Tuesday, September 15, 2009


We've been working at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, but we haven't been at the office computer!

On Saturday, we were back at Mepkin Abbey with the Master Naturalists from the Charleston area for a presentation by Father Guerric regarding the environmental mission of Mepkin Abbey and its influence on the management of the grounds. After Father Guerric's talk, the group met in the visitor's parking area for an introduction to basic Global Positioning Systems (GPS) navigation by Mark Musselman, education director at Beidler Forest.

The grounds at Mepkin Abbey are a combination of natural area, formal gardens, demonstration gardens, and habitats in the process of restoration. Simply strolling the grounds in the pleasant weather would have been restorative and enjoyable, but incorporating the GPS technology gave the tour the aura of a treasure hunt. Instead of being told that they would be walking over to the memorial to Charleston firefighters with an oak planted for each of the nine lives lost, the master naturalists were given a set of latitude/longitude coordinates. After brief demonstration of basic GPS operations, the group and their collection of owned and borrowed (from the SC Geographic Alliance) GPS units successfully navigated to the first stop.

In order to determine the coordinates for the next stop, participants needed to do a simple math problem using the number of lives honored (9) at the first stop. Once the calculations were done and the new coordinates entered, the participants navigated to stop #2 and found themselves in the labyrinth created from all native plants. Later stops brought the master naturalists to the plant identification path, the future site of a columbarium, sculptures from Hurricane Hugo-felled oaks, the Laurens family cemetery, and finally to the Luce Gardens for lunch. All participants made it to lunch while along the way dispensing with much of the mystery surrounding GPS navigation. A lunchtime bonus was a Bald Eagle perched high in a pine across the water.

After lunch, Father Guerric showed a demonstration vegetable garden grown in a minimal space as well as the native plant propogation facility. Native plants support native insects, which support native wildlife, including BIRDS. As when we last visited Mepkin Abbey, the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars were again dining on the potted passion flowers for sale. Unlike its brethren in the swamp, a very small Green Treefrog waited out the sunny day camouflaged on the green leaf of another plant. Green Treefrogs at Beidler Forest often appear on the gray bark of tupelos or other understory trees. However, the big suprise was another animal waiting out the sunny day on yet another native plant for sale.

Almost plucked off the plant by a master naturalist thinking he was removing a dried leaf, the Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) hung unfazed by the crowd of gawkers and flashes from cameras. The Red Bat is a solitary, medium-sized (7-16g) bat with narrow wings, which allow for rapid flight but poor maneuverability. Eating mainly moths and beetles, Red Bats will land on light poles or on the ground to grab their prey. They forage in a variety of habitats, mostly over land, and prefer forested habitats. Red Bats are one of the species document in Four Holes Swamp. Although the Red Bats in our area may remain here throughout the year, bats residing farther north do migrate to warmer climates. Their southward movement appears triggered by the passing of cold fronts.

The nights are getting cooler, so the cold fronts should be appearing soon. Not only will bats migrate through the swamp, but a variety of birds will pass by to join Beidler Forest birds already vacationing farther south.

Images by Mark Musselman

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