Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
What does all this rainfall mean to the swamp? Besides making the swamp actually look like a swamp, it means that there will likely be no Christmas miracle for the Loblolly Pine that has sprouted far from the swamp's edge and the safety of higher ground. The Bald Cypress and Tupelo Gums that constitute the majority of trees growing in the swamp are unaffected by the coming and goings of water. However, this Loblolly Pine seedling stands alone on its fallen-log perch because this and other local tree species are not adapted to stand with their roots in saturated soils. Without the extensive evaporation in warmer weather and with photosynthesis shut down in all but a few swamp-residing trees, the higher water level in the swamp will drop more slowly than at other times of the year, which will cause the Loblolly Pine seedling to endure a more extensive period of submergence.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The fog had not diminish at all by 8:30 am as volunteers and staff headed out to count the twelve sections within the 15-mile-diameter circle in Four Holes Swamp. In fact, the fog did not diminish much by noon, which negatively impacted the quality of birding. The day remained overcast with a light drizzle. Everyone reported having a wonderful time outdoors with friends and new acquaintances, but the bird numbers were certainly lower than they would have been had the forecasted weather materialized! All the reports have not been submitted, but the count totals will be posted as soon as all the reports have been received.
Nothing out of the ordinary was reported with regards to birds. However, volunteers in section #11 (east of Harleyville and north of I-26 in The Bend area) experienced excitement of another kind. Here's an excerpt from their report: There was a resident following me for some time before the officer pulled up behind me. The officer told me that they had been getting lots of calls about people with binoculars. Just before letting us go he told me that there had been a burglary that a.m. with a minivan matching ours at the scene!! Yikes! It took a while to get through that and get back to birding, but it sure woke us up.
Today, the rain stopped and the weather warmed, but the skies are darkening as we type. Radar shows more rain on the way! Canoeing is definitely not a problem in the swamp! Maybe we should go out and give the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) a "heads up," so that it can get back to the shelter of its winter den.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will be conducted from February 12th to the 15th. From the GBBC site, "The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent and in Hawaii. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.
Why Count Birds?
Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
We need your help. Make sure the birds from your community are well represented in the count. It doesn't matter whether you report the 5 species coming to your backyard feeder or the 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge."
Not only is this something in which students can participate at school, but the GBBC is a tremendous outdoor activity in which the entire family can participate! It is easy to submit the tallies for the birds you could identify. Afterwards, you can see how your region of the state fared, zoom out to see reports across most of North America or see maps for individual species!
Image by Mark Musselman
Friday, December 11, 2009
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Monday, December 07, 2009
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 United States, 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.
The Four Holes Swamp CBC will encompass most of the Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, Brosnan Forest, and neighboring lands (see the map). Anyone is welcome to participate in the count as we will organize the groups so that inexperienced observers are always out with seasoned CBC veterans. Volunteers will meet at the nature center at 8:00 am to begin and return to the center at 5:00 pm to wrap up the day with some refreshments.
If you are interested in participating in the count, please contact our Director of Bird Conservation, Jeff Mollenhauer at 843-462-2150. There is a $5/person charge to cover costs associated with compilation and dissemination of the CBC results.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
We saw an Eastern Cottomouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) before we even reached #1 on the boardwalk. The snake was in the Dwarf Palmettos (Sabal minor), which delineate the transition from the wet swamp to the dry upland. The snake was likely moving to the upland in search of a den site for the winter. One of the sharp-eyed students spotted the motionless snake while the veteran naturalist spoke of the indicative qualities of the Dwarf Palmetto. Not surprisingly, the students found the snake to be of greater interest. In the second image, the entire 3+-foot snake can be seen, but you need to look closely as the snake's yellow-brown-black patterning is perfect camouflage in the broken sunlight.
Once in the swamp, students spotted a variety of woodpeckers, an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) and a Praying Mantid, possibly a female Carolina Praying Mantis. The female praying mantis will mate with a male, if he is able to gain position on her back before being eaten. Even if the male begins the mating process, the female may turn and devour his head before he completes his task. The male's body can complete the mating duties without the previously-consumed head. Once mating has been completed, the female consumes the remainder of the male's body without so much as a thank you! As the female in the image is without a mate, she is likely looking for a suitable site to lay her eggs, which will overwinter in the case of hardened froth. After laying her eggs, the female too will die.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
As the temperatures get cooler, there is less food available in the swamp. Some animals migrate to areas with more food, some become inactive or less active (many snakes find a den, alligator will hide on the lake bottom or along the shallow edges), and some cache food for later. The Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) on the boardwalk handrail has a hickory nut that it is gnawing open, while another chattered nearby as it searched for the perfect burial spot in which to hide its hickory nut.
A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) swooped onto a low perch nearby and intently studied the forest floor. From our office windows, we have seen these birds catch various species of lizards and quickly consume the prey. However, our proximity was a distraction and the hawk flew to a much higher perch atop a snag. From there, the bird exchanged calls with another of its species...possibly commenting on the lack of reptilian activity.
Stirred to action by a raucous flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula) in the understory, a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) easily sang over the noise generated by the diminutive kinglets. Unfortunately, the wren did not sing loud enough to mask the call beckoning us to return inside.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Qualifications: Must have a valid drivers license. Must be comfortable working alone in remote areas. Must have a willingness to work in tough field conditions. Experience with banding, mist netting, point counts, and identifying eastern birds by sight and sound is preferred, but not necessary to apply.
Salary: $7.25/hour. 40 hours per week. On-site housing is provided.
Audubon South Carolina
336 Sanctuary Road
Harleyville, SC 29448
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
During the tour around the boardwalk, students accessed the extensive library of images showing plants, animals, and maps (boardwalk, watershed boundary, Beidler Forest boundary). With the poor weather and time of year, many animals were not present or not visible. However, as we talked about animals or as students asked questions, the student with the iPod Touch could be tasked with finding an appropriate image to share with the group.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The AP Biology seniors from the Westminster Schools of Augusta were visiting late in the day. The plan was to walk the boardwalk and then investigate macroinvertebrate samples in the outdoor classroom. Several things slowed our progress around the boardwalk.
First, we saw a Barred Owl (Strix varia) fly across the boardwalk ahead of us as we walked between #14 and #15. In the owl's talons was prey of some sort. We caught a brief glimse of the prey's yellow belly when the owl first perched low in a nearby tree. The owl quickly relocated higher up in another tree. As the owl flew, it appeared that its prey item was a bird. Looking through our binoculars, we could see the head of the bird (red arrow), which confirmed our initial identification of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). Although small mammals and invertebrates account for over 90% of the Barred Owl's diet, the owl is an opportunistic hunter with birds being approximately 5% of the diet. Sapsuckers maintain their sap wells on a daily basis. Possibly, this sapsucker was too occupied with its duties to notice the silent approach of death. We've all seen Barred Owls hunting and catching crayfish, but never have we seen an owl with a bird!
Monday, November 16, 2009
This weekend, a visitor at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest asked about pecky cypress. Although there are no examples along the boardwalk and many of the old-growth (1000+ years old) trees are hollow in the middle, there is a classic example of pecky cypress along our canoe trail. The tree was felled by Hurricane Hugo with the pecky interior exposed when the portion blocking the trail we use for tours was removed.
Image by U. S. Forest Service
The wood-decaying fungus Stereum taxodi attacks the heartwood of the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) creating the long, narrow "pecky" cavities (a.k.a. brown-pocket rot). The fungus usually attacks older trees (we have 1800 acres of old-growth) from the canopy through the heartwood and down to the base, but ceases once the tree is harvested. Fungal spores enter at a point where the tree has been damaged in some way (lightning, wind, other trees falling). A cursory look at the ancient trees along the boardwalk reveals that all of the trees have experienced some form of damage. However, not all trees are attacked by the fungus and any tree that has been attacked cannot be identified until it is harvested.
The pecky cavities form from the middle of the tree outward along the tree's growth rings. Not all pecky is created equally. Pecky cavities come in small, medium, and large sizes, which will offer different textures and patterns when the wood is milled (see some images here). As long as there is sufficient wood unaffected by the fungus, the wood products will maintain their strength.
The well-drilled snag in the image is not an example of pecky cypress, but is an example of incessant pecking activity of the resident species of woodpeckers!
Image by Mark Musselman
Friday, November 13, 2009
With school budgets tightening and field trips being severely restricted or banned, it was a quiet spring and has been a slow fall at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest when it comes to visiting school groups. The sunny, mild weather of September and October has given way to rain and cooler temperatures this week. Both grant-sponsored school groups (80+ students each) scheduled for this week canceled due to the rainy weather. "Rain, rain, go away!"
Last week, we began painting an internal, cross-swamp boundary line. We began on the north side of the swamp and moved southwest. The tract of the swamp we were painting was clear-cut prior to its purchase by Audubon South Carolina, so we moved through areas alternating between thick blackberry bushes and open cypress/tupelo stands that were left as buffers around creek channels. Overall, the water level in the swamp has been very low, so the majority of the work was done on dry land. However, the thick vegetation ensured that our progress was infinitely slower than it would have been through an open, mature forest. As you can see in the image, we stopped painting just before reaching the wettest portion of the transect. This week's rain will fill all the creek channels, which will go swimmingly (pun intended) with the cooler weather! "Rain, rain, go away!"
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Did you hear the one about the Marine at the birthday party? He was a fungi to have around!
Monday, November 09, 2009
For the last week, the education department has been away from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Upon our return, we found a webpage link waiting in our inbox.
Earlier this year, professional wildlife photographer Doug Gardner visited the Francis Beidler Forest with Don Wouri, also a photographer and member of the Audubon South Carolina board. The 25-minute video of their one-day visit along the boardwalk can be seen here.
Although, at this time of the year, some of the animals in the video are not present at Beidler Forest, the leaf-off state in the swamp offers a perspective not possible outside of winter. There is never a bad time to visit the swamp...every trip offers a new experience!
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Although not yet showing on their webpage, this month's edition of South Carolina Wildlife magazine contains an article by Steve Bennett describing the winter behavior of many of our state's amphibians. Most notably, heavy winter rains trigger explosive breeding episodes in some species. The cooler temperatures allow for more oxygen in the water, which is beneficial for adult and young amphibians alike.