Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TogetherGreen Project PROTHO Video

TogetherGreen, a partnership between the National Audubon Society and Toyota, has released a video highlighting Project PROTHO at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.


Image by Mark Musselman

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No Christmas Miracle

It's not our imagination, this has been one of the wettest Decembers on record! The rain that moved through Four Holes Swamp last week turned to snow in the Upstate and continued with record-breaking snowfall across the border into North Carolina and on into New England. Enough snow dropped in the latitudes to the north that it will likely be a white Christmas in those areas. It doesn't look like we'll be getting any snow at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but the forecast shows one more dose of rain before December comes to a close.

This month has been the wettest December on record since 1941 with records at the North Charleston airport beginning in 1938. The rain forecast for later this week might be enough to push the month's total to the #1 position in the record books.

December rainfall (National Weather Service office at Charleston airport)
1. 1941/11.08"
2. 2009/9.72"
3. 1953/7.09"
4. 1994/6.35"
5. 1977/5.88"

Not only is the month of December on a record-setting pace, the new record daily maximum rainfall for December 18th was set at the NWS office at the Charleston airport where 3.18" fell thus breaking the old record of 0.95" set in 1948.

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.

Although it will likely be wet and not white, have a Merry Christmas!

Image by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

After the Count

Yesterday, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest held its first official Christmas Bird Count. The forecasters predicted near 70F weather and mostly sunny by the afternoon. Oops. Not even close...even Maxwell Smart would decline saying, "Missed it by that much."

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.

Images by Mark Musselman

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Counting Birds

The Beidler Forest Christmas Bird Count will be held on Monday. Hopefully, the approaching rain will have moved out by then. The Christmas Bird Count is limited to a circle with a 15-mile diameter. However, a bigger bird count coming in February that can be conducted anywhere by anyone no matter the bird identification skill level!

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!

Make your plans now so that you are not left out!

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, December 11, 2009

Family Loss

Yesterday, the Audubon South Carolina family suffered a loss. With great sadness we report the death of Meagan, wife of Jeff Mollenhauer our Director of Bird Conservation.

Please keep the families of Jeff and Meagan in your prayers.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good Walk Spoiled

Mark Twain referred to golf as a good walk spoiled, but today it was the rain that spoiled our good walk across the swamp in Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest.

Once again, we were trying to complete the painting of the cross-swamp internal boundary line. Previously, the futility of painting in the rain caused us to abandon our work. At least then, the swamp was relatively dry and the occasional creek channel was only ankle-deep. With the recent rains beginning to fill the swamp, we knew that we would encounter some deeper water in the creek channels. Additionally, today's high temperature was only forecast to be in the low 50Fs. Based on our wholly unscientific water depth equipment, we report the creek channels as being SOPRANO high!

Although we were unable to complete the boundary painting job, the final creek crossing was more distressing. It wasn't the cool air or the creek's depth, but the fact that we crossed the deep creek just before our lunch break and the rain began to fall steadily as we finished lunch. As paint won't dry in the rain and remain on the trees, we had to head back to the truck, which was on the other side of that deep creek.

As Maxwell Smart was wont to say, "Missed it by that much!"

Monday, December 07, 2009

Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count

On December 14th, Audubon South Carolina will host the first official Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count. Last year, we conducted a test run, which you can read about here.

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.

Hermit Thrush image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Calm After the Storm

On Wednesday, downtown Charleston flooded (not really breaking news), tornado watches were issued, lightning struck, heavy rain fell...not what you want to see the day before a field trip to the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! No worries! Yesterday, the third graders from Orangeburg Christian Academy in the upper third of Four Holes Swamp's watershed had blue skies, mild temperatures, water in the swamp and more wildlife sightings than the last four groups combined! The weather definitely matters.

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.

At Goodsen Lake, we were treated to the first alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) sighting in the last three weeks. The warm weather also lured another Cottonmouth out of its cypress-trunk den along the lake's edge. Nothing like a little December sunshine to bring out the cold-blooded reptiles.

The sharp pain in the sinus cavities was a call to check today's weather radar...looks like the swamp's in for another dose of rain.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Seasons Are Changing

The seasons are changing here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The day began with a brilliant blue sky, temperatures in the low 60Fs, and a gentle breeze coaxing leaves from the rapidly-diminishing canopy. The sky has turned gray and the high temp for the day has already been registered. The weather forecasters are confident that tomorrow will be a windy, rain-filled day. Although these same forecasters have been repeatedly errant over the last few weeks regarding the possibility of precipitation (note soggy school group visits to the swamp or cancellations), a look at the radar image reveals the cause of their supreme confidence. More than a few leaves are destined to lose some feet in elevation tomorrow.

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.

Based on the radar, it looks like we'll be spending tomorrow inside yet again.

Images by Mark Musselman