Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grant and Birdathon

The Education Department at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has been awarded a $1000 grant from the South Carolina Geographic Alliance (SCGA). The grant will be used to purchase two Apple iPod Touch devices along with accessories and a Garmin Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. This equipment and equipment already aquired will be used by students to capture digital data (audio, video, still images, notes, latitude/longitude coordinates, routes, etc.) while they are visiting the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp. Additionally, the Beidler Forest education staff will load images, audio, video, maps, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and text into the devices which students can access during their visit to help them better understand their experience. Once back at school, students can use the data they collected along with the provided resources to create quality, multi-media presentations, including their personal reflections, of their experience at Beidler Forest.

While the $1000 grant from the SCGA is generous and welcomed, it takes much more to effectively protect the old-growth swamp and other vital habitats within South Carolina. This weekend, the Audubon South Carolina board and staff will fan out across the state in search of as many bird species as can be positively identified! If we can raise $30,000, we will receive a $30,000 match. You don't need to donate $30,000 (we've already received some pledges), but if all 5,000 individuals that receive the Audubon South Carolina newsletter were to send in only $6.00, we could easily reach our goal. As an added incentive, Mark Musselman had one of his Prothonotary Warbler images framed by Rick Sutton of Frame & Design Gallery of Summerville and will be giving it away to a lucky individual that pledges through him (one chance for each $40 increment [straight donation] or each 25-cent increment [per species donation]).

Please help support the fine work of Audubon in South Carolina!

Images by Apple Computer, Inc. (iPod) and Mark Musselman (Prothonotary Warbler)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Young and Older

Yesterday, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest hosted the Leopold Education Project (LEP) workshop. While enjoying gorgeous weather, participants learned about Aldo Leopold and his concept of land ethics. Leopold wrote, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture." Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac begins, "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot."

The old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at Beidler Forest provided plethora of wild things as the workshop participants mastered the basics of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation through the upland forest and experienced several of the curriculum's activities along the 1.75-mile boardwalk. The LEP curriculum will be incorporated into the education program at Beidler Forest.

Today, a much younger crowd was awed by the ancient cypress swamp (and Gray Squirrels) as kindergarteners from Ridge Christian School toured the boardwalk. After lunch (which is a critical portion of the agenda known by all no matter the group's age), the students experienced the difficulty of locating the song or call or a bird within their "species." Each student had a toy bird hidden in a paper bag with only one of the other birds in the class being of the same species. Each student gave their bird a squeeze to activate the song or call, learned their own sound and then set off to recognize their song or call in another of the hidden birds. Although all of the kindergarteners were not successful in finding their same species, the mismatched pairs were all the same (Bird A with Bird B and Bird B with Bird A and not with Bird C or D).

Tomorrow, we visit the 5th graders at Eagle Nest Elementary. Budget cuts have caused school districts to cancel field trips, so we're taking the swamp to the schools, even though the old-growth and the best season of the year can only be appreciated at Beidler Forest.

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kneeknocking and Mac Stone

The staff from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest walked out into the swamp on Wednesday to visit one of the largest Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees within the old-growth swamp. The water level had dropped from waist-deep levels that resulted from our most recent rains, so the trip was not difficult. The purpose of the trip, besides a chance to get out of the building and into the magnificent habitat that drew us here in the first place, was to make some swamp music using what nature provided.

The Bodacious Beidler Swamp Stomping Kneekockers played the giant Bald Cypress, several cypress knees, a bead-filled opossum skull, and a pair of deer antlers. ABBA step out of the way! You can see the BBSS Kneeknockers here. (Bandleader & kneeknocker - Mac Stone; animated kneeknocker Mike Dawson; stoic kneeknocker Mark Musselman; 'possum skull - Barbara Thomas; deer antlers - Lynnette Thompson; and ancient cypress and videography - Ricky Covey)

Once you're done watching the video, check out some of the fine photography of seasonal naturalist Mac Stone at his blog Tagging Along - Mac Stone Photography.

Image by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So Much Happening!

We've been out of the office for the last several days. We haven't been ill or on vacation, we've been busy sharing the awesome old-growth swamp at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest (a.k.a., our office)!

On Saturday, we began the day with an "Exploring New Territory" walk along the wildflower trail along the bluff overlooking Mallard Lake. This trail is only accessible to the public during these special walks. Besides offering topography not normally associated with the relatively-flat coastal plain, the underlying limestone (marl comprised of calcium carbonate from sea shells laid down as marine deposits when the ocean once washed over the region) geology creates more-basic soils allowing for the growth of plants that are rarely found in the Lowcountry. Small wetlands, known as seeps, emanate from the base of the bluff and create critical habitat for salamanders, including endangered species. Additionally, several bird species dropped down low in the forest canopy and offered participants some quality viewing opportunities!

Wine and Warblers filled the evening hours with abundant close-up views of birds, especially the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), along the boardwalk along with fine wine and hors d'oeuvres. With perfect weather conditions, Barred Owls (Strix varia) added some base to the various bird songs filling the evening air. If you missed this year's event, mark your calendar for April 2010 (no, it's not too early) and join us for a special swamp experience!

Monday had Audubon South Carolina staff and volunteers back out on the boardwalk banding Prothonotary Warblers as part of Project PROTHO. We set a new one-day banding total with seven banded birds. Additionally, we observed eight previously-banded birds and numerous unbanded birds. The area between the first rain shelter and Goodson Lake continues to be densely populated with Prothonotary Warblers aggressively defending or disputing territorial claims. Elsewhere along the boardwalk, gaps are beginning to fill as either birds are pushed from the desirable territories or later arrivals have appeared at Beidler Forest. As soon as technical issues can be worked out with the webpage staff in New York, we will have pages for each banded bird, which will include the bird's image, sex, age, banding information, mate information, nesting territory, offspring information, sighting updates, and any capture information outside of Beidler Forest.

Yesterday, the Over 50 Club from First Federal visited for a tour around the boardwalk. The two-hour tour stretched to three hours as we continued to see something new and exciting every few steps. The guide's stomach was rumbling for lunch, but the group was in no rush to leave the alligator, various snakes, numerous turtles, Barred Owl, in-your-face Prothonotary Warblers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons (Nyctanassa violacea), or the pleasant walk through the old-growth swamp.

As soon as we returned to the nature center, we grabbed part of our lunch and changed into swamp- stomp clothing (old everything). The impromptu swamp stomp knee knocking from earlier in the month encouraged us to film an all-staff version. Be looking for that video in the coming days!

Come join us in all the action!

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, April 17, 2009

Special Events at Francis Beidler Forest

Don't forget, tomorrow is Wine & Warblers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The weather will be perfect and the plethora of birds in the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp will be spectacular!

Join expert birdwatchers for an evening on the 1.75-mile boardwalk and explore the wide variety of songbirds that travel to Beidler Forest each spring. This year, you will also be able to spot Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) banded as part of Project PROTHO! Enjoy hors d'oeuvres and wine tasting as you explore the ancient swamp forest. Proceeds benefit Audubon South Carolina. $40 per person. Reservations and advance payment are required., (843) 462-2150. Walks begin at 5:00 p.m. This is a once-a-year event...don't miss it!

If you want to make it a complete day at the Francis Beidler Forest, there will be a 9:00 am nature walk along the bluff overlooking Mallard Lake. A variety of wildflowers are still in bloom, wildlife abounds, and the geology and special habitats associated with the bluff are fascinating! The cost is $8.00 and we will meet in the nature center. Click here for directions. Click here for a list of other Spring Things at Beidler Forest.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Butter Butts

Yellow-rumped Warblers (What were you thinking?) are not nesting residents here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but that does not prevent them from doning their breeding plummage prior to their trips north. The male in the image perched just outside our open office window. Maybe the cool air that we were enjoying was also delaying the Yellow-rumped Warbler's departure.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are common and easily-seen as they congregate in small flocks. They are likely the only warbler to be observed in the winter. In preparation for their trips north, they have been dining on a combination of berries and insects. They will nest in the norther coniferous and coniferous/deciduous forests. Unfortunately, in the east the species is a common cowbird host, which means they may raise a large cowbird chick instead of their own chicks.

Meanwhile, our resident songbirds are busy building their nests in the swamp and the neighboring forest. A pair of Prothonotary Warblers were seen pulling bill-stuffing quantities of liverwort from the bases of trees and cypress knees.

Maybe when all the Butter Butts depart, the warmer weather will finally set in!

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Street Level Google Earth

Daugther #1 came home last night and confessed to getting caught off task in Language Arts. She was looking at our house using Street Level in Google Earth. We knew the large metropolitan areas were being covered by the Google Earth Street Level cameras, but we did not realize that they had gotten down to the streets of small-town Summerville. The fact that the folks in a small village in England had risen up and chased away the Google Earth Street View car should have clued us in that we were on the list for picture day.

The car and camera did not make it to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The closest they got was across Four Holes Swamp to the east at 2432 Old Gilliard Rd where one can look down the powerline that runs across the swamp approximately 100 meters north of the nature center. The Silver Bluff Audubon Center received much better coverage. A multitude of images can seen in both directions from the offices at the 4518 Silver Bluff Rd. image. Type in your address and see if you've been imaged!

Audubon South Carolina has its own Google Earth files. You can find the hyperlinks at the bottom of the Francis Beidler Forest education department's curriculum page. The files show the Four Holes Swamp watershed boundary, the Francis Beidler Forest boundaries, the Francis Beidler Forest boardwalk, the Francis Beidler Forest canoe trail, the Wannamaker Nature Preserve near St. Matthews, the McAlhaney Nature Preserve along the Edisto River, and the boundaries of the Silver Bluff Audubon Center near Aiken.

You can also see images from along the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth of Francis Beidler Forest by enabling the Panoramio feature under the Geographic Web heading on Google Earth.

Image from Google Earth

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vocally-challenged Hooded Warbler

Last year, expert birders spent 20 minutes or more trying to figure out what bird was singing just beyond the nature center at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. We would explain that it was a Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina), but the experts would say that we were wrong and they would continue trying to identify the unknown species. Well, the vocally-challenged Hooded Warbler has returned to its territory between #1 and #2 along the 1.75-mile boardwalk.

Come to Beidler Forest and see if the Hooded Warbler will stump you! While you are here, you'll see dozens of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), including more than a dozen banded as part of Project PROTHO, Black-and-white Warblers (Mniotilta varia), Parula Warblers (Parula americana) , Great-crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea) , and Yellow-crowned Night Herons (Nyctanassa violacea).

Image by Mark Musselman

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Happy Easter from the entire Audubon South Carolina family!

These Atamasco or Easter Lilies (Zephyranthes atamasco) are blooming now at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, April 10, 2009

Google Earth and Habitat Conservation

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.

To that end, Audubon Wyoming and their partners have mapped the habitat of the Greater Sage-Grouse in their eastern range and created Geographic Information Systems (GIS) files, which have been converted to Google Earth (kmz) files and incorporated into the latest Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Google Earth-based report. In the report, the NRDC states, "...the West is also home to remarkable wildlands, diverse wildlife and irreplaceable cultural resources. That makes it vital to find the best sites for new clean energy projects and transmission lines, so that America can harness renewable power while doing the least damage to the Western environment."

Audubon Wyoming's Senior Ecologist, Kevin Doherty, just released his dissertation titled:
Sage-Grouse and Energy Development:Integrating Science with Conservation Planning to Reduce Impacts. "Recent energy development has resulted in rapid and large-scale changes to western shrub-steppe ecosystems without a complete understanding of its potential impacts on wildlife populations." Click here for full document.

You can view a video of the bird in its habitat here.

Map couresty of Audubon Wyoming

Note: Audubon South Carolina has Google Earth files showing sanctuary boundaries, the Four Holes Swamp watershed boundary, the Francis Beidler Forest boardwalk and the Francis Beidler Forest canoe trail at the bottom of Francis Beidler Forest educator's page.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

More Project PROTHO Banding

Although the wind and threat of rain caused us to cancel the Project PROTHO banding on Monday, we were able to take several groups of volunteers out yesterday.

With each bird banded (six more yesterday), we are developing a better understanding of the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) that inhabit the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! Prothonotary Warbler (PW) 460A continues to move from his original banding spot at marker #135 and can now be found near the edge of the swamp on the backside of the boardwalk near marker #183. As no PWs went to these edge sites first, it appears these sites are the less desirable nesting territories. What does that say about male 460A?

It would appear at least initially that the birds we banded near the Goodson Lake (#149) are moving the least. Most of the PWs are being sighted at the same location marker nearly every time. We haven't seen A083 in about a week. We wonder where he is or if he was only stopping at Beidler Forest on his way to a destination farther north.

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Water in the Swamp

All the recent rain has filled the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! It has been quite some time since the water has been at its current level. Walking along the 1.75-mile boardwalk, one sees nothing but a sheet of black water in every direction!

The higher water means something different to each of the animals here in the swamp. Reptiles, like snakes and turtles, find fewer spots (logs, stumps, etc.) that are above water and in the sun. Fish find new territory to exploit for food and shelter as water floods areas that have not been underwater for a year or more. Barred Owls (Strix varia) find that their favorite crayfish-hunting perches are no longer over shallow enough water. However, other animals find the changing water levels a musical experience!

During last Saturday's Beidler Forest Swamp Stomp, some aspiring musicians were captured checking the tonal quality of the ubiquitous cypress knees! You can see the video here.

The spring is full of activities in the swamp at Beidler Forest. Come join in the fun!

Image by Mark Musselman

Monday, April 06, 2009

Good Time to be a Frog?

With all the rain we've had lately around the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, it would appear to be a good time to be a frog or any amphibian. However, there is big problem in the amphibian world.

Amphibians already are already under seige from increased UV-B radiation due to depletion in our planet's protective ozone layer. Additionally, amphibians are extremely sensitive to toxins in the environment as they absorb water and oxygen (and toxins, if present) through their skin. They also shed and eat their skin on a regular basis. The big problem, however, is a fungus.

The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is already responsible for significant declines in frog populations in Central America and Australia and is spreading rapidly. The fungus causes the frog's skin to thinken and interfere with the absorption of water and oxygen. Where present and thriving, the fungus has an 80% mortality rate within the amphibian populations.

When it rains and the chorus of frog songs fills the damp air, don't take the sound for granted. It's good to be a frog when love is in the air, but there is also a fungus amongst us!

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, April 03, 2009

Twittering Like the Birds!

The Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is now twittering at @TheSwampThing. It is one more way to keep tabs on what is happening in the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp! Due to the 140-character limit on twitter messages, tweets will not include any in-depth interpretation, but we will attempt to post images to go with whatever has gotten us atwitter!

Gives us a tweet if you have any questions and twitter to your friends to let them know about the unique and ancient treasure hidden within Four Holes Swamp!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Wash Out!

Yesterday, the sixth graders from the Charleston County School of the Arts were able to dodge the raindrops. However, today's weather looks to be a wash out and the School of the Arts group scheduled to arrive this morning opted to reschedule for later in the spring. What looks to be record rain is great for filling the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but not conducive to non-duck activities.

Since the rain will likely keep us bottled in the building all day, here are some images from yesterday afternoon showing a Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) between #1 and #2 along the boardwalk and an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) just out of the water that forms the boundary between Dorchester County and Berkeley County near #10.

Images by Mark Musselman