Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blooming Spring

With the recent warm weather, the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is experiencing a plethora of flowering plants.  We noted the Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) yesterday.  Nearby, the Common Blue Violet is flowering.  The color of this plant is highly variable ranging from deep purple to almost white with a wash of purple.

During Saturday's field trip to the marl bluff overlooking Mallard Lake, we found Spring Coral-root (Corallorrhiza wisteriana).  This plant is part of a group called saprophytes.  Saprophytes have no chlorophyll and therefore do not photosynthesize.  Saprophytes are either parasitic or, as is the case with Spring Coral-root, obtain their food from decaying organic material.  In order to maximize the amount of water and nutrients absorbed from the forest soil and overlaying decaying organic material, Spring Coral-root and other saprophytic flowering plants have developed a mycorrhizal association with fungus.  The fungus at the plant's roots increases the total surface area for absorption and passes the water and food to the plant.  The relationship is obligate and the saprophyte will not survive without the fungus.  Therefore, transplanting saprophytic flowering plants is nearly impossible as the relationship between the plant, the fungus, and the specific soil are difficult to replicate at another site.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Prothonotary Warblers Are Back!

The Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) have returned to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!  Not only have they returned, but the birds spotted yesterday were all birds banded during last year's Project PROTHO.  This year, they became the first data collected for Year II of Project PROTHO.

The Dwarf Trillium has been blooming.  The Yellow-throated Warblers (Dendroica dominica) and Northern Parulas (Parula americana) have been singing and the Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) have finally gained access to remove the dead deer.  However, now the swamp will reverberate with the "sweet, sweet, sweet!" of the Prothonotary Warbler!

One of the banded Prothonotary Warblers was A056.  He was the host parent of a Brown-headed Cowbird chick last year and nested near #138.  Today, he was spotted from #128 all the way to #149.  As more Prothonotary Warblers arrive and begin vying for territory, the movements of individual birds will restricted.

It looks like spring has finally arrived.  This is a terrific time to visit the old-growth swamp as a family or with a school group!

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nest Box Installation

With the imminent arrival of the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), we have been eagerly completing preparations for Project PROTHO (Year II) at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!
As previously written here, with a great deal of help from our volunteers, South Carolina Master Naturalists and 5th grade students at Orangeburg County's St. James Gaillard Elementary School, we have been able to assemble 250 nest boxes for the Prothonotary Warblers and Project PROTHO! Over several days earlier this month, Audubon staff and volunteers trekked out into the swamp laden with these same bird houses. We picked tracts of swamp that were previously logged of Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees.  Prothonotary Warblers love to nest cavities. Unfortunately, trees tend to only develop cavities as they become older.  Therefore, where the swamp has been logged and trees are absent or too young to have cavities, Prothonotary Warblers cannot find adequate nesting sites to raise their young. Project PROTHO is attempting to increase Prothonotary Warbler numbers in these degraded areas by putting in substitute nesting cavities.  Cue the fabulously refurbished milk/juice carton nesting boxes! 
Volunteers and staff have gone out on four occasions to place nest boxes.  Last week, we went to a site south of Hwy 453 and waded out into the thigh-deep and cold water. Jeff Mollenhauer, Audubon South Carolina's Director of Bird Conservation, directed the placement of the nest boxes. Boxes were placed every 25 meters along the creek channel and secured with strapping tape to the trunks of trees that appeared likely to have water at their bases once the water level inevitably drops in the warmer weather. Distance is necessary between boxes so pairs of nesting Prothonotary Warblers won’t be competing over the same space.

Volunteers were able to get into the ‘heart of the swamp’ and see places not seen when visiting our boardwalk or paddling on our canoe trips.  However, it was not all fun and games.  A few were unlucky enough to find out how cold the water is during the month of March. Beware folks!  When wading through thigh-deep water, cypress knees and underwater obstacles add to the challenge of staying on your feet!

With our nest boxes up and ready throughout the swamp, we eagerly await, with binoculars and camera in hand, for the return of the first Prothonotary Warbler. Let spring migration and the breeding season begin!

Images by Mark Musselman and John Fisk (he's been on every installation trip!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Charleston AFB Earth Day

Yesterday, the education department from the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest took samples of macroinvertebrates from the swamp and headed to the Charleston Air Force Base for the Earth Day celebration.  In 10-minute waves over two hours, 300 5th graders stopped by our tent and picked through the macroinvertebrate samples and learned how the organisms help us determine the quality of the water.

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gator Video

We spent the day at the Charleston Air Force Base's Earth Day celebration showing 5th graders the macroinvertebrates from the swamp bottom.  More on that tomorrow, but today we wanted to post a video made from a series of still images showing an alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) hauling itself out on a log in Goodson Lake at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!

Image video by Mark Musselman

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beaver Dam Video

As previously reported on this blog, beavers (Castor canadensis) have been busy altering the environment around the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Even with binoculars, the low dam is difficult to see and identify from the boardwalk.  As we do not allow visitors to walk off of the boardwalk, we created a short video to show some of the beaver construction.

Video by Mark Musselman

Friday, March 19, 2010

Barred Owl Nest

Barred Owls (Strix varia) are frequently observed from the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  We have witnessed one owl take a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) from a tree, but usually the owls are seen hunting, catching, and eating crayfish.  This week was no exception.

Almost everyone coming off the boardwalk reported seeing a Barred Owl.  Many saw owls catching crayfish.  However, we were able to see an adult owl catch, declaw, and carry a crayfish to the bird's nest within a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) cavity.

On a previous trip around the boardwalk, we observed an owl hunting crayfish near the edge of the swamp by #3.  Once the owl had captured a crayfish, we watched it fly to two separate perches within nearby trees, each perch slightly higher than the last.  Eventually, the owl flew up high into a Bald Cypress, but out of view.  By the time we were able to move to a vantage point with a clear view of the tree's east side, the owl had flown in the opposite direction.  We took note of where we were standing.

This week, we saw the owl in the images, watched it catch a crayfish and prepare it for consumption by another individual.  Knowing where we needed to be, we quickly moved to the point with the best view of the suspected nest tree while the owl cautiously worked its way higher up the nearby trees.  Right on cue, the owl flew to the cavity opening and delivered the crayfish meal to its mate or possible one of its offspring!  Look closely at the arrows and you will see that more of the cavity is visible by the right arrow.  The owl is present at the left arrow and blocks a portion of the cavity, but the owl's color and pattern camouflage its presence.  The entire tree (in the distance) is shown in the right image.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, March 18, 2010

App Made the Newspaper

In case you missed it, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest boardwalk-specific iPhone/iPod Touch app made it into today's The Post and Courier.

See the article here.

Image by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Crayfish Video

You may or may not see a crayfish when visiting the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.  However, you can watch one in the video below as well as in the next version of our boardwalk-specific iPhone/iPod Touch app that we released last week.  On the app note, today marked the first time visitors arrived with the app already loaded to their iPhone.

Video by Mark Musselman

Spring Hints

Although today's weather at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has turned gray and cool with rain on the way, the last few days have hinted that spring is on the way!  Hang in there!

SPOILER ALERT - this is a reptile-heavy blog entry!

One of the first animals spotted by a student from the Trinity Montessori School was a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).  Remember that dead deer?  Well, the falling water level has finally allowed the deer to soften sufficiently for vulture access.  Depending on the direction of the wind, there is also now a hint of deer on the warm air.

The warm air (only in the low 60Fs, but warmer than the water) also lured some of the reptiles from there winter hideouts.  The alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) made its first appearance over the weekend, but gave the students a show yesterday by swimming to the middle of Goodson Lake and hauling its great bulk up and over a log.  Plenty of "Ooooooohs" from the crowd!

Around the corner by the other platform, an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) was sunning outside of its cypress tree den, a Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota) was sunning on a cypress knee, and a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) was sunning on a fallen cypress limb.  Along the edge of the swamp near #14, a trio of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) were basking on logs, including one showing the identification notch from Dr. Jackie Litzgus' research.

After the school group's departure, we headed back onto the boardwalk to collect several bottles that had recently floated in on the high water.  Although the sun had disappeared behind the low clouds, several more snakes had ventured from their winter shelter.  An Eastern Cottonmouth was coiled under the piece of boardwalk left at #4 to show damage caused by Hurricane Hugo, while a Banded Water Snake was on a log on the opposite side of the boardwalk.  Near #5, the Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) showed itself in its cypress tree den.  Just beyond #6, another Banded Water Snake was out on a log.

The Yellow-throated Warblers (Dendroica dominica) are singing, the Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are pushing out red, the Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) have pushed through the pine straw, and the reptiles are showing themselves!  Spring is coming!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, March 15, 2010

Turkey Season

Although it is possible to see Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) along the boardwalk, they are often spotted in the fields and forests as one approaches the driveway to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  That was the case yesterday morning as we drove to work.  Males fanning their tails along Beidler Forest Road caught our attention.

With turkey hunting season approaching (April 1- May 1), these toms need to work at being less conspicuous.

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, March 12, 2010

Family Answers Call of Wild

We'll be working the weekend at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, so we're not there today.  However, a piece regarding Beidler Forest appeared in today's The Post and Courier.   Since we are not there, we'll let Ms. Amy Kirk describe the swamp "in her words."

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beidler Forest Boardwalk App is Live

The Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest boardwalk-specific app is now live and available for FREE on iTunes!

Boardwalk-specific app for Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Busy Beavers

There have been busy beavers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest...figuratively and literally!

First, after much gnashing of teeth and secret Apple computer handshakes, the Beidler Forest boardwalk-specific app has finally made it through the approval uploading process. If Apple doesn't have any issues with the "tight" coding, the app should be approved by next week for free downloading at the iTunes App Store.

Boardwalk-specific app for Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman

Second, the actual beavers have been busy. We have previously reported on the return of beavers to the swamp, the dangers they faced in the open water, the dam and lodge they built to avoid the open water, how other animals benefited from the beavers' environmental changes, and how they had begun gnawing on trees near the swamp's edge. We now know why the beavers have been so busy near #114 along the boardwalk.

Beaver dam at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman
Beaver sign at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman

While scouting sites to place cover boards for our herp-themed summer camp, we discovered additional beaver damming. Beavers have gnawed on numerous cypress knees, gnawed on a variety of other trees, and girdled a spruce pine tree. Once again, the dam is less than two feet tall, but it is pooling water behind it. Although the dam is far enough from the boardwalk to make it difficult to see even with binoculars, we'll continue to monitoring the beaver activity to see how the swamp will be affected in that area.

Beaver sign at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman
Beaver sign at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest by Mark Musselman

Images by Mark Musselman