Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mac Stone - Award-winning Photography

Today's Charleston Post and Courier reported what we at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest already knew, Mac Stone is a heck of a photographer!

While working as a seasonal naturalist, Mac took thousands of nature photographs within Four Holes Swamp.  Mac's amazing photographs filled our new brochure and guidebook drawing visitors to the swamp, while presenting beauty that shatters the stereotype of this freshwater wetland.  Mac's 5-minute video captivates viewers and shows the swamp at times of the day and from vantage points not accessible to most visitors.

Today's newspaper article details how an image shot by Mac Stone on Mallard Lake within the Francis Beidler Forest won a commendation in the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest held by the BBC Wildlife magazine and the British Natural History Museum in London.


Image by Mac Stone

Monday, October 04, 2010

Seasonal Naturalists for Fall 2010

The new seasaonal naturalists have arrived at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!

Tara Bailey is a former middle and high school teacher as well as a freelance writer, certified City of Charleston tour guide, and former volunteer at the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey.  Her children have been coming to Francis Beidler Forest for Swamp Camp for the past several years, and when she decided to enter a new career realm, she couldn't think of a better place to combine her loves of  natural and cultural history.  She lives in Summerville with her husband and three daughters.

Elizabeth grew up in Rock Hill, SC where she chased frogs and lizards at an early age. She went to college at Coastal Carolina University where she earned two Bachelors degrees: one in Marine Science and another in Biology. She then moved to Charleston, SC and entered into the Masters program of Marine Biology at the College of Charleston.  While earning her masters degree, she worked with the Department of Natural Resources studying Diamondback terrapins as well as with U.S. Fish and Wildlife monitoring Loggerhead sea turtle nests in Cape Romain. She also volunteered as a SCUBA diver and was the herpetologist intern for the South Carolina Aquarium.  After finishing graduate school, her interest in reptiles lead her to Four Holes Swamp and the Francis Beidler Forest.

Our standards-based curriculum focuses on two units, “Birds” and “Wetland/watersheds,” with grade-specific lessons, some of which can be found on our webpage. Other webpage links point to our species lists and images and our blog, which provides images and examples of school visits as well as mini-lessons for a plethora of natural sciences topics. An online education department calendar allows teachers to see what dates are currently available prior to scheduling their swamp visit. We can comfortably accommodate 100 students or four groups at any one time.

Check out the education department's calendar to see when space is available for your students to visit the unique, old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp.  All the logistical information for your trip can be found here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Students Study Beaver Engineers

Today, 4th grade students from Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary School visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.

As noted previously in this blog, beavers (Castor canadensishave constructed a dam in the swamp. Unfortunately, the dam cannot be seen from the boardwalk and it is not feasible to take 70 students off the boardwalk along the rain-soaked swamp edge to see it.  However, the recent rains have created drainage channels along the low, educational boardwalk next to the nature center.  Using the natural terrain and drainage pattern along the low boardwalk, students were given the opportunity to direct their guide in constructing dams of sticks and leaves.  Two sites, one with a single channel and one with a broad flood plain, were used to demonstrate how a beaver dam can change the habitat.

The South Carolina science standard addressed was:
4-2.6            Explain how organisms cause changes in their environment.

Once at the first site, students were asked to discuss the following within their small groups:

  1. What do beavers eat? (plant material, especially cambium)
  2. What do beavers build? (dams, lodges)
  3. How do beavers build their structures? (using logs, branches, mud, leaves)
  4. Where do beavers build their structures? (dams in channels of flowing water, lodges in pooled water)
Once students shared their answers, each group had the opportunity to suggest where a beaver might construct a dam at the site.  Though most would have preferred to jump off the boardwalk and into the water and mud, we were certain that those responsible for the laundry would want to have a word or two with us.  Therefore, we opted for the next best thing.  With great excitement, students/beaver engineers directed their guide on how and where to construct the dams using nearby sticks and leaves. Who knew there were so many expert dam makers in our community?

After observing the results, the group moved to the second site and repeat dam construction procedures.  The second site was a better representation of what the beavers have accomplished in the swamp.  There was not one obvious channel to block and natural features (trees, logs, and high ground) were incorporated into the dam's construction.  After observing the results of the second dam, students discussed the following questions within their small groups:

  1. How did the dams immediately affect the habitat upstream from the dam? (water pooled; deeper, more-consistent levels of water behind the dam; some plants may be in the water more often than before)
  2. What species might benefit from the change in habitat? (trees or aquatic plants that need or can tolerate constant flooding; fish; frogs; water snakes; wading birds that eat those species; dabbling ducks and geese; bitterns that like thicker, marsh-like habitat)
  3. How do dams immediately affect the habitat downstream from the dam? (less water, other plant species may be able to grow in the drier conditions)
  4. Over time, how will the habitat behind the dam change? (sedimentation will fill the pool and create higher ground and meadow-like conditions and eventually habitat as seen along the swamp’s edge; or the habitat may attract the attention of an alligator, which may eat the beavers allowing the dams to fall into disrepair and the swamp to reclaim the area)
Since the actual beaver dam would remain out-of-sight, students used the iPod Touches to view the beaver dam video and peruse the beaver-related images.  Students could also look in the other image folders for species that they previously identified as having benefited from the beavers’ damming activity.

By the end of the activity and boardwalk tour, the students were expert dam engineers and had no problems writing a letter to the editor for or against the presence of beavers and their construction work in the swamp.