Monday, June 29, 2009

End of Summer Camp Session #1

The first session of summer camp 2009 at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is over! The third session is already full, but there are still a few spaces open in the second session. A registration form can be found here as well as the schedule of events for the camp week.

The first half of summer camp was covered in the previous
entry. The images below tell the story better than any prose.

Finding the other member of their bird species by sound alone.

Capturing and observing insects under the powerline as insects are a critical component of the habitat, especially for birds with chicks to feed! Non-native insects compete with native insects for food and have been known to introduce disease into the native plant community. Non-native plants cannot or are not eaten by native insects, which limits the supply of food available to native insects. Additionally, non-native insects may not be eaten by native wildlife thus allowing those insect populations to increase unchecked.

Using the low boardwalk, campers created an event map, which included anything of interest that they heard, saw, smelled or experienced.

On Friday, campers were back on the main boardwalk to count bird species for the end-of-camp birdathon. Although, we only identified 10 species of birds, including the Barred Owl (Strix varia) taken by Don Wuori, we saw several species of well-fed snakes.

Additionally, the process of counting birds to raise funds for conservation (one penny per species) helped to reinforce the fact that conservation does not just takes a commitment of time and resources to ensure the protection of vital habitat and the life within it.

The brown-painted nest boxes constructed from two juice cartons will be used next spring in Project PROTHO to help Prothonotary Warblers find suitable nesting sites in areas of the swamp that were logged prior to becoming part of the Francis Beidler Forest's 16,000+ acres. Not only did campers help with the Project PROTHO science by observing banded birds along the boardwalk and recording the data, their nest boxes will become an integral component in next spring's research efforts!

Finally, it was time for lunch with the family, a recap of the week's events, and swamp camp graduation certificates.

Images by Mark Musselman

Barred Owl image by Don Wuori

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Camp - Session #1

The first session of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is half completed! Banded birds, learned the 6 Ss of bird identification, walked the boardwalk (saw Prothonotary Warblers, snapping turtle, fawn, several Barred Owls, cottonmouth, bowfin, longnose gar, yellow-bellied slider laying eggs, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron gorging on crayfish), and made Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes for next spring's Project PROTHO restoration project! Insect studies, bird house building, Jeopardy!, and the end-of-week birdathon are still to come!

Releasing a Swainson's Warbler
Here are a few shots of the action so far:

Building nest boxes

Barred Owl

White-eyed Vireo unhappy with owl

Eastern Box Turtle
Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Santee Cooper and Summer Camp

The Santee Cooper powerline that crosses the swamp north of the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is clearly visible in aerial and satellite imagery. Some may see a tremendous scar across the land even though the electricity the lines delivery is a critical component of all our lives. However, things are not always as they appear.

Any visitor to the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at Beidler Forest will quickly observe the lack of sunlight reaching the forest floor during the times of the year that leaves are present on the trees. For this reason, alligators cannot be seen everywhere along the boardwalk, but only at Goodson Lake where the lack of trees allows sunlight to easily penetrate the otherwise dense canopy and provide the reptiles the warming rays that they desire. Likewise, other reptiles, including the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), seek basking opportunities. By radio-tracking Spotted Turtles for three years, Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus found that they spent considerable time in the powerline right-of-way where low vegetation provided cover but did not significantly diminish the warming power of the sun. The cut through the forest actually enhanced the habitat for the Spotted Turtle.

With summer camp quickly approaching, we are checking sites around the center for various activities. The area under the powerline has a variety of flowering plants not found in the shade beneath the forest canopy. The flowers attract numerous insects, which in turn can be eaten by birds (this year's camp theme). At our request, Santee Cooper has marked off a portion of the right-of-way beneath the powerline so that the area will not be mowed by the power company. This hands-off management will allow native plants (like the thistles shown) to thrive in a meadow habitat that would not have existed naturally at this site. It's location just beyond our parking area makes it accessible to visiting school groups and enhances the value of our educational programming. Although the site will also work wonderfully for our camp activity and we were able to capture the images below, we were disappointed to learn that we had picked up an aggravation (copyright pending) of chiggers.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) ; male and female (or immature male)

Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe)

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pictures in a Rush!

We're heading out the door to make a Global Positioning System (GPS)/geocaching presentation this evening at the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's summer workshop for teachers. Therefore, this entry will be light on text. However, we have seen plenty in the last two days here at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest and wanted to post a few images.

Yesterday, Jay and Vonell visited from the Santee Cooper intern program. They participated in the upland bird banding in which we captured and banded four Swainson's Warblers and two White-eyed Vireos. After lunch, we walked around the boardwalk and talked about the special characteristics of the old-growth swamp. A first for us was seeing a pair of Ebony Jewelwings mating.

Today, a summer camp group from the Charleston Catholic School saw snakes, White Ibis, Prothonotary Warblers, Greenfly Orchid blooming, and Barred Owls catching and eating crayfish!

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, June 12, 2009

Storm Aftermath

The storm system that blew through last evening left the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest covered with debris. When the wind blows, we expect dead branches to fall out of the trees...nature's pruning! Add soaking rains and some heavier limbs can be enticed to relinquish to the pull of gravity. This morning's debris was something in between.

The organic carpet stretching before us was a collection of small to medium limbs that were both dead and green. In the mix were leaves, sweetgum balls, cypress cones, green tupelo fruit and bunches of Spanish Moss. Fortunately, no damage was done to the boardwalk, but sweeping the debris into the swamp took over 1.5 hours!

Although much of the time was spent with our eyes fixed on the boardwalk just beyond our toes, we did detect some of the life occurring in the swamp. A plethora of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) continued to sing and flash yellow as they streaked about their territories. All but one of the Prothonotary Warblers were birds banded as part of Project PROTHO. Near #177, A034 caught a dragonfly, landed in the open near the boardwalk, removed the dragonfly's wings, repeatedly beat the dragonfly on a log, and then ate its prey.

Back near #154, bowfin were creating tremendous splashes at the water's surface. The water is not low enough that low oxygen levels would occur, so the action of the fish didn't seem to be gulping of atmospheric oxygen (something this primitive fish can do). We thought for a minute that we might get a close look at an otter on the hunt. It was not to be, but our hunt brought us before a flowering Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which had also attracted the attention of a variety of insects.

As we approached #165, we knew we were entering owl country and the adults would still be feeding their young. Immediately, we heard the begging call of a young Barred Owl (Strix varia) and spotted it flying to a low perch directly above the boardwalk! We were able to walk to within 15 feet under the watchful eye of the young bird. As it studied us, it continued to call for food. Shortly, one of the parents swooped silently from behind us and alit next to its offspring. With the sun still in the east and at our backs, the lighting was perfect. The birds turned toward each other, so both faces were visible in the soft light. The crayfish meal was passed as if in slow-motion. It was award-winning photography with a doubt!

Too bad we didn't bring the camera along on the boardwalk cleaning. As is always the case, the quality of the photographic opportunity is directly proportional to the distance the photographer is from the camera.

Images unable to be provided by Mark Musselman

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Camp in the Swamp!

Summer camp in the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp is quickly filling to capacity!

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest offers a choice of three, week-long, summer day-camps during June and July with only 30 campers per session. Francis Beidler Forest contains the largest remaining stand of virgin, cypress-tupelo swamp in the world. This internationally-recognized wetland is the perfect setting for stimulating a child’s love for nature!

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv discussed what he called “nature deficit disorder.” For a variety of reasons, many children are spending little or no time outdoors exploring and no longer have a connection to the natural world. We have made it our mission at the Francis Beidler Forest summer camp to have campers spend the maximum amount of time outdoors exploring nature’s complexity. In the process, campers discover that time spent outdoors, in a swamp no less, is not fatal, but is actually fun! Of course, we hope that any knowledge obtained through fun at swamp camp will translate into an appreciation for and a willingness to protect the many habitats found beyond the campers’ homes.

With BIRDS! as this year’s theme, campers will become amateur naturalists by engaging in science, hands-on activities and crafts. Jeff Mollenhauer, Director of Bird Conservation, will demonstrate mist netting and bird banding in support of Project PROTHO. Activities will include bird banding demonstrations, basic identification by sight, basic identification by sound, migration, questing and a birdathon safari for conservation. Shelly Knight, Art Director, will continue her outstanding work by creatively weaving this year’s theme into a variety of artistic media. The programs for the summer camp are geared for grades 1 through 6. You can see the tentative schedule here.

The camp day will last from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm at a cost of $85 per camper or $75 for each additional camper in the family; scholarships are available. Please call Beidler Forest at 843-462-2150 to secure a place for your child in the week of your choice or send an e-mail to Mark Musselman at An enrollment form can be downloaded at

The dates for the 2009 summer camp will be:
Session I: June 22-26 (3 slots left)

Session II: July 13-17 (15 slots left)

Session III: July 20-24 (9 slots left)

Sign up now before all of the summer camp swamp slots are filled!

Images by Mark Musselman