Monday, September 29, 2008

Pennies for the Planet

TogetherGreen the environmental initiative created through an alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota, has selected Francis Beidler Forest as one of three entities nationwide to receive funds from its “Pennies for the Planet” program.

The program kicks off in the Fall of 2008 and continues through June of 2009. Thousands of classrooms will receive information about the program through Weekly Reader and Audubon Adventures (Audubon’s in school environmental education program in 5,000 classrooms). Additional promotion will be provided through educational networks including museums, zoos and aquariums; Toyota dealerships; and “Pennies for the Planet” online, part of the website.

Educational materials will include educators’ guides with activity ideas and information about conservation, posters highlighting the importance of conservation, and online information and activities. Every penny raised through “Pennies for the Planet” will be equally divided among the three conservation projects selected by TogetherGreen:

1) Francis Beidler Forest as the “Habitat Conservation” selection;

2) Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative as the research entity;

3) Project Puffin (Maine) for the bird focus.

The funds that will be given to Beidler Forest will ONLY be used toward the purchase of habitat for protection. By taking part, kids get a chance to tackle local challenges while raising funds to support national biodiversity conservation. And every participant will receive special recognition on the “Pennies for the Planet” website.

Pennies for the Planet is an excellent environmental project for classrooms, after-school clubs, Scout Troops and others to talk about the importance of our natural world and the need to protect it locally and globally. Pennies for the Planet educations kits will be available nationwide starting in the fall or picked up from any Audubon Center - including Beidler Forest! Teachers, home-schooling parents and anyone interested in helping young people learn more about species and wildlife, conservation action projects in their communities, and the protection of wild places and the creatures who live there, are invited to participate.

Additional information can be found at

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, September 26, 2008

Death From Above

At the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, the Barred Owl (Strix varia) is widely known as the silent killer on the wing. However, there is another bird that brings death from a perch and a near-silent glide.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America states that the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is “uncommon.” It also states that the bird is, “Found in mature lowland forests with clearings and water.” As habitat loss is the bird’s main threat, maybe that is why they are not uncommon here in the swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest. While watching a male Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) hawking for insects on and around a Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor) near the boardwalk, we felt as if we were being watched.

We’ve learned that in the swamp, it is wise to pay attention to our Spiderman-like swampy sense. A 360-degree look around brought our eyes to the Red-shouldered Hawk adhering to the Sibley guide…“Solitary. Hunts mainly from perch within forests.” What, you may ask, is on the menu? Sibley states, “Feeds mainly on reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds.” We have plenty of those prey items here in the swamp. Before spotting the hawk, we had seen an Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) with nasty looking Tree Squirrel Bot Fly (Cuterebra emasculator) wounds. Apparently, our boardwalk-hugging hawk has a discerning palette.

From numerous spots on the boardwalk, the hawk’s head was blocked by a collection of small branches and leaves. Getting off the boardwalk, we were able to move closer and get an unobstructed view. Finally, we crossed the invisible line of “too close.” With a gentle admonishment, the Red-shouldered Hawk dropped from its perch and soared effortlessly to a new perch on a neighboring tree. Happy hunting!

The talon images are from a hawk killed by a car last year.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Glamorous Side of EE

Environmental education is not only about learning the life cycle of a butterfly, identifying aquatic invertebrates, or discussing solutions to conservation issues.

“Behind the scenes environmental education” is seen here as Mike Andrews, land management specialist at Silver Bluff Audubon Center & Sanctuary and Dan Connelly, Silver Bluff sanctuary manager (at right), protect the roof of the classroom trailer with an “elastomeric coating.” Many such activities are required throughout the year in order to provide quality programming at the Silver Bluff and Francis Beidler Forest Audubon centers.
Images by Paul Koehler

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take a Child Outside

Take a Child Outside Week begins today. No, this week is not in support of corporal punishment. No, this week is not in support of a quieter church service or an enjoyable operatic experience. The goal of this week is "to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world. By arming parents, teachers and other caregivers with resources on outdoor activities, our goal is to help children across the country develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment in which they live, and a burgeoning enthusiasm for its exploration."

Wow! That sounds like what we strive to do every week of every year here at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center in Four Holes Swamp. We encourage you to take your child outside to a place like no other on the planet! You can find a variety of lesson plans on our education curriculum page as well as wildlife and plant information on our species lists and images pages. For the long-range planners, next summer's bird-themed camp will provide your child with a full week of outdoor exposure!

If you don't have a child handy, don't let that stop you from going outside! Check out what we have available for any and all visitors to the Francis Beidler Forest.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beach-nesting Bird Management Workshop

As part of its initiative to protect seabirds and restore South Carolina's nesting populations to their former size, Audubon south Carolina has agreed to help fund an educational and monitoring position with the Department of Natural Resources to educate the public about the new regulations and monitor seabird and human activity on the islands. Workshops (see details below) help support this initiative.

Despite South Carolina’s multitude of barrier islands (an estimated 3,000 on the lower coast alone) only five are known to support seabird nesting. Among them are Bird Key, Crab Bank and Deveaux Bank, properties under the protection and ownership of the Heritage Preserve System and Audubon Important Bird Areas.

These properties were brought into the ownership of the Heritage Preserve System due to their critical nature to seabirds. Past regulations closed nesting areas on these properties during the nesting season. Each year DNR staff post warnings and set up rope barriers to protect the nesting sites. However, those attempts at controlling intrusions into the nesting areas failed. Footprints and dog tracks literally criss-cross the nesting sites.

Evidence is showing that disturbance is having an impact on nesting seabirds – birds that nest in large groups and are extremely vulnerable when even one of these sites are impacted. They have literally put all of their eggs in one basket. In the early 1990’s Bird Key was the largest Brown Pelican rookery in the entire United States, boasting over 4,000 nests each year. There were no nesting Brown Pelicans on Bird Key in 2005 and signs point to disturbance as a major factor. Our state’s total population of Brown Pelicans is reaching a low level not seen since the days before the ban on DDT.

Under new regulations, Bird Key Stono and Crab Bank are both closed to humans and pets from March 15th of each year to October 15th of each year. Deveaux Bank, because of its large size, continues to have some recreational uses below the mean high tide line, such as sportfishing.

The Beach-nesting Bird Management Workshop will help managers and volunteers identify and protect critical shorebird nesting habitat.

Purpose: To teach managers to identify birds that nest on SC beaches and to recognize preferred habitat; to review the status of these avian species; to demonstrate simple techniques that can protect beach-nesting birds.

When: October 30th, 2008, 8:00am – 4:00pm

Where: Charleston, SC at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources facilities at the Marine Resource Center Auditorium (in the MRRI building)

This workshop is intended for:
Federal, state, county, and private land managers in coastal South Carolina.
County and city officials involved in land-use planning
People interested in volunteering to protect beach-nesting or rooftop nesting birds

Registration Information:
The registration fee is $5 to cover costs of snacks and refreshments during meeting. We will take orders for lunch (sandwiches) from 7:30-8:00 at the registration table. You may also bring your own lunch. Please bring cash to the meeting to pay for registration and lunch (if you wish to purchase). If you want to go on the field trip, please contact Jeff Mollenhauer at or 843-462-2150. We need to arrange boat space prior to the meeting.

Program Overview:
7:30-8:00 Coffee and Breakfast (outside auditorium, no drinks or food allowed in auditorium); Registration and lunch orders taken

8:00 Introduction and Overview of South Carolina Shorebird Project – Jeff Mollenhauer, Audubon South Carolina

8:20 Statewide Perspective of Seabird/Shorebird Populations and Information
About Posting Nesting Areas – Felicia Sanders, SCNDR

8:50 Shorebird Conservation & Managing for Human/Dog Disturbance – Sid
Maddock, Audubon North Carolina

9:20 Importance of Intertidal Zone and Effects of Human Disturbance – Lisa
Eggert, Clemson University

9:50 – BREAK

10:10 How to Create Least Tern/Wilson’s Plover Habitat – Mike Walker, SCPRT

10:40 Developing a Statewide Wilson’s Plover Survey – Kerri Dikun, Coastal
Carolina University and Jeff Mollenhauer, Audubon South Carolina

11:10 How to Manage Rooftop Nesting Least Tern Colonies – Monique Borboen,
Audubon of Florida

11:40 Conducting Research on Rooftop Nesting Least Terns – Chris Hill, Coastal
Carolina University

12:00 – LUNCH picnic tables at the outdoor classroom behind the Marshland House

1:30 – 4:00 Field Trip (by boat) to Morris Island and/or Crab Bank to learn about key beach-nesting bird habitats, how to identify shorebirds/seabirds, and see a demonstration of sign posting.

Image by Jeff Mollenhauer

Monday, September 08, 2008


Due to the approach of Tropical Storm Hanna on Friday, we cleared the office early at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Thankfully, there was little wind associated with the storm and therefore no boardwalk repairs waiting for us on Saturday. Unfortunately, there was also precious little rain associated with the storm. Our rain gauge at the nature center showed only 1" fell on site. The swamp remains rather dry and the skies continue to be clear.

Today, clearing began on three 2-acre parcels in the grassland restoration site near the US Hwy 15 and I-26 intersection. As we've previously written (entry 1 and 2), this restoration project will create perennial, warm-season grassland on 38 acres of previously-logged land. This grassland will be for the benefit of grassland bird species, specifically sparrows, buntings, bobwhite quail and other ground-nesting birds. Grassland habitat is diminished through conversion to agriculture, conversion to managed forest, and development.

Although it doesn't look pretty today, the rich smell of dark, turned earth indicated to us that the grassland ecosystem will thrive on this site.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hurricane Train!

Well, as of the 1400 EDT report, it looks like the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest will dodge the effects of Tropical Storm (could-be Hurricane) Hanna. We came dressed to crawl in the fine powder under the building, haul out the hurricane shutters, and wear out our finger tips screwing on the end caps. The really fun jobs always seem to get cancelled! Oh, wait! Looking to the east there is Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm (can't wait to be Hurricane) Josephine! We may yet get a chance to run shutter drills.

As the morning was not to be filled with shuttering as planned, we set about updating and enhancing the education department curriculum page. We're jealous, right? Each grade-level page can be reached from the curriculum page. The grade-level pages have been modified to show our emphasis on the two curriculum units, birds and wetlands/watersheds. The lessons that are currently written for these units can be found under the headings "Pre-trip," "At Beidler Forest," and "Post-trip." For second grade, clicking on the "Decoupage Habitat" lesson in the "Pre-trip" brings up the full lesson as a PDF. Lessons continue to be added as week-long units are being developed for each grade. Those units will be posted soon.

Regardless of what appears on satellite images FAR to the east, this is a wonderful time of the year to take a field trip to the swamp! If you are a teacher, know a teacher, or simply play a teacher on tv, see what we have to offer by visiting our evolving curriculum page and letting others know of its existence!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hello, Hanna

Well, we did ask for rain to put water back into the swamp. Maybe we should be careful when we ask for such things at this time of the year. Today, the first order of business at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest was a discussion on Hurricane Hanna. The latest projected track shows the eye going right over Four Holes Swamp.

There is not too much that can be done at Beidler Forest beyond putting shutters on the windows and backing up important files to portable drives. The boardwalk will need to fend for's likely to lose all one-on-one battles with falling trees or branches dropping from 100 feet. Whether the winds howl at hurricane strength or not, this Friday's Audubon South Carolina board meeting may need to be postponed. The eye of Hanna is scheduled to arrive sometime in the early morning on Friday after the advance guard of wind and rain.

Hurricanes are not always a destructive force in the swamp. Obviously, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo rearranged the landscape, especially in the higher, drier areas that border the swamp. Over 80% of the pines and hardwoods were knocked down between the nature center and the swamp. Only 10% of the canopy was removed in the cypress-tupelo swamp itself, but much of the boardwalk was damaged by falling debris. However, ten years prior to Hugo, Hurricane David slowly worked its way up the coast with strikingly different results.

Hurricanes are fueled by warm water evaporating and condensing as it cools at higher altitudes. That condensed water falls as rain. Hurricane David hugged the coast, giving it a supply of warm water, and was slow-moving, so it had ample time to dump copious amounts of water across the landscape. Four Holes Swamp worked admirably as a wetland, filling with the tremendous volume of water and slowly releasing that water downstream into the Edisto River. Flooding occured where it should have occured (in the floodplain of the swamp) and was not considered disasterous because no human structures have been built in normally-wet areas of the swamp. What a novel idea!

Hurricanes help to move heat and water around the globe, which is beneficial overall. Tell that to the 10-year-old whose sleepover birthday party is Friday.