Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Who is that in the chimney?

Spring is certainly on the way when the Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) return with a chorus of song in our chimney. A chimney provides a vertical surface sheltered from the weather just as a hollow tree, which is the bird's natural nesting site. However, as forests are cleared or intensively managed, hollow trees are eliminated or never occur. Therefore, chimneys became an attractive alternative. Today, many chimneys are being capped to prevent animals, such as chimney swifts which can arrive by the hundreds, from entering. As a result, artificial hollow tree-like structures are being constructed and placed outdoors to provide the swifts with suitable nesting sites.

This morning, however, it was not the sound of a swift that echoed from the chimney. The unmistakable "Who, who, who cooks for y'all?" was the call of a trapped Barred Owl (Strix varia). The owl was in the chimney at least two days. Earlier rustling sounds had been dismissed as early-arriving Chimney Swifts. Upon opening the flue, the Barred Owl identification was confirmed. The flue was left open along with the front door. After several minutes, the owl dropped through the flue in a cloud of soot like a tardy Santa Claus. The bird perched on the fire screen and surveyed the possibilities for returning to the natural world. After a few changes in location (lamp, bookshelf, couch, mantle) and a slow-speed collision with a window, the owl made its escape through an open window.

After a humiliating two days in a dark, sooty chimney and a collision with what must have seemed like "hard air", the owl was immediately and loudly set upon by Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice and other anxious backyard birds.
Mark Musselman, education director

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hilton Head Island

On February 22 , the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society met at Fish Haul Creek Park to present HHI Mayor Tom Peeples with a check for Audubon's contribution to the cost of the beautifully-done and sturdy interpretive signage by Todd Ballantine. Some 30-40 members and guests watched the ceremonies on a beautiful winter morning with appropriate comments by President Howard Costa, Clem Dietze and Mayor Tom Peeples about the town park and the new signs.

The presentation was followed by a bird walk to view the new signs and of course, look for birds. We birded the park's wooded areas and then on to the Port Royal Sound's mud flats at Fish Haul Creek. We concluded our trip with a visit to the nearby new Michelville Beach Park dedicated just last month.

The group found a total of 44 species of birds. The bird of the day was a Prairie Warbler, not usually seen here until later in the spring when it migrates here for the summer.

Other good birds seen by the group included: American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Forster's Tern, Bonaparte's & Herring Gulls, Clapper Rail (heard), Black Bellied Plover, Rudy Turnstone, Red-shouldered Hawk, White Ibis, Willet, Fish Crow, Boat-tailed Grackle, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Tree Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker and the common Rooster (heard) plus other common species.

It was a very good outing enjoyed by all.

Good Birding,
Jack C.

Friday, February 23, 2007


After a day for the ducks, yesterday was a day for canoeing. Paddling upstream from Mallard Lake, Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) slid into the water from their sunny perches on logs. Later, a Brown Water Snake(Nerodia taxispilota) and a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) were seen taking advantage of the plentiful sun. In the next few weeks, the canoe trail will be inundated with the songs and colors of neotropical songbirds returning from their wintering grounds in Central and South America to breed in Four Holes Swamp. As the canoe trip ended back at Mallard Lake, a 6-foot Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) slid off the bank and eyed the canoe flotilla from its nearly submerged position in the water.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Great Day for Ducks!

The weather has warmed considerably from this weekend, but the warmer weather has been accompanied by rain. Rainy weather reduces the number of visitors that venture out to the swamp, but it has drawn some animals closer to the nature center.

The images show a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) and a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) that appeared outside the windows of the nature center this morning. The Timber Rattlesnake was coiled atop a three-foot stump having apparently listened, like us, to the same fictitious forecast for sunny weather. The hawk appeared to have spotted some prey that eluded it under the boardwalk or building.

Since the time the images were taken, it has only rained harder. The snake has retreated into the stump as if to say, "It's a great day for ducks, but nothing else!"

Conservation Lobby Day

Yesterday, several members of the Francis Beidler Forest staff traveled to Columbia to discuss with their representatives and senators various issues of concern for the conservation community.

On the agenda were the continuation of funding for the Conservation Bank, the Atlantic Compact (H.3545) dealing with the Barnwell nuclear waste repository, Green Buildings (H3034), and the Priority Investment Act (S.266). Sen. Randy Scott and Rep. Patsy Knight were able to come out of their respective chambers and discuss the issues with the Beidler Forest staff.

GPS and Field Experiences

On February 16th, Mark Musselman made a Global Positioning Systems (GPS) presentation to the middle school social studies teachers of Anderson School District Five at T. L. Hanna High School in Anderson, SC. The professional development workshop dealt with using GPS technology in the classroom and provided an opportunity for the teachers to become familiar with the technology. Of the 28 teachers in attendance, 25 stated that they had never used the technology.

The image shows the practice course that was set up north of T. L. Hanna High School. Teachers began at any of the stations shown in the image. There they rolled a die and loaded from a list at that station the coordinates associated with that number. A teacher then navigated to the coordinates that they loaded to the GPS unit. At the destination, another teacher repeated the process until each teacher felt comfortable with loading coordinates and navigating to a point. The campus practice course and the downtown field trip example were both set up from the Francis Beidler Forest office in Four Holes Swamp using Google Earth. Examples were also given regarding the use of GPS technology at sites such as the Francis Beidler Forest.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Great Backyard Bird Count

Don't forget! The Great Backyard Bird Count begins tomorrow! Check out their webpage for all the details. Join us by participating in this Citizen Science opportunity!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kiwanis of Summerville

Mark Musselman, education director at the Francis Beidler Forest, made a presentation at the Kiwanis of Summerville breakfast. The various holdings of Audubon South Carolina were described followed by the specific educational programming, flora, and fauna at the Francis Beidler Forest.

Beginning next month, the neotropical migratory songbirds will be returning from their winter ranges in Central and South America. It's a great time to come for a visit! However, birds are not the only organisms to migrate. The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) also makes the journey to and from Central America. The image shows a male stopping for a meal on goldenrod growing at the end of the driveway.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Audubon South Carolina - Google Earth

The Google Earth (kml) files for all of the Audubon South Carolina properties are now available on the Francis Beidler Forest education curriculum page. The image shows the Audubon Center at Silver Bluff Plantation along the Savannah River near Aiken, SC.

The Wannamaker Preserve near St. Matthews, SC is being transferred from the Charleston Audubon Society to the Columbia Audubon Society. Audubon South Carolina has created trails within the preserve and is developing an environmental curriculum to serve the students of Calhoun County.

McAlhany Preserve is on the Edisto River west of St. George and is owned and maintained by the Charleston Audubon Society. Note the beautiful oxbow lake within the property. Longleaf Pine trees are being planted north of Wire Road in the area that appears bare.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Continuing Education

As part of the continuing education within the education department at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest, the director of education is enrolled in the Fundamentals of Environmental Education course through the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

The course is described as: Gain a foundational knowledge of environmental education and learn how to incorporate quality EE into your instruction. Participants discuss the history and goals of EE, develop an understanding of the professional roles and instructional methods of environmental educators, and interact with other educators from across the country.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Family Science Night

Last night, Knightsville Elementary School hosted their family science night. Mark Musselman, Education Director at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest, made a presentation on the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. Over 150 parents and students learned how they can help bird researchers identify and understand fluctuations in bird populations and migrations by participating in this citizen science event on February 16-19, 2007.
Information on the event can be found here.
The 2006 results in South Carolina can be found here. The 2006 results for specific localities in South Carolina can be found here. You will note that there are large areas of our state for which no reports were filed. The Top 10 lists for 2006 can be found here. Note that South Carolina tied for 10th on the "Reporting the Most Species " list, but failed to make the top 10 on the "Submitting the Most Checklists" list. We challenge all South Carolinians to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count and put South Carolina on the top 10 list! The Audubon sanctuaries at the Francis Beidler Forest and Silver Bluff Plantation are outstanding sites for birdwatching!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Appressed Bog Clubmoss

John B. Nelson, Curator of the Herbarium, identified Appressed Bog Clubmoss (Lycopodiella appressa) as the "mystery plant" we discovered along the boggy road with the Red Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia rubra). Appressed Bog Clubmoss was not on the list of flora at the Francis Beidler Forest. Along with the Red Pitcher Plant, the main threat to the survival of the Appressed Bog Clubmoss is overshadowing caused by plant succession and a subsequent loss of colony sites. This species is listed as threatened in other states, but will be forever protected in this Audubon sanctuary.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Florida Whooping Cranes

This morning, Audubon members in Florida reported that the violent weather that killed 19 people in Florida also killed the entire migrating flock of Whooping Cranes (18 birds). At one point there were only 15 or 16 birds left in the wild, so efforts over the last 20-30 years have focused on dispersing the wild population. Had those efforts not been successful, an event such as yesterday's weather could have caused the species to go extinct!

Suitable habitat over a wide geographic area (sometimes hemispheres!) is critical to health and viability of birds and other animal species.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Audubon South Carolina Advisory Board

The Audubon South Carolina (ASC) Advisory Board met today at the Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp. The main topic of the meeting was ASC’s strategic plan, which will guide the organization over the next five years.

Prior to the meeting, ASC Executive Director Norman Brunswig took the board on a field trip to the recently planted Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) tract (see blog entry on Dec. 21, 2006 and Jan. 4, 2007). Along the edge of the property in the soggy remnants of an old road were several Red Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia rubra) shown in the image. These carnivorous plants attract insects into the rolled up leave by secreting a nectar-like substance. A waxy substance in the inner leaf makes the footing unstable and with downward pointing hairs it is nearly impossible for an insect to escape. A portion of the leaf acts as a lid to the tube-like portion, which prevents excess rain from falling into the tube and diluting the digestive secretions. Any insect falling into the digestive secretions diminishes the plant’s nutritional deficit, which is brought about by poor soils.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Google Earth Files

Google Earth files (.kml) have been created to show the boundaries of the Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp; the boardwalk through the virgin, old-growth forest; the canoe trail through the virgin, old-growth forest; the hiking trails and scout camping area; and the boundaries and trails at the Wannamaker Preserve near St. Matthews. The image shows portions of the FBF boundary in red, the canoe trail in blue, and the 1.75-mile boardwalk in yellow. The nature center is at the west end of the boardwalk. The alligator can be seen in the hole (Goodson Lake) at the east end of the boardwalk.

Google Earth provides satellite imagery of the planet in conjunction with data layers that may be selected by the user. The data layers include roads, population centers, points-of-interest, geologic activity, and in our case, boundary lines and trails. These Audubon South Carolina files will be posted for download on the Francis Beidler Forest education curriculum page. Lessons and activities will be developed for these files and this technology. As a pre-trip activity, we believe exploring the images of Four Holes Swamp, the boardwalk, and the surrounding area will help students put the swamp ecosystem into context and enrich their on-site experience.