more.Welcome to the high-stakes world of emissions trading, where utilities buy and sell the right to pollute.Supporters, including the state's power companies, say these trading programs harness free-market forces to reduce pollution. They point to a trading plan for sulfur dioxide that helped lower emissions that cause acid rain. Largely because of that program's success, California and several other states are working on ambitious trading programs to curb carbon dioxide, a gas that many believe causes global warming.But mercury is different, critics say. They argue that it's wrong to buy and sell a potent neurotoxin that can cause birth defects and learning disabilities. They point out that the trading program applies only to coal-fired power plants not private factories and incinerators, which are among the worst mercury polluters in the state. And they question the program's fairness to communities around power plants, because mercury tends to fall near these plants rather than drift hundreds of miles away. "South Carolina can do better," said John Suttles, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in North Carolina. The debate over emissions trading is particularly important in South Carolina, which has mercury contamination on 1,683 miles of rivers and lakes, including many near Charleston. (continues here)