Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
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
Images (burn) by Mark Musselman
Thursday, November 20, 2008
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
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
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.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Photo Credit (manatee): USGS - Sirenia Project
Friday, November 14, 2008
Artwork by Ricky Covey (modified by Mark Musselman); image by Mark Musselman
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The contest invited any amateur or professional photographer to capture the beauty of the natural world at the Francis Beidler Forest (Harleyville, SC) and Silver Bluff (outside Aiken, SC) Audubon Centers. Nearly 100 entries were submitted, with participants from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, as well as numerous entrants from North and South Carolina.
Full images can be seen here.
First Place Winner ~ Best in Show was “Ibis Perching” by Scott McWatty of Lexington, SC.
Second Place Awards:
“Pine Needles with Dew” (Plant/Landscape category) by Allison Hurley of Chatham, NJ
“Lady Luna” (Wildlife category) by Lisel Shoffner Powell of New Market, MD
Third place Awards:
“Lily of the Swamp” (Plant/Landscape) by Lisel Shoffner Powell
“Banded Water Snake” (Wildlife) by Mike Baker of York, SC
Honorable Mention Awards:
“Train Coming” (Plant/Landscape) by Reggie Daves of Conway, SC
“Morning at Beidler Forest” (Plant/Landscape) by Bob Baldwin of Green Mountain, NC
“Dressed for Success” (Wildlife) by Chase Hunter of Anderson, SC
“Sweet Song of the Prothonotary” (Wildlife) by Allison Hurley
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Images by Mark Musselman
Monday, November 10, 2008
With a diversity of backgrounds from which to draw, the participants "read the landscape" during the tour of the 1.75 miles of boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp. The uniformity of tree sizes through the first pages of boardwalk that cross over a high, dry portion of land told of the destructive force unleashed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which laid down 80% of the canopy. A few hundred meters farther down the boardwalk, the Dwarf Pametto (Sabal minor) line indicated the transition from the dry chapters to the wet chapters where the story of the swamp began. Out in the swamp, the majestic Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees filled the pages with more than a thousand years of history in which Hurricane Hugo was but an annoyance felling but 10% of the canopy.
During lunch in the outdoor classroom, participants used dried bird specimens to identify the differences in bill design. The specimens were collected with a permit after having die via window strikes or vehicle strikes...an all-to-frequent occurence. The first two images show a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), both of which are currently vacationing here at Beidler Forest.
Next, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) share a bag for educational purposes.
The final stop had the participants reading the high bluff over the swamp near Mallard Lake. Here the plants appear to be out-of-place as they prefer soils that are more basic than the soils typically found in the area. Without digging through the soil, the buried pages of underlying limestone could be seen via the plant community on the surface. The abundant leaf litter provided cover and a food source for a Wolf Spider (Hogna helluo) and the seeps exiting the bluff provided a narrow micro-habitat for a variety of salamanders, including the Three-lined Salamanders (Eurycea guttolineata) shown in the image and a Southern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus auriculatus) that was not shown.
Images by Mark Musselman
Friday, November 07, 2008
Images by Jeanne Seidler
The images of the caterpillar appear to be of a Luna Moth (Actias luna). Some suggested that it may also be a Polyphemus Moth (Anteraea polyphemus). However, according to the Caterpillars of North America (David L. Wagner), the Polyphemus Moth caterpillar has "flashy sliver and red warts," while the Luna Moth caterpillar has "bright magenta spotting and a weak subspiracular stripe on abdomen." Additionally, the Luna Moth caterpillar has a "anal proleg with dark band at its base that is inwardly edged with yellow, in a crude fashion resembing a head," while on the Polyphemus Moth caterpillar's "anal plate [is] continued as a line midway across A9." Finally, the Polyphemus Moth caterpillar has "steeply oblique yellow lines that pass through spiracles of A2-A7." The spiracles are the dots midway down the side of the caterpillar. Therefore, based on the color of the dots, the anal plate, and the lack of lines through the spiracles, we believe the mystery caterpillar is that of a Luna Moth.
Other caterpillar species are also busy preparing for the upcoming winter. One of today's 4th grade classes from Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary School found a Pine Sphinx (Lapara coniferarum) caterpillar feeding around the heavily-forested parking area. Overwintering strategies include egg masses, silken cocoons attached to branches, silken cocoons wrapped in leaves, pupae burrowing into the soil, and adults seeking shelter in tree cavities or under bark. Here are some other caterpillar-related entries.
Image by Sarah Green
Can caterpillars like the Wooly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) predict the severity of the coming winter? "According to 'rural legend,' the width of the orange band can be used as a predictor of the severity of the coming winter, with narrower bands forecasting colder winters. In fact, the width is quite a variable character. At each molt, a protion of the black setae is replaced by orange, and hence the orange band is broadest in the last instar."
It's hard to think of winter on a day like today when the temperatures approached 80F!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
As we reported in a previous entry, a large cypress had fallen onto (not across) the canoe trail and was sufficient in length to prevent its removal with the water level at the time. With the recent rains raising the level of the water in the swamp and no school groups on the schedule, we set out to remove our canoe trail nemesis! Recent wind storms had also deposited branches of various sizes onto the canoe trail, which in turn collected flotsam consisting of leaves, tupelo fruit and smaller branches. This debris was removed with ease, but the cypress behemoth mocked our plastic-paddle attempts at dislodging from within the comfort of our dry, aluminum, Grumman canoes. Like Tom "Maverick" Cruise ditching from his Grumman F-14 Tomcat, we were going to get wet.
The images show Mark Musselman, education director, riding the cypress log downstream once it had been dislodged from the spot where it had rested since March. The higher water level allowed the removal of several smaller trunks that had kept the cypress log anchored and unable to pivot. Once dislodged, the current swiftly pushed the cypress log downstream. Riding the log was the only way to keep up with and guide the log as it rocketed downstream. In the second image, the other end of the log is at the dark clumps. Eventually, the cypress log came to rest just off a bend in the canoe trail.
Although today's work also produced today's vocabulary word hypothermia, it sure beat sitting in a cubicle without a view!
Images by Sarah Green
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
In 1990, the Swiss Parliament amended their constitutional in order to defend the dignity of all creatures, including plants, against the unseen consequences of genetic manipulation. Later, the parliment asked "a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora's dignity." (Wall Street Journal, 10/10/2008)
"In April, the team published a 22-page treatise on 'the moral consideration of plants for their own sake.' It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, 'decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason.'" (Wall Street Journal, 10/10/2008)
The question, "Where does it end?" has been asked by more than just the vegetarians in the world. There are enough ghastly methods of harvesting and preparing plants for human consumption to fill a library with horror novels. On his show last week, Stephen Colbert asked if the Swiss considered the feelings of the thousands of trees that were humiliated to create the paper that was used to produce the 22-page report.
Tomorrow, we encourage you to exercise your right to vote as a citizen of the United States of America. There is more at stake than the dignity of our plants.
Image by Mark Musselman
(Atamasco Lily, a.k.a Easter Lily or Naked Lady...where's the dignity in that?)