Monday, December 22, 2008


Unless we can reduce our waste stream to zero, landfills will likely continue to exist.  Although we may never completely eliminate our waste, there are numerous ways that we can reduce what we send to the landfill.  Unfortunately, like the source of our food, few give much thought to the repositories of our waste.

In today's Post and Courier, Tony Bartelme article "Dump would be more than just a landfill" describes efforts to locate "a 500-acre operation capable of taking 1.8 million tons of garbage a year. That's 40 times the garbage residents in Williamsburg County typically toss out. Put another way, it's enough trash to fill the North Charleston Coliseum seven times a year. If built, the landfill would rival the largest one in the state."  The extra capacity is required, because the residents of Williamsburg County will not be the only contributors to the landfill.  As Bartelme notes, "A sizeable chunk of the trash that went into the state's landfills, about 25 percent, came from out of state, mostly from North Carolina, New York and Massachusetts.
The state's largest landfill is in Lee County and is operated by Allied Waste Industries. Last year, it took in 1.5 million tons, 1 million tons from other states."

Although landfills are currently a requirement of our society, our state is being considered for large landfills because there is ample rural space within substantially poor counties.  The counties need funds to serve their residents and the landfill's distance from population centers minimizes scrutiny and possible objections from residents and watchdog groups.

Williamsburg County's motivation for siting a new landfill is based on the environmental issues at its current landfill.  However, other landfills in our area are looking to expand because their current site is reaching capacity.  Naturally, if a landfill cannot expand, a new landfill must be opened in another location.  There are a few simple steps that we all can take to help extend the life of our local landfill, which will save each of us money in the end.  Think back to elementary school or ask an elementary school student...reduce, reuse, recycle.
  1. Reduce - This time of year highlights our consumption with a flood of catalogs and a flurry of purchases.  Opt off the mailing list of catalogs from which you never intend to make a purchase.  Not only will you help save the shrinking boreal forest in Canada (whose trees made the paper for the catalog), but you'll save space in the local landfill.  Also, look at the packaging for the products you purchase throughout the year.  Let companies know that you don't appreciate the excess packaging, which wastes resources for its production and subsequently takes valuable space in the local landfill.
  2. Reuse - It may be trash to you, but it's almost guaranteed to be a treasure to someone else.  There are organizations such as The Freecycle Network that can help get your unwanted items to a new home.  If that is too much work, put your items by the street...the sun has yet to set on anything we have place out there.  If someone can find a use for an item, it keeps it out of the local landfill.  Fill an empty juice bottle with water from your tap instead of purchasing bottles of water filled from taps in New Jersey.  Americans add 30 million (that's 30,000,000) plastic water bottles to landfills every DAY!  Besides taking up space, fossil fuels were required to manufacture the bottle.  Finally, create a small compost pile and reuse your organic kitchen waste.  You can use the compost in your yard or garden or simple let a nearby tree tap into the pile of nutrients.
  3. Recycle - Recycling is not just for hippies and young children or for generating a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Recycling is about reducing environmental damage and saving money.  Fewer trees need to be cut, transported, and processed, if post-consumer paper products are being recycled.  Less ore needs to be mined, transported, and processed, if steel and aluminum are being recycled.  Creating products using recycled plastics can attained a reduction in fossil fuel consumption.  Not only is there an environmental and cost savings on the front end of recycling, there is a savings to you on the back end.  New landfills are more expensive to create and maintain than existing landfills.  According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 8.6 million tons of wastes were recycled within our state in fiscal year 2007, which is approximately 50% of the total waste generated.  That means our current landfills should be open 50% longer!  The dearth of bins by the curbs in the neighborhood on recycling day makes it clear that we can do much better than 50%.
Though our state is developing rapidly in many regions, we still have open spaces and natural areas.  As noted by the influx of out-of-state trash, other states do not share that luxury.  Before we get to that point, let us all work to extend the lives of our landfills...reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grassland Seed Harvest

Last week, the staff from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest was scheduled to harvest seeds from grassland plant species growing near our grassland restoration plots, but rain caused a postponement. Here are some previous entries relating to the grassland restoration (ignore the first one, "Halloween in the Swamp"). Today, however, was a beautiful day to be outside picking seeds.

Any seeds from native grassland plants, except Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), were fair game. Some of the plants had already shed their seed inventory or had it consumed by hungry birds and other wildlife. However, the sun and 70-degree Fahrenheit weather quickly dried the condensation from the seeds that remained ensuring that they would not rot prior to being spread in the nearby grassland restoration plots.

Thanks to Sudie Daves from the Calhoun County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for her technical assistance and plant identification. Thank you also to all the volunteers that came out on this warm December day to pick seeds. The restored grassland sites will be a wonderful gift to our native wildlife!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Bird Count Results

It’s like Election Day all over again for the staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. On Monday, Dec. 15th, the staff and volunteers organized the first Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count. With 80% of the “precincts” reporting, the results are almost complete. Nearly 100 species were seen in the newly established circle. The count circle included most of the Francis Beidler Forest as well as Brosnan Forest, Giant Cement, Holcim Cement, LaFarge Cement, and the Oakridge Landfill.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a long-standing program of the National Audubon Society that began more than 100 years ago as method of monitoring winter bird populations throughout North America. Last year 59,918 people across the US, Canada and 19 countries in the Western Hemisphere participated in the CBC.

To conduct a count, CBC volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. The bird in the image is a Barred Owl (Strix varia) discovered due to the noise and commotion being generated by a mixed flock of upset songbirds.  It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. All individual CBC’s are conducted in the period from December 14th to January 5th each season, and each count is conducted in one calendar day.

Since this year was the first attempt for the Four Holes Swamp CBC, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the results. Highlights from the count included species rarely observed in our area at this time of year such as Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Bonaparte’s Gull, Prairie Warbler, Vesper Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, and Pine Siskin. Blue-headed Vireo (40) and Black-and-white Warbler (8) numbers seemed to be particularly high relative to other count circles in South Carolina. However, participants were surprised by low numbers of Blue Jays (36) and Winter Wrens (0).

Special thanks goes out to the 35 people that participated in this years Four Holes Swamp CBC, including staff at Brosnan Forest, Giant Cement, Holcim Cement, LaFarge Cement, and Oakridge Landfill. If you are interested in participating in the Four Holes Swamp next year please contact Jeff Mollenhauer at or (843) 462-2150.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season has only just begun and if you missed the Four Holes Swamp CBC, you still have an opportunity to participate in other the CBCs in the Low Country. Please visit or for a complete schedule of Christmas Bird Counts in South Carolina.

Image by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sullivan's Island

The southern side of Sullivan's Island is growing
or accreting, while to the northeast the northern end of neighboring Isle of Palms is eroding. Property owners in Wild Dunes are
seeing their land disappear into the sea, while the Town of Sullivan's Island has seen its property expand by approximately 200 acres. The march of sand from the northern end to the southern end has been a characteristic of barrier islands ever since there were barrier islands along our nation's southeastern coast. This movement of sand, due to a combination of longshore current and the angle that waves tend to hit the beach, was not a concern of humans until humans began to construct homes on the barrier islands.

The mission of the National Audubon Society "is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity." No plants have
adapted to grow at the beach/ocean interface, but just inland from that interface, plants can begin to take hold. Decaying smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) from marshes (often located between barrier islands and the mainland) is washed onto the beach where it forms a wrack line at the high tide line. Windblown sand begins to accumulate around the wrack line along with plant seeds, which find the perfect mulch in the decaying spartina. As plants begin to grow, their roots provide an anchor in the shifting sand, which continues to accumulate around the base of the plant. Slowly, a more stable zone begins to form and larger plants, including trees, can take root. This is what has occurred on the southern face of Sullivan's Island although not all of the accreted land has been treated in a similar fashion. Some homeowners have cut the vegetation to a height of six feet in the 200-yard stretch between their homes and the beach. Note the shadows in the forest to the left and right of the push pin denoting higher vegetation in the form of trees and the lack of shadows throughout the swath surrounding the push pin.

Although this severe pruning maintains a view of the ocean, it significantly degrades the habitat and prevents the natural development of the maritime forest. Maritime forests absorb much of the heat on barrier islands and offer protection from extreme temperatures, an abundance of food, and nesting areas to a variety of organisms. Low-lying areas of the maritime forest trap and hold rainwater and are thus a source of fresh water for many inhabitants. (Of Sand and Sea: Teachings From the Southeastern Shoreline, Paula Keener-Chavis & Leslie Reynolds Sautter, 2000, p. 63) These maritime forests are critical stop-over sites for migrating birds, especially as similar sites along our coast disappear to development.

Audubon South Carolina supports efforts on Sullivan's Island to protect the vital maritime forest and dune habitats for birds and other wildlife.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


We are not at work yet, so we do not know how this morning's earthquake has affected the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  However, since the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp has been there for thousands of years, we doubt that much has changed since yesterday.

At approximately 7:45 a.m. this morning, the ground below nearby Summerville shook.  The 3.6 earthquake only lasted for a few seconds, but there was no mistaking what had happened!  The details can be seen at the U. S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program.   Check
 out the South Carolina Seismic Network for details of past South Carolina earthquakes.  There are active faults that run below Summerville and the historic plantations along the Ashley River.  Although the area experiences an average of 25 earthquakes a year, most are below the threshold for people to notice.

The image shows earthquakes that occurred in or near South Carolina between 1973 and 2007 and registered 2.0 or higher on the Richter Scale.  Note the cluster of events in the Summerville area. (SCEEP

"Most of South Carolina's earthquakes occur in the Coastal Plain where the rocks underneath are very broken up from the break-up of Pangea (when Africa and North America were one continent!). These cracks in the deep rocks mean that this area of the plate is weak, so if you push on the edge of the plate, some of these faults/breaks will allow the rocks" to move. (SCEEP)

"Seismically, South Carolina been active since the first settlers arrived as shown below on the map of earthquakes that occurred in South Carolina between 1660 and 1986, these earthquakes are based on personal accounts and evidence of damage as well as seismographs in the later years.  However, Charleston is perhaps best known for the earthquake of 1886 which measured as a magnitude between a 6.9 and a 7.3 on the Richter scale and devastated Charleston and Summerville causing massive damage and more than 60 deaths. That earthquake was so large that it was strongly felt as far north as Chicago. The map below shows the 'felt' areas for the Charleston earthquake as notations on the Mercalli magnitude scale." (SCEEP)

...and we thought yesterday's Christmas Bird Count was exciting!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Tree

The lots full of Christmas trees felled on distant tree farms reminded us that 1) we hadn't yet purchased a tree and 2) aliens are killing our native forests. Didn't make the mental leap with us? Dark thoughts...that's what a few days of rain-forced confinement in the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest will do to one's mind. Actually, continuing to read Dr. Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens has reminded us of the dangers faced by our native trees and alerted us to a few new threats.

"Since the demise of the American chestnut, oaks have joined hickories, walnuts, and the American beech in supplying the bulk of nut forage so necessary for maintaining populations of vertebrate wildlife." (Tallamy, p. 128) In case you missed it, the "American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was the most common tree in the Piedmont and Appalachian regions of the East until the chestnut blight, brought to this country on resistant Japanese chestnuts, reduced our great chestnut forests to rare stump sprouts." (Tallamy p. 162) In addition to nut forage, the American chestnut was host to an unknown number of insects, which in turn became bird food.

"No other plant genus supports more species if Lepidoptera [517], thus providing more types of bird food, than the mighty oak." (Tallamy p. 128) Oaks provide vital nesting sites for birds and the acorns produced by some oak species can germinate days after they fall from the tree. "Restoring large stands of oaks to suburbia would go a long way toward shoring up the future of our nation's biodiversity." (Tallamy p. 130) "Well, good thing we've got plenty of oaks!" You might say that until you heard about Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus imported on ornamental rhododendrons from Germany, now called sudden oak death disease. This fungus has killed tens of thousands of oaks in California and Oregon before being shipped in nursery stock to Georgia where 49,000 plantings were sold before the fungus was detected. "It is not hard to find a plant pathologist who thinks our oaks will go the way of the chestnut, thanks to sudden oak death disease." (Tallamy, p. 66)

Come spring, the flowering dogwoods (Cronus florida) will add white to the myriad of colors produced by the non-native Asian azaleas now considered a natural part of the South. Snap you pictures now, because dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructive) [the species name says it all] arrived in the 1970s aboard imported and resistant kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) from Asia. While you're taking pictures, head to the Upstate and take some of the remaining hemlocks before they succumb to the imported hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae).

We have several species of ash (genus Fraxinus) in the old-growth Francis Beidler Forest, but ash trees too are under attack from the emerald ash borer, which was accidentally imported from Asia. According to the U. S. Forest Service, the ash borer has killed millions of ash trees in the Upper Midwest and is rapidly moving east. If the borer doesn't get the white and green ashes throughout the Northeast, the non-native ash yellows disease certainly will.

Finally, the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is on a per-species basis, more productive in its support of wildlife than even the number-one-ranked oaks. (Tallamy p. 160) Unfortunately, the only beech species in North America is under attack from a native fungus spread by the non-native scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga), which was brought to our shores on European beech nursery stock. This fungus-insect partnership causes the fatal beech bark disease.

Again, you may ask, "What this has to do with me?" Not a big tree fan...or insect fan...or bird fan? Do you like food at a reasonable cost? The soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) caught a ride to North America on ornamental Chinese buckthorn (Rhamnus utilis). The aphid has done millions of dollars in damage to soybean crops. Soybeans show up in plenty of foods. Guess who ultimately bears the additional cost of crop production? Enjoy your orange juice, because Candidatus liberibacter, "a bacterium that causes greening disease in citrus, a deadly disease that makes fruit inedible before it kills the tree altogether" is threatening to wipe out the $9 billion Florida citrus industry. (Tallamy, p. 68) It is unlikely to be contained because it is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), which arrived on orange jasmine sold as an ornamental plant throughout Florida.

Oh, now we remember why we made the connection between the Christmas trees for sale and death in the forest. The balsam woolly adelgid (Adelges piceae) was imported from Europe to New England and then to North Carolina on nursery stock and "has all but eliminated the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) from the high altitudes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park." (Tallamy, p. 68) Guess from where those Christmas tree firs arrived?

Give nature a wonderful Christmas present this year! Eliminate non-native plant species (especially as gifts) and plant or protect native flora! Merry, Christmas! See, we can be upbeat!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


We at the Audubon South Carolina are not above using corporate buzz words. Not only can we use the word, but we'll demonstrate the definition of synergy [a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct elements (as resources or efforts)].

In a previous entry, we noted some of the ill effects of light pollution and yesterday we noted the devastating effects of introduced species, usually via the introduction of non-native plants used in landscaping. Since moths fair better eating native vegetation and can circle human-generated lights until falling to the ground in exhaustion, planting native flora and reducing light pollution is a perfect example of moth-saving synergy! We've often found large sphinx moths on the ground of well-lighted soccer fields or the neighborhood park and thought it odd for the animals to expose themselves to predation while apparently having no fear of our close inspections. Obviously, they were too exhausted to attempt escape.

With today's rain and dropping temperatures, kids hoped for snow like that falling in Louisiana and Mississippi while adults chose not to visit the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest. During the lull, we took the opportunity to go on a swamp stomp and visit an old friend that we had not seen in years. Some wore waders and some only old clothing (jeans, t-shirts, running shoes) that are serving a second life as sexy, swamp apparel. Fortunately, the water temperature had not dropped as quickly as the recent air temperatures. We don't have an age for the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the image, but with an average age in the forest of over 1000 years old, this specimen has seen its fair share of swamp stompers.

On the stomp back to the nature center, we discovered two species of caterpillars (staying on lepidoptera point) that have yet to be listed on our still-short insect list. The first is a slug called Nason's Slug (Natada nasoni) that eats American Hornbeam [aka Ironwood] (Carpinus caroliniana), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), chestnut, hickory, oak, and other woody plants. Obviously, the "American" in the name gives away that the first two trees are native. There are a variety of native species for the other types of trees here at the Francis Beidler Forest. The stinging spines of this slug caterpillar are retracile with only the tips normally exposed. Be careful, those spines can be quickly deployed!

The second caterpillar species we spotted was the Yellow Bear (Spilosoma virginica) whose coloration is highly variable. This caterpillar is among the most common in yards and gardens (especially those yards with copious native plantings). The Yellow Bear is not a picky eater with many low-growing plants, woody shrubs, and trees in its diet. The yellow in the name comes from its coloration in early instars.

Image of Collis Boyd at cypress by Sarah Green; caterpillar images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Save the Insects

Join Audubon South Carolina and, "Save the Insects!" Sure, whales, pandas, and mountain gorillas have an easier time grabbing the headlines, but insects are vital components in most non-marine food webs. Remember those ubiquitous grasshoppers in the science textbook diagrams? Maybe that was the last time, besides the life-ending stomp you put on a Palmetto Bug, that you thought about insects. Too bad, because our existence as a species depends on a healthy insect population and insects are under attack by aliens!

Sycamore Tussock Moth (Halysidota harrisii)

That's right, we typed, "Aliens!" These are not aliens from another planet, so there is no need to don the aluminum foil hat. However, these aliens have the same mission as nefarious domination and the elimination of the human race! You may ask, "Who are these aliens and why hasn't the Department of Homeland Security issued a colorful threat condition?" The aliens are non-native plants (and often non-native animal hitchhikers) that are often welcomed to (not repelled from) our shores by our federal government! "Plants? You got my blood pressure up for plants? Alien insects had a chance, but plants? Really?"

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

We understand that most people do not feel threatened by non-native plants and that most Americans don't keep a finger on the pulse of the insect world. However, according to Professor Douglas W. Tallamy, your quality of life may be adversely affected unless you pay closer attention to these topics. In his book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, Tallamy connects the dots between non-native (alien) plants and native insects (cannot or will not eat non-native plants) and other native wildlife, especially birds, which do not benefit directly from non-native plants and/or suffer from the food-shortage-induced decline in native insect populations. Non-native plants capture the sun's energy and use nutrients in the soil, but because few of these plants are eaten by native fauna (mainly insects), that energy is not passed up to higher trophic levels in the food chain (Spoiler alert: We're at the high end). "Pound for pound, most insect species contain more protein than beef" (Lyon, W. F. 1996. Insects as human food. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. HYG 2160-96) and 96% of terrestrial bird species in North America rely on insects and other arthropods (typically, the spiders that eat insects) to feed their young (Dickinson, M. B. 1999. Field Guide to Birds of North America. 3rd ed. Washington, D. C.: National Geographic Society). Fewer insects mean fewer birds.

Angular-winged Katydid (Microcentrum retinerve)

"Okay, but what does that have to do with me?" Tallamy writes that gardeners' arguments for native plants over alien ornamentals "might describe the 'sense of place' that is created by using plants that 'belong' or the dangers of releasing yet another species of invasive alien to outcompete and smother native vegetation. They might recognize the costly wastefulness of lawns populated with alien grasses that demand high-nitrogen fertilizers, broad-leaf herbicides, and pollution-belching mowers. Or they might mention the imperative of resucing endangered native plants from extinction. These are all well-documented reasons for the increasing popularity of growing native plants." Tallmay encourages the "use of native species to create simplified vestiges of the ecosystems that once made this land such a rich source of life for its indigenous peoples and, later, for European colonists and their descendants."

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

"Whew! I don't have a yard, so I'm good." E. O. Wilson points out that "because so many animals depend partially or entirely on insect protein for food, a land without insects is a land without most forms of higher life. (The little things that run the world: The importance and conservation of invertebrates" Conservation Biology 1:344-346). Tallamy notes, "Even the most incorrigible antienvironmentalist would be hard pressed to make an attractive case for such sterility. Pure anthropocentrists should be alarmed as well, since the terrestrial ecosystems on which we humans all depend for our continued existence would cease to function without our six-legged friends."

Plant native flora and save the insects (and us too)!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, December 08, 2008

ReLeaf America

It's not what you think. We at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center are not outside with our collection (transparent, masking, painter's, duct, and mailing) tape attempting to put the autumn leaves back on the trees. Our experience with thousands of school children has shown that Elmer's glue works best.

We learned about the ReLeaf program, sponsored by the American Forests organization, as we were crushing an empty cereal box. The webpage states, "It is our goal at American Forests to continue to plant millions of trees in new Global ReLeaf projects across the country and the globe." As an expanding carbon sink, we support any effort to improve ecosystems through the restoration of native forests. You can see their South Carolina projects here. Many of these projects restored Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), the native pine forest ecosystem in the Southeast, to the Francis Marion National Forest.

Not only do trees provide the a key component of forests (duh), but as such they provide shade and cooler temperatures to earth and plants beneath them, provide food and shelter for plants and animals, produce oxygen while removing carbon dioxide, filter groundwater flowing through soils held within their root systems, are aesthetically-pleasing, and sequester carbon within their structure. The Climate Change Calculator on the American Forest webpage can help you calculate your carbon footprint and see how that can be offset by the planting of a tree (or trees).

As Gov. Mark Sanford (standing before a 1000+-year-old Bald Cypress) noted last week at the Ramsar dedication ceremony, natural spaces are a quality of life issue. Not only is our environment (air, water, soil) cleansed, but habitat is provided for plants and animals whose disappearance would likely threaten our survival as a species. Finally, natural spaces provide our souls with the opportunity to step away from all that is hectic in our lives and decompress.

'Tis the season of giving, so let's give the Earth the gift of a tree (or trees). Support programs like ReLeaf, support the planting efforts of organizations within your community or buy a native (more on that tomorrow) tree and plant it in your yard!

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gov. Sanford - Ramsar Dedication

This afternoon, Gov. Mark Sanford visited the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center to read his Beidler Forest Week proclamation and to join Audubon South Carolina and its guests in officially recognizing the Beidler Forest's Ramsar designation (previous blogs) as a wetlands of international importance. Additional information can be found at the U. S. Fish and Wildlife site, including a fact sheet, U. S. Ramsar sites brochure and a photo gallery.

We were obviously living right! The skies were mostly clear, the rain that was originally forecasted for today has delayed its arrival until later tonight, and the temperatures that have struggled to reach the low 50Fs (as they will again tomorrow) have already pushed beyond the mid-60Fs!

Along with the tremendous weather and spectacular backdrop, several special guests honored the gathering with a few words regarding their connection to the Francis Beidler Forest. Representing the several generations of Beidlers in attendance, Frank Beidler, III shared the family's appreciation for the care and effort put forth through the years by individuals and organizations to ensure the continued protection of this internationally-recognized wetland. Dr. Dan Tufford and Kim Connolly described their motivation for nominating the Francis Beidler Forest as a Ramsar site. Jean Schlegel spoke concerning the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's international role in the protection of wetlands and the significance of adding this old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp to the Ramsar inventory. John Flicker, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society, emphasized the importance of not only protecting significant wetlands like Beidler Forest, but other habitats within our hemisphere and across the planet where birds and other wildlife spend portions of their lives, including the critical rest stops along their migration routes. During John Flicker's comments, as if on cue and to emphasize the point, a hatch-year, male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) flew in and began feeding and calling on a nearby tree. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a winter resident at the Francis Beidler Forest spending the breeding season mainly across Canada, so the individual crashing the ceremony was making its first trip to our wintering grounds.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Gov. Mark Sanford. Passing through the overflow crowd, Gov. Sanford shook hands with many of the attendees on his way to the Meeting Tree. Prior to unveiling the Ramsar plaque and taking the requisite "VIPs at the ceremony" images, Gov. Sanford talked of the necessity to conserve places of wonder, not simply because quality environments are good for the bottom line in a myriad of ways, but because we ultimately are spiritual beings that require quiet, awe-inspiring places to decompress and reflect on our individual lives. The majesty and serenity of the Francis Beidler Forest is such a place. When the governor requested that the crowd be still and listen to the swamp, the silence was punctuated by members of our wildlife cast, again as if on cue, when a pair of Barred Owls (Strix varia) greeted each other nearby.

left image: Francis (Frank) Beidler, IV; Elizabeth (Betty) Tisdahl; Francis (Frank) Beidler, III; Gov. Mark Sanford; Edouard des Francs; Kathy Tisdahl
right image: Kim Connolly, Associate Professor of Law Department of Clinical Legal Studies at USC; Gov. Mark Sanford; Norman Brunswig, Director of ASC; and Jean Schlegel, US Fish & Wildlife

As the sun set below the trees, the temperature began to drop and there was nothing to be said that would top the Barred Owl's timely comments. It was suggested that the owls were saying, "You don't need to go home, but you have to get up out of here!" Fortunately, the swamp that has been here for thousands of years is protected to ensure that it will be here for many more visiting opportunities. Besides, food and beverages awaited the guests back in the nature center, so it was agreed to let the owls have the swamp for the night!

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Light Pollution

Last night, we watched a History Channel episode on parallel universes. Actually, it was the second time we watched that episode and we still achieved a brain freeze somewhere after string theory, parallel universes (levels 1, 2, 3 and 4), soap bubble theory, alternate dimensions and...something. This morning's headache likely stems from brusing that the brain incurred while trying to reconcile all the new information.

Here is part of The History Channel's episode description: Some of the world's leading physicists believe they have found startling new evidence showing the existence of universes other than our own. One possibility is that the universe is so vast that an exact replica of our Solar System, our planet and ourselves exists many times over. These Doppelganger Universes exist within our own Universe; in what scientist now call "The Multiverse." Okay.

Don't rush out tonight and look up at the sky expecting to see these other universes. First, the theories state that they are so far away that the light has not or cannot reach us. Next, humans create so much light that we cannot see much of our own galaxy (basically, our own backyard). When it comes to thinking about pollution, few of us put light..yes, light can be a the top of the list. Too bad, because it is the easiest form of pollution to remedy.

Here at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, we have the 100+-foot, 1000-year-old Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees that block our view of the night sky. During our nightwalks, the moon (nearly-full to full) rises and provides sufficient light for weak human night vision to navigate the boardwalk. However, in centuries past, even the planet Venus alone would cast shadows upon the Earth. Looking at Earth from space, it is not difficult to see the population centers with sufficient resources to light up the night. For the geography experts out there that do not recall the large island off the southeastern coast of South America, rest easy...the light is from a fleet of squid fishermen lighting the ocean surface to attract their prey.

Besides dimming the effect of Venus and preventing us from fully understanding the parallel universes theories, human-generated light pollution wastes energy resources and adversely affects wildlife. This month's National Geographic Magazine highlighted this issue. [see full article]

"We've lit up the night as if it were an unoccupied country, when nothing could be further from the truth. Among mammals alone, the number of nocturnal species is astonishing. Light is a powerful biological force, and on many species it acts as a magnet..."

"The effect is so powerful that scientists speak of songbirds and seabirds being "captured" by searchlights on land or by the light from gas flares on marine oil platforms, circling and circling in the thousands until they drop. Migrating at night, birds are apt to collide with brightly lit tall buildings; immature birds on their first journey suffer disproportionately." Look at the photo gallery, especially the image that is third from the end.

Image by Mark Musselman

Long artificial days can alter bird migration behavior causing birds to depart too early (fat-ready due to longer feeding days) or too late (fooled by longer days) and therefore be out of sync biological systems (insect prey life cycles, plant food items, nesting habitat, etc.). Additionally, insects attracted to streetlights are changing the feeding behaviors of predator species, such as bats or the Carolina Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) on our porches. Other nocturnal animals change their behavior to avoid being exposed to predators in the unnatural light. Here in South Carolina, adult sea turtles search for dark beaches, while hatchlings navigate to the brightness that should be the ocean's horizon, but can often be a fatal attraction to artificially lighted areas behind the dunes.

"There's also evidence that our grand transformation of the night might have serious implications for our own health. The contrast between dark and light allows our bodies to calibrate our circadian rhythms, such as hormone levels and sleep schedules. Disrupting these can have a dramatic impact. Researchers think this phenomenon may help explain higher breast cancer rates in societies with brighter nights. Studies on shift workers exposed to nearly constant light during the night hours reveal a higher risk for the disease, perhaps because of altered levels of melatonin. Other research shows that blind women have a lower occurrence of breast cancer. One study that looked at a general population also found a correlation between neighborhood nighttime light levels and breast cancer incidence." --Brad Schiber, National Geographic Magazine

See how you can help dim the night at the International Dark-Sky Association's webpage. Who knows? Not only can you improve your health and conserve wildlife in this universe, but maybe you can help yourself and wildlife in a parallel universe. There's that pain in the head again!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Animals Like You've Never Seen!

As technology continues to improve, it is harder and harder to believe what we see...and we see plenty here at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center. Is the image at the right really an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) killing a Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota)? Yes, however, the images below have been altered by various individuals using PhotoShop software.

Image by Mark Musselman

All of the photo images below can be found at the website. Type "animals" in the search box in the "Photoshop" section to see the multiple categories of animal image alterations. We like the "Evolution Gone Wild" submissions, since we conduct related activites (Swampy Science Names and Swamp Thing Had It Right) with visiting students. [Drawing by Ricky Covey]

If you're interested in conventional, unaltered photography, visit either of the Audubon South Carolina centers (Francis Beidler Forest or Silver Bluff), especially in the spring, and enter the 2009 photography contest (Mar-Aug). Our 2008 contest winners' images are posted on the webpage.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Beidler Forest Week

Welcome to Beidler Forest Week!

"Best of Beidler Forest Week" is fit neatly between "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Merry Christmas!" You can provide financial support for the conservation efforts of Audubon South Carolina and now you can provide verbal support by proclaiming, "Best of Beidler Forest Week!" to all that you meet during the next six days.

Unless you have the eyes of a hawk, you'll need to click below on the image of Gov. Mark Sanford's proclamation in order to read the full text.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the time of year for turkeys to lay low and decline ALL dinner invitations. Like the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) seen in the image exiting our parking area, this blog will be absent during the holiday period.

Image by Mark Musselman

Dodging dinner invitations has been sound turkey advice for centuries. Around 1519, Spaniards with Cortez saw the turkey domesticated by the Aztecs and brought the bird back to the Old World. English merchants trading in the Mediterranean region during the 1530s called the bird a Turkey-bird or Turkey-cock after the trading partners whom they called "Turkish merchants." This exotic bird was a hit back in England. Colonists arriving in Plymouth in 1620 were likely surprised to see wild versions of their domesticated turkeys roaming the countryside. Today, the flightless, domestic turkey, which would draw a steroid investigation were it a professional athlete, bares little resemblance to its wild cousin. Fine with us...please pass the cranberry sauce.

Tomorrow is about giving thanks for both individual and collective gifts. Naturally, we are thankful for the old-growth Francis Beidler Forest, all of its inhabitants, and the freedom to enjoy its wonder and beauty. As freedom has never been free, we are also thankful to all the men and women, civilian and military, whose service affords us the opportunity to enjoy these special places in peace. In that vein, our eyes were drawn to the familiar scene in the advertisement below, but we appreciated the clever copy and its underlying message even more.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Bird Count in Four Holes Swamp

On December 15th, Audubon South Carolina will be conducting the first ever Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a long-standing program of the National Audubon Society that began more than 100 years ago as method of monitoring winter bird populations throughout North America. Each year thousands of volunteers across the US, Canada and 19 countries in the Western Hemisphere participate in the CBC.

To conduct a count, CBC volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. All individual CBC’s are conducted in the period from December 14 to January 5 each season, and each count is conducted in one calendar day. You can find a description of last year's Charleston Christmas Bird Count here.

The Four Holes Swamp CBC will encompass most of the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Sanctuary, Brosnan Forest, and neighboring lands (see the map). Anyone is welcome to participate in the count, since we will organize the groups so that inexperienced observers are always out with seasoned CBC veterans. We'll likely meet a the nature center at 7:30 am to begin and again at 5:00 pm to wrap up the day with some refreshments.

You will receive bonus points for spotting any of the birds shown in the print from John James Audubon's Birds of America. Check here before you alert the media.

If you are interested in participating in the count, please contact our Director of Bird Conservation, Jeff Mollenhauer at 843-462-2150.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random Thoughts

The third graders from Williams Memorial Elementary School in St. George paid a visit to the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center. They were a super group, especially given the cool, breezy weather and the derth of visible wildlife! One group saw some White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), but that was it beyond a squawking American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) or the occasional woodpecker. Everything else was smarter than a third grader (or the adult guides) and remained hunkered down somewhere warm!

Once off the boardwalk, the outdoors experience continued with lunch at the picnic tables and the Fill the Bill (bird bill adaptation activity) in the outdoor classroom. Yesterday's burn of the Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) stands (see previous entries) at Mallard Lake and the Kitchens tract would have been welcome warmth after today's cool walk.

Images (burn) by Mark Musselman

The weekend is rapidly approaching, so we're thinking about flying out of here. The image below came to us without credit, but it sums up our feelings and demonstrates the Red-winged Blackbird's (Agelaius phoeniceus) adaptation to the energy crisis. We're not sure how the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) feels about it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Many channels on the television could disappear without notice, but there would be some letters to editors and cable company executives if the History Channel was pulled from the air! Besides making us formidable Trivia Pursuit players and Cliff Clavin-like dinner guests, the History Channel keeps us up-to-date on technologies that help maintain a healthier environment in which we live. As part of the National Audubon Society's climate change initiative, the staff of Audubon South Carolina will continue to share what we have learned regarding these new technologies.

Previously in this blog, we noted the technology that allows one to flip one switch and cut power to multiple electrical outlets that feed appliances unnecessarily in your absence. Last week, we learned about IdleAire, which was formed to reduce diesel truck engine idling during federally-mandated driver downtime.

Unlike RV campgrounds, most rest areas and truck stops do not offer a convenient method for truckers to obtain electricity to run their heater/AC or devices like laptop computers. Therefore, drivers obtain power by allowing their truck engines to idle. Idling the engine consumes approximately one gallon of diesel fuel per hour (1 gal/hr) and results in poor rest for the driver (vibrations/noise in the cab), consumes fuel while moving no product, reduces engine life, requires additional engine maintenance, and pollutes the air. An alternative is an onboard electric generator that uses 75% less diesel fuel. Although the current drop in fuel prices makes the cost per hour nearly equal for the IdleAire system and a generator, a generator adds weight to the truck, may produce the same noise/vibration issues, and does not provide Internet or entertainment (phone, tv, movies) access. Pollution comparisons depend on the source of electric power at the facility using the IdleAire system. The upfront cost of a generator is considerably more than the $10 required for the IdleAire window adapter.

"ATA's American Trucking Trends 2007-2008 reports that the trucking industry hauled 69 percent of the total volume of freight transported in the United States in 2006. This equates to an all-time high carrying load of 10.7 billion tons, and $645.6 billion in revenue, representing 83.8 percent of the nation's freight bill." (Reuters Business Wire)

American Trucking Trends reported that there were 2.9 million Class 8 trucks operated by more than 750,000 interstate motor carriers. Class 8 trucks drove 130.5 billion miles for business purposes in 2005. The nation's truck fleet (all classes) consumed 52.8 billion gallons of fuel, both diesel and gasoline and spent about $111 billion on diesel fuel in 2007 (Reuters Business Wire). Using a conservative number of 1 million Class 8 trucks (the semi-truck seen on the interstate highways) idling for six hours a day (half of the required rest time) would burn 6 million gallons of diesel per day! Remember, these trucks are idling without moving their load.

Although a system like IdleAire might not be the solution to our energy, pollution or climate change issues, it makes sense to implement anything that significantly improves an industry as large and as critical as the trucking industry.

Images from IdleAire

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Damming Beavers!

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) webpage, The beaver, the largest rodent found in North America, was once abundant in South Carolina, and was found commonly in all areas with the exception of a narrow strip of sandy soil along the coast. These animals were trapped extensively by early trappers and by the late 1800s or early 1900s had disappeared from most of the state. Many feel the beaver was eradicated; however, some remnant populations may have persisted in remote areas.

During the winter of 1940 to 1941, United States Fish and Wildlife Service personnel released six beavers, which were captured in Georgia, on the Sandhills Wildlife Refuge in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. During the same period, beavers from Georgia began to invade the Savannah River drainage system. These animals established populations in counties which border the Savannah River.

The beavers in these two areas and existing remnant populations have increased their range significantly and presently occur in portions of all 46 counties in the state.

Several years ago, beavers returned to area near the boardwalk at Beidler Forest and we've since noted their activity in previous entries (1, 2). However, except for a pathetic attempt at a lodge off of Mallard Lake, we have not seen any damming within our 1.5-mile wide swamp. Damming within the swamp is certainly possible (although we thought improbable) as South Carolinians named an entire swamp for that activity. Beaver Dam Swamp is located east of Lake Moultrie near the intersection of SC 45 and US 17-A (Decimal Degrees: Latitude: 33.29833 Longitude: -79.78528). Maybe the beavers we discovered during our off-boardwalk exploration received their training in Beaver Dam Swamp.

As we walked back to the nature center on a path between the boardwalk and the cross-swamp powerline, we discovered a beaver dam across one of the many channels in the swamp. This particular channel flows under the boardwalk at #5. In the satellite image, you can see the channel of water as it crosses the clearing under the powerline. The dam is built along the southern edge of the powerline clearing and is stitched between the buttresses of trees, root masses, fallen logs, stumps, and finally to higher 100 meters to the east. The lodge is located in the deep water near the center of the powerline clearing (it appeared as if it would top our hip waders on a day that didn't top 40F, so we didn't obtain a more accurate depth reading).

Although rising water will likely overtop the dam or simply spill around the current east and west anchor points, the water currently pooled behind the dam will be irresistible to wintering waterfowl! Besides humans, no animal has the power to so dramatically alter its environment. Beavers may abandon the site when rising water circumvents their engineering project, but they will undoubtedly attempt to first modify their dam to contain the water in its new configuration.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Changing Seasons

Although the spring (March-May), with its bright green color and abundant wildlife, is considered by many to be the "best bang for your buck" season at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, every season offers something special. This year, foliage (in and out of the swamp) has been especially colorful. A terrific explanation for this can be found at the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service webpage (see excerpt below).

How does weather affect autumn color?
The amount and brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season are related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences.

A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year.

The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors. Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year. The countless combinations of these two highly variable factors assure that no two autumns can be exactly alike. A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks. A warm period during fall will also lower the intensity of autumn colors. A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

Today's high wind will clear from the trees most of the leaves that were set to drop. With the leaves off, the swamp offers a perspective unavailable during the rest of the year. The old-growth Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees are visible in profile from the crown to the buttress, which is awe-inspiring. Occasionally, it even gets cold enough for the water to freeze!

Images by Mark Musselman