Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Birds of Interest

Jeff Mollenhauer, Director or Bird Conservation, noted today:

Two sightings of interest today at Beidler Forest Audubon Sanctuary near Harleyville, SC. A Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) was observed for about 10 minutes feeding on dogwood berries behind the visitor center this afternoon. The late date for GCTH is listed as Nov. 2 in “Status & Distribution of South Carolina Birds”. Interestingly about 10 days ago, we had a GCTH fly into the window of the visitor center. It was a little stunned and wobbly for about 5 minutes, but eventually recovered and flew away. I’m wondering if the GCTH we saw today is the same one that hit our window.

An American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) has been seen repeatedly at the base of the Chestnut Oak sign near #2 on the boardwalk. This is a great opportunity for those who are hoping to photograph or get a good close-up, day time look at a Woodcock. The bird usually sits completely motionless in the leaves within 5 feet from the boardwalk. It is amazing how well-camouflaged these birds are in this environment! You really have to do a thorough search before you can find it. I saw the Woodcock in this area on 9/24, 10/29, and 10/31. I am pretty confident that it is often in the area, but usually overlooked because of its ability to blend in with the leaves. Also observed today were good numbers of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Phoebes, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, and a couple Hermit Thrushes. For more information about Beidler Forest Audubon Sanctuary (including directions and hours of operation) please visit

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mercury in SC Fish

The special report "The Mercury Connection" that appeared in today's The Post and Courier was no surprise to the staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, especially the fact that all the fish pictured as mercury-tainted and not safe to eat carried a caption noting "especially" in Four Holes Swamp. In fact, we've conducted a program to inform the men and women that fish in Four Holes Swamp about the dangers of mercury-tainted fish and noted the subject on our blog in January.

The coal-burning power plants in our region contribute greenhouse gases that cannot help cool an atmosphere that is undoubtedly warming by whatever means, natural or human-induced. Additionally, the coal-burning power plants are introducing high levels of mercury into our environment. The desire to build additional coal-burning power plants in our state is driven by the increasing demand for electricity.

As citizens of South Carolina and stewards of our environment, we need to acknowledge our part in this issue and take ACTION to reduce our negative role. There is no shortage of webpages or resources, both governmental and private, that provide information to help consumers reduce their energy consumption. Many of the common-sense suggestions can be easily and painlessly instituted. Additionally, citizens need to contact their local, state and federal representatives as well as their power provider and demand that technological upgrades be applied to reduce the harmful emissions from coal-burning plants. These demands should be made with the understanding that the upgrades will come at a cost to the consumer. However, any increase in the cost of electricity per household can be offset by a reduction in consumption and we all benefit! Even inaction has a cost (poisoned waterways, poisoned fish, poisoned family members, increased health care, etc.) and it is infinitely less pleasant than a few pennies per kilowatt/hour.

Friday, October 26, 2007


There were not any caterpillars out today unless they were SCUBA qualified. As happened last year (see the entry), rain appeared (yes, we're in a drought) on the first day of Boo in the Swamp and washed it out. Tomorrow, the promised sunshine should return and all will be spooky in the swamp!

Earlier this week, visiting students spotted a variety of caterpillars. This was a big deal for us, because we haven't seen many caterpillars this year. Normally, the outbreak of Eastern Tent Caterpillars defoliate large sections of the swamp and rain frass down on unsuspecting students and visitors. Frass is the scientific word for poop and caterpillars manufacture large quantities of the tiny, black pellets. However, this year we had a late frost just as the 1-inch caterpillars were making their initial assault. Since that frost, caterpillars have scarcely been seen.

The caterpillars shown are: the Purple-crested Slug (Adoneta spinuloides), which is the small green, slug-like caterpillar; Red-humped Oakworm (Symmerista canicosta), which has the red humps; the Pale Tussock Moth (Halysidota tessellaris), which has the black tussocks (hair-like projections); and the yet-to-be-identified orange caterpillar, which appears to be a type of dagger moth. Soon these caterpillars will create a cocoon (or a chrysalis if they are a butterfly) and overwinter in anticipation of their metamorphosis to a flying adult in the spring.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

GLOBE Training

On October 30th, Audubon at Francis Beidler will become a U.S. GLOBE partner and Director of Education, Mark Musselman will become a certified GLOBE trainer. The GLOBE Program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based education and science program that unites students, teachers, and scientists from around the world in study and research about the dynamics of Earth’s environment. Over a million GLOBE students in more than 19,000 schools located in over 100 countries are taking important environmental measurements, using their data in their own research and also making it available to scientists around the world. Over 16 million student measurements are recorded on the GLOBE Web site!

The goals of the GLOBE program are:

• To enhance the environmental awareness of individuals worldwide.
• To increase scientific understanding of the Earth.
• To improve student achievement in science and mathematics.

Many of the GLOBE measurement are part of ongoing scientific investigations selected through the National Science Foundation’s peer review process. Scientists have developed measurement protocols and instrument specifications to ensure that the data collected by the students are accurate and consistent. Investigation areas in which students collect data are: atmosphere and phenology, hydrology, land cover/biology, and soil. Students use global positioning system (GPS) receivers to accurately locate all sites where they collect data. There are several measurements conducted under each investigative area. Many scientists and their teams continue to review GLOBE data reports in the archive for use in their research as well as for quality control purposes.

GLOBE is an interagency program funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), supported by the U.S. Department of State.

As a U.S. GLOBE Partner, Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest will recruit teachers into the program, provide training for these teachers so that they may teach students to carry out GLOBE investigations and data collection in a consistent and accurate manner agreed upon by the international environmental science community, and help provide teachers and their schools the support and guidance they need to ensure the sustainability and growth of the program in the years to come.

We will do this by implementing GLOBE protocols during school field trips to Beidler Forest, during summer camps, and during teacher-training workshops hosted here in the swamp.

For more information on the GLOBE Program go to

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Boo in the Swamp!

The weather looks like it will be anything but scary this year. The forecast has it dry and cool (but not cold) both Friday and Saturday nights. Even if the temperature drops below the forcasted 60F, there will be hot coffee and cocoa along with hotdogs and a bonfire for warming toes and melting Smores!


Walks begin every 15 mins. from 7 – 9 pm

Cost - $10/adult, $6/child (6-18)

Get BOO’D on the boardwalk leading deep into Four Holes Swamp, while learning what it’s like to be a swamp critter living in the dark of night.

Reptile DEMO* Weenie roast/S’mores * Gift Shopping while you wait.

Space is limited, so please…
CALL TO REGISTER!! 843-462-2150

Friday, October 19, 2007

How Well Do You Know Your Red Fruit?

Although wildlife can eat all the red fruit shown in the images, humans should heed the "red means stop" warning! See if you can match the plant description with the image before you peek at the answer shown at the end of this entry.

A. Flowering Dogwood (Cronus florida) is a fast-growing, short-live tree whose white petal-like bracts contrast the many colors of the non-native azaleas blooming around town in the spring. According to Richard Porcher's Wildflowers of the Lowcountry and Lower Pee Dee, "The berries are an important source of food for wildlife but are poisonous to humans. The hardness of its wood makes it excellent for shuttles in the textile industry; also used for mauls, mallets, wedges and pulleys. The powdered bark of the dogwood was one of the most important sources of drug during the Civil War. The drug was used as a substitute for quinine that became unavailable due to the blockade by Union forces. The twigs of the dogwood have been used as chewsticks to clean teeth."

B. Mock or Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica) is a low, trailing, perennial herb whose fruit is not harmful to humans but is tasteless. It is not a true strawberry and "according to some sources (e.g., Strausbaugh and Core, 1977) this species was introduced from India." (Porcher)

C. Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) is a low, trailing perennial whose berries are edible though bland. "Native American women made a tea from the leaves as an aid in childbirth." (Porcher)

D. Strawberry Bush or Heart's-a-bustin (Euonymus americanus) is common throughout South Carolina and found in a variety of forests. "The seeds are a strong laxative, and the fruits are toxic, causing coma if consumed in sufficient quantity." (Porcher)

Answers: A3, B, C2, D1

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Trashy Attitude

What is it about some middle school children that compels them to throw their nametag into a hollow stump as James did, or write their name on the sink cover like Miss Green did, or carve their name into the boardwalk like Lulu did, or transfer wrappers from their candy directly to the swamp?

We don't have any answers...only questions. However, when you work at a place like this, it is difficult to win the sympathy of others when trashy individuals do not respect or appreciate the uniqueness of this unmolested, old-growth swamp. We can always take a walk beneath its canopy, enjoy the peace, and wonder at the diversity of life within reach of the boardwalk.

Today's example deals with trash too. This decomposer is Laetiporus sulphureus, which is edible, also goes by the name "Chicken of the Woods." We assume it tastes like chicken. The cooked young rosettes or the white margins of older specimens apparently have a mild taste and a texture like cooked chicken. Again, we'll defer to the experts as we enjoy the livers with which we were born.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Copperhead Cuisine

The 4th graders from Northside Baptist Church School had a treat today. They observed a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) dining on some hapless prey. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the prey until it was nearly consumed, but it appears to be a large caterpillar from the family Nymphalidae based on the light-green spines and numerous setae (hair-like projections). The orange area may be the head of the caterpillar. Large insects, especially cicadas, are part of the Copperhead's diet as are mice, small birds, lizards, snakes and amphibians. Feel free to email us if you can identify the Copperhead cuisine.

The last two images show the Copperhead's incredible camouflage. The head is obvious as the snake chokes down its hairy, dry meal, but the remainder of the snake disappears into the leaf litter. Copperheads are pit vipers and use the heat-sensing pits in front of their eyes to locate potential meals. The snakes are venomous (not poisonous) using fangs that fold up against the roof of their mouths to inject venom into their prey. Younger Copperheads, like Cottonmouths, have a yellow-green tail that they wiggle as a lure to bring their next meal within striking distance.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Old Cypress

Last week, a class of students from Eastern Kentucky University visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest to study the trees in the cypress/tupleo forest. The image shows Erin Reno, seasonal naturalist, standing next to a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), which is listed as the second oldest Bald Cypress in eastern North America. The tree has been cored showing it to be 1246 years old, but as with many trees in the swamp, this tree is hollow. Extrapolating for the hollow inches, we estimate the tree to be over 1500 years old.

The list of the oldest trees in eastern North America can be found here. The list of the oldest Bald Cypress trees can be found here. Although the University of Arkansas Tree-ring Lab data only shows the oldest trees for each site, we have the notes taken during the actual coring at the Francis Beidler Forest. There are several trees directly off the boardwalk that are over 1000 years old.

Old-growth...there's nothing better!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fungus Amongus

At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we know our birds. The National Audubon Society was formed to help protect birds. With help from various experts we also have a good idea what plants (Dr. Richard Porcher), reptiles/amphibians (Dr. Julian Harrison) and mammals we have within the sanctuary. However, we lack comprehensive knowledge regarding the resident insects and fungi.

With the help of the current seasonal naturalists, we intend to catalog all the fungi that we can find. It will take some work because there is a whole lot of fungus amongus! We're thankful for the fungi because without it we would be buried beneath leaves, limbs, trees, and other organic material that accumulates daily on the forest floor. Fungi are part of the decomposer army that helps recycle nutrients back into the forest food web.

The images show a sample of the cataloging effort. The "toadstool" shows a Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) next to the edible Russula xerampelina, which seems to be a favorite food for rodents, including squirrels. The blue fungi is Milky Indigo (Lactarius indigo), which is also listed as edible. Note to staff: Send memo to George Carlin regarding his statement that there is no blue food.
We would need the help of an expert mycologist with double five-star qualifications before we dine on any swamp fungus. The final specimen would never tempt us, but it sure attracted a crowd of insects. It smelled like a cross between a rotting carcass and something worse. We haven't identified it yet, but we quickly came up with several unprintable common name suggestions.

Photos by: Nicomas Dollar Red Horse

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wetlands Reserve Program Dedication

On a cool, sunny day conjured in the dreams of any event planner, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Arlen Lancaster (left) and National Audubon Society Chief Operating Officer Robert Perciasepe (right) joined other conservation-minded guest at the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) dedication at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.

The WRP easement will restore and permanently protect over 6,000 acres in the forest thereby adding an additional layer of protection to the Audubon property. The WRP plan will restore the natural hydrology to original pre-development conditions, before the construction of logging roads altered it. The large high-fill roads altered the hydrology by forming what amounted to dikes across sections of the floodplain. These roads were constructed to get at the valuable cypress trees deep in the swamp and were formed by piling up the spoil collected from the swamp floor alongside the road's path. Alligators now use those road-side, water-holding depressions when water is scarce elsewhere in the swamp.

The WRP restoration plan includes breaking through the old logging roads to restore the natural flow. Fords will be constructed in these breaks to allow vehicles to continue using the road as part of normal sanctuary operations, but water will be able to pass nearly unimpeded towards the Edisto River. Norman L. Brunswig, Executive Director of Audubon South Carolina, remarked, “The WRP is enabling NRCS and Audubon to repair the only significant hydrologic defects in the main body of the Francis Beidler Forest. It is a great day for conservation in South Carolina.”

After the dedication ceremony and remarks by Arlen Lancaster, Bob Perciasepe, and Norman Brunswig at the Meeting Tree, the Audubon South Carolina staff and guests retired to the outdoor classroom for a catered lunch of Lowcountry barbecue. We are happy to report that nobody left hungry and there was even some left over for lunch tomorrow! Another perk of working if we needed something beyond what is outside our office windows! But wait...there's more.

After lunch, guests followed Stephen Schabel, education director at the International Center for Birds of Prey, to Mallard Lake for the release of a rehabilitated Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The injured bird arrived at the center on or about the same day as the initial conversations began for the WRP easement. Arlen Lancaster accepted the opportunity to release the Osprey, which quickly gained altitude and headed east over Mallard Lake and out of view.

In his remarks, Arlen Lancaster stated that he thought of his children coming to the Francis Beidler Forest and standing under the same Meeting Tree (a cypress tree around which the boardwalk wraps) knowing that he helped protect the spot and its surroundings. In fact, Mr. Lancaster's great-great-grandchildren will have the same opportunity to visit and be awed by the virgin, old-growth forest that is the Francis Beidler Forest. There is no need to wait to have children or grandchildren, you can visit us any day except Monday!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Raising the Roof

On Saturday, staff from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and volunteers from Audubon chapters in the state joined to raise the roof on the outdoor shelter at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve near St. Matthews.

With the poles already in the ground and bolted together during previous visits, the mission of the day was to get as much of the roof installed. As the 11-hour timeline of images below shows, that involved cutting the poles to size, hoisting and securing the nine trusses, attaching the plywood roof, attaching the tar paper, and scheduling the shingle installation (ran out of daylight) for this Wednesday.

8:25 am - workers and supplies arrive; poles already in ground

9:10 am - 3 trusses (ends & middle) hung upsidedown; (l to r) Dick Watkins in orange hat, Collis Boyd on ladder, Mike Dawson near ladder, Dan Tufford [Pres. of Columbia Audubon], Steve Dennis, Nick Dawson, and Ted on blue ladder; Alice pruning around driveway and parking area.

12:45 pm - 3 trusses upright

2:55 pm - 9 trusses upright

5:40 pm - plywood roof almost complete; tar paper on one side

6:20 pm - roof complete along with drip edge

6:45 pm - tar paper being completed on second side

7:30 pm - the final four workers heading home to Summerville

Friday, October 05, 2007

Citadel Night-ops in the Swamp

Last night, Dr. John Zardus, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology at The Citadel, brought some of his biology students to the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest to capture invertebrates (without backbones). Although we have extensive lists for the plants, birds, mammals, herps, and aquatic macroinvertebrates living at Beidler Forest, we do not have a comprehsive list of the invertebrates that call the swamp their home. Why should we care?

From E. O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life (p. 210), "Entomologists are often asked whether insects will take over if the human race extinguishes itself. This is an example of a wrong question inviting an irrelevant answer: insects have already taken over." Wilson explains further, "Today about a billion billion insects are alive at any given time around the world. At nearest order of magnitude, this amounts to a trillion kiograms of living matter, somewhat more than the weight of humanity. Their species, most of which lack a scientific name, number into the millions." Finally (p. 211), "Insects can thrive without us, but we and most other land orgainisms would perish without them." Of all the known living organisms, insects make up over half of the total, while consisting of almost 75% of the animals known to science.

The setup used by Dr. Zardus and his students consisted of a bright mercury-vapor lamp in conjunction with a ultraviolet flourescent tube to attract the insects, which could then be captured using a net or picked off the white sheet hung between two trees.
Additionally, students used flashlights to hunt for other invertebrates (spiders, slugs, snail, millipedes) as we walked around the boardwalk allowing time for the light/sheet setup to attract other specimens.

During the walk, we encountered some vertebrates also. A sharp-eyed cadet spotted a 10"-long juvenile Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) on a tree near the boardwalk. Later, a 3'-foot Greenish Rat Snake was spotted along one of the boardwalk midrails. As darkness fell, a Barred Owl's (Strix varia) call reverberated through the swamp as we approached its perch 20 feet up a Tupelo Gum (Nyssa aquatica).

Thursday, October 04, 2007


The Swamp Shop at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has Webkins in stock. If you have never heard of Webkinz – where have you been? Webkinz combine the fun of stuffed animals with the interactivity of the internet – kids can enter a virtual world whey they feed and care for their new pet. They can dress them up, take them to the vet, make movies with them, design their own room, and enter tournaments and do trivia quizzes to earn money to “buy” food and treats.

Each animal comes with its own secret code for registering on-line. They only cost $12.00 each, and there is no charge for registering on line. We have in stock three different frogs, the black bear, and Googles – no one knows exactly what Googles is but he/she is cute!

Webkins are educational, fun and challenging and Webkinz World is a highly interactive, safe and secure site. Kids learn how to care for a pet, simple money management, and new ways to use their imaginations!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Swamp Aphrodisiac

Rainy days in the swamp tend to be slow since, for most people, slogging around the boardwalk does not typically jump to the top of the list of "Things I Need to do While Soaking Wet!" However, rainy days provide the staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest with time to catch up on work, including cataloging images that have been parked in folders with glamorous names such as '06_04_26_01. Yes, that translates to April 26, 2006!

While searching through the aforementioned folder for images to use in a Master Naturalist course, we came across images of insects visiting the blossoms on a Swamp Dogwood (Cornus stricta) to go along with the images we had of insects visiting the blossoms on a Button-bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) from earlier this year. The blossoms of both plants appear to be irresistible to a variety of insects. During the few minutes that we were by the Button-bush, at least three different insect species (see images) visited the blossoms. Apparently, the Swamp Dogwood blossoms smell even sweeter as two species of beetles, including a pair from the Hairy Flower Scarabs ( Genus: Trichiotinus), took the opportunity to mate. If you look closely at the image with the single large beetle, you can see at least five other insects on the blossom.