Saturday, April 28, 2007

Daniel Island Amazing Race

The Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest provided a pit stop for the Creative Spark Center for the Arts' Amazing Race. The event was a treasure hunt on bicycles and Daniel Island’s bike trails were the setting.

Contestants began at Blackbaud Stadium and rode from location to location doing tasks and getting clues. The Beidler Forest stop was at a narrow beach along the Wando River overlooking the I-526 bridge. The task was identifying bird songs. Eight Audubon singing birds were wrapped in plastic. Contestants needed to correctly identify five of the eight bird songs. Contestants would squeeze the bird and listen to the song. A list of more than eight songs (written as mnemonics) was provided to aid in the identification. Pete Schwantes, one of the seasonal naturalists at Beidler Forest, was on hand to check the answers and verify that the task was successfully completed.

It was another gorgeous day in the Lowcountry and hopefully a few more people became excited about our resident bird populations! If you're interested in seeing and hearing colorful songbirds in their natural environment, now is a wonderful time to visit the swamp! Yesterday, visitors were treated to Prothonotary Warblers building their nests in Bald Cypress knees.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lockett and Fennell

Fourth graders from Lockett Elementary (Orangeburg 4) and 3rd graders from Fennell Elementary (Hampton 1) visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. The day was overcast but that did not inhibit the wildlife. Both groups saw a variety of animals.

The Prothonotary Warblers were bright and singing loudly along with other songbirds declaring their territory. Raccoons were seen peeking from a hollow log, a deer moved quietly under the boardwalk, and Barred Owls were observed catching and consuming crayfish. All five species of snakes in the swamp (Eastern Cottonmouth, Greenish Rat Snake, Red-bellied Water Snake, Banded Water Snake, and Brown Water Snake) were seen along with a Southern Copperhead that was swimming near the edge of the swamp. Numerous Eastern Mud Turtles were seen swimming while a large Yellow-bellied Slider was spotted basking on a log.

However, nothing could trump the excitement of a large Greenish Rat Snake (see image) that had ventured too far out onto a dead limb. The 3-foot snake fell approximately 15 feet and landed at the feet of the group as it stood on the platform at Goodson Lake. There was little doubt that the young snake was embarrassed by its unannounced "drop in." After the initial surprise, the group regain its composure and watched as the snake made its way up to the top of the handrail and explore its options for getting back into the trees. There was no additional charge for the show and excitement.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eastern Hognose

The Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) in the image was crossing the driveway at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. As our sign along the driveway states, "Please brake for turtles and snakes." From the Georgia Wildlife Web: Scientific name: The genus name is from the Greek words hetero (different) and odon (tooth), a reference to the different sized teeth in this genus. The species name is derived from the Greek words platys (broad or flat) and rhinos (snout or nose), which refers to the flattened scale at the tip of the snout.

Hognose snakes dine primarily on amphibians, especially toads. Obviously, toads would prefer that they not be eaten, so they will inhale air and puff up themselves. The Eastern Hognose will clamp down on the toad and use its rear teeth to deflate the toad and swallow it whole.

If the Eastern Hognose feels threatened, it will flip over with its mouth agape and play dead. Most animals in the wild will pass on a meal if it is already dead, since they lack a vulture's ability to eat rancid meat. If you were to flip over the 'possum-playing snake, it would flip itself back into the "dead" position.

These snakes have good reason to fear humans. Although they eat toads, they also imitate venomous snakes as part of their defensive acting repertoire prior to playing dead. By hissing and flattening out their head and neck, they pose as deadly snakes and have earned nicknames such as "puff adder", "hissing sand snake", "spreading adder", "false cobra", and "death adder". This is unfortunate, because it illicits a fatal response from many humans despite the fact that this species seldom if ever bites, even when handled.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quarterly Macroinvertebrate Inventory

It is time again to test the water quality, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in Four Holes Swamp at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Once a quarter, water samples are taken at various locations within the swamp along with macroinvertebrate samples from the bottom. The water samples are tested chemically (quantitative results) for dissolved oxygen, phosphates, nitrates, pH, and hardness. The macroinvertebrates are inventoried and the water quality is determined (qualitative results) based on the percentage of pollution-intolerant species versus the percentage of pollution-tolerant species.

It is ALWAYS enjoyable to get out of the office and into the swamp, even if only to collect water and macroinvertebrate samples. However, once back in the office, the act of picking the organisms from the sample tray can literally be a pain in the neck. In order to obtain accurate data, it is necessary to remove as many organisms as possible from the sample. This takes hours of peering into the sample tray, which causes pain in the neck and shoulders. Eyes get tired of staring at the sample that has long ago been picked clean of the larger organisms...or so one might think. An inch-long dragonfly nymph appearing after a sample has been picked over for two hours demonstrates nature's wonderful ability to camouflage and can crush the confidence in one's observation capabilities.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Knightsville Elementary 2nd Graders

Over three days last week, the entire second grade from Knightsville Elementary school visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Students began their experience with an activity that focused on one of their science standards:

2-2.2 Classify animals (including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects) according to their physical characteristics.

Each student received an image of a plant or animal. Once every student had their image, the class was asked to group themselves as they saw fit. It was possible to group the class by predator/prey relationships, by color, by size, but the classes quickly arranged themselves in groups of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects and plants. As the base of each food chain and a critical component of the food web, plants were included.

Once the students had arranged themselves, they were asked, "What would happen if all the plants were removed?" (Animals that eat plants would die followed by animals that eat animals for survival.) They were asked, "What if we hate snakes and only remove the snakes?" (Animals that eat snakes might have smaller populations while animals that are eaten by snakes might have larger populations. Since some of the animals in the increasing populations eat plants, there would be fewer plants resulting in the situation posed in the first question.) The second graders had ALL the answers!

The image shows a Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) that was on a Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor) frond alongside the upland boardwalk as the students walked back to the nature center. This frog remained in the same position over the next four days. In fact, it may still be there.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wine & Warblers

Perfect weather, fresh water in the swamp, delicious food and wine, and people excited to see birds in a virgin, old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp made for a highly successful Wine & Warblers 2007!

Participants had something to eat and drink before heading out onto the 1.75-mile boardwalk with an expert birding guide. Along the way, guests saw warblers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Barred Owls, various snakes and even an otter! To ensure nobody became faint from a lack of sustinence, stations with wine and food were positioned around the boardwalk. Upon their return to the nature center, guests were treated to coffee and desserts and had an opportunity to compare notes with other groups. All this for only $35 and it all goes to support bird and habitat protection at the Francis Beidler Forest.

Mark you calendars now for Wine & Warblers 2008.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Canoes and Tourism

Yesterday, middle school students from St. Anne's Catholic School in Rock Hill, SC paddled the canoe trail through the virgin, old-growth forest of the Francis Beidler Forest. The weather was clear and warm with a slight breeze. The students saw a flock of White Ibis, Prothonotary Warblers, numerous Brown Water Snakes, and Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Surprisingly, though nobody fell in, many students were soaking wet.

Today, the Tourism Council for the Greater Summerville-Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce held their monthly meeting at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Those in attendance were encouraged to take a guided walk around the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the virgin, old-growth swamp. As the meeting began, a flock of 75+ White Ibis and several Great Egrets were slowly wading with the current and feeding along the edge of the swamp. The contrast of the bright white birds against the blackwater was spectacular! A chorus of Barred Owls signaled their agreement to that thought.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Teachers in the Field

Yesterday, nine South Carolina teachers participated in the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's (SCGA) Teachers in the Field program at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.

The teachers spent two hours paddling on the canoe trail through the virgin, old-growth cypress-tupelo swamp and two hours walking the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the same virgin, old-growth swamp. While touring the boardwalk, teachers used Global Positioning System (GPS) units to navigate to various waypoints. At the waypoints, teachers discovered hidden containers with information or used objects in the environment (mainly signs) to obtain digits for the coordinates of a hidden container holding a collection of Francis Beidler Forest goodies. Additionally, the teachers received a packet of materials demonstrating how GPS can be incorporated into the classroom.

Between the canoe trail and the boardwalk, teachers saw several alligators, 8 wood ducklings, several flocks of White Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Prothonotary Warblers, Brown Water Snakes, Eastern Cottonmouths, Red-bellied Water Snakes, Green Treefrogs, Great Egrets, Belted Kingfishers, and the Gray Treefrog shown relaxing in the image.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tri-county Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Tri-county Regional Chamber of Commerce held their monthly Business After Hours meeting at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Participants enjoyed socializing around the food and beverage tables and while walking along the 1.75-mile boardwalk that winds through the virgin, old-growth cypress-tupelo swamp.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Beech Hill Elementary

First graders from Beech Hill Elementary visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest and the rest of their classmates will visit over the next two days. Although the day began with a light rain and remained overcast, students saw Eastern Cottonmouths, Great Egrets (see images), Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-bellied Sliders, Prothonotary Warblers, Barred Owls, and the alligator.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More CAMHS and Noisette Creek

The staff of the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest met at Noisette Creek with some juniors from the Charleston Academic Magnet High School (CAMHS). The students have expressed a desire to help gather baseline data for the revitalization of Noisette Creek (see yesterday's log) and will be the core of next year's group.

The image shows Mike Dawson demonstrating the turbidity tube with Sechi-disk markings at the bottom, which is used to measure the turbidity (water clarity; how far light can penetrate) of the water.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Charleston Academic Magnet School at Noisette Creek

The staff of the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest met at Noisette Creek with some seniors from the Charleston Academic Magnet High School (CAMHS). The students have expressed a desire to help gather baseline data for the revitalization of Noisette Creek. Students from CAMHS will be collecting and testing water samples from three sites along Noisette Creek and collecting bird data at two sites along the creek. This data will be compared to data collected after the revitalization of Noisette Creek to determine if the revitalization efforts have had a positive impact.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Carolina Herp Atlas

The staff at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest has started submitting their reptile and amphibian sightings to the Carolina Herp Atlas.

"The Carolina Herp Atlas is a project developed by the Davidson College Herpetology Laboratory and Davidson College Information Technology Services. The primary objective of the Carolina Herp Atlas is to provide detailed data on the distribution of reptiles and amphibians of North and South Carolina."

The alligator at Goodson Lake has been basking in the sunshine this week and had its picture posted on the Carolina Herp Atlas. The first image shows the alligator as seen from the platform at Goodson Lake, while the second image shows the "zoomed in " shot of the alligator.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wine & Warblers

WINE & WARBLERS will be held on April 21, 2007 at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Walks begin at 5:30 p.m. and every 20 minutes thereafter until 6:50 p.m.

Join expert birdwatchers for an evening on the boardwalk and explore the wide variety of songbirds that travel to Beidler Forest each spring. Enjoy hors d'oeuvres and wine tastings as you explore the ancient swamp forest.

Proceeds benefit Audubon South Carolina. The cost is $35.00 per person and reservations and advance payment are required.

Please make reservations for your time slot by calling (843) 462-2150.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fort Jackson Important Bird Area

Audubon South Carolina announces the recognition of Ft. Jackson Military Reservation as an Important Bird Area for South Carolina. Audubon, in partnership with BirdLife International, is charged with the identification and designation of critical bird habitats in the United States. Audubon also maintains a WatchList of bird species that are experiencing population declines, which is usually due to habitat destruction.

Fort Jackson Military Reservation received the IBA designation primarily due to its management of thirty groups of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a federally endangered species. The site is also important for such WatchList species as the Bachman’s Sparrow, Southeastern Kestrel, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Prairie Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Wood Thrush, and Loggerhead Shrike, all of which breed at Ft. Jackson.

IBAs are identified by an analysis of bird populations and habitats and then approved by a Technical Committee made up of leading state bird experts. IBAs generally have a large concentration of birds, a wide diversity of bird species, or harbor rare or endangered species. Some state IBAs may also qualify as globally significant IBAs.

Although the IBA designation carries no protection, Audubon seeks to work cooperatively with landowners to monitor, protect and improve these habitats. The program complements and enhances other natural heritage protection efforts.

“As a voluntary program, the IBA recognition is meant to inspire rather than require,” noted Norman Brunswig, Audubon South Carolina’s Executive Director. “We seek to inspire greater appreciation and more sensitive management of priority landscapes, and to create partnerships that work toward expanded protections and community stewardship.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

2007 Audubon Nature Photography Contest

The Carolinas' Nature Photographers Association is co-sponsoring the 2007 Audubon Nature Photography Contest. The contest runs from March 15 to August 15, 2007 for images taken at either the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest or at the Audubon Center at Silver Bluff.

The contest is open to amateur and professional photographers with prizes awarded in two categories (plant life/landscapes and wildlife) plus overall best image.

Complete rules can be found here and entry forms can be downloaded here.