Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge Begins New Years Day 2012

Bird-A-Day Challenge Begins New Years Day 2012

Whether you are an expert birder or a casual backyard observer, you can have fun playing this free birding game beginning January 1st!

It’s called “Bird-A-Day.” The objective: Count how many days in a row you can find a “new” bird. (New = recorded for the first time in this game.) The rule: You must never repeat a species, nor go a day without seeing a new one. If you do, you are out of the challenge.

Rene will be blogging about the adventure here on “The Perch,” and posting daily Bird-A-Day updates and quizzes on Facebook and Twitter. Whether you join in, or just follow along, the goal is the same: Have fun!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wild Pigs Worldwide Problem

As we have reported in the past, Wild Pigs(Sus scrofa) are an invasive problem at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

Today's Washington Post article reports that wild pigs are a major and increasing problem in Pakistan. A quick search on the Internet will reveal that the problem with pigs and habitat destruction is worldwide.


What can be done to control the problem? South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources' news release describes the issue and regulations, including recent legislation passed to control the transportation of wild pigs throughout the state.

DNR encourages those who have wild hogs on properties they own or hunt to lethally and legally remove every hog they have the opportunity to remove...Feral pigs have been called by some an "ecological train wreck" and the destructive nature of this invasive species lends itself easily to such a description. All feral pigs share an unbridled appetite and can destroy hundreds of acres of farmland as well as native plants and wildlife habitat in just a few short nights. Free roaming pigs reproduce at a prodigious rate and are capable of producing two litters of up to a dozen piglets a year.

As noted in the Washington Post article, ignoring the problem does not make it go away and in fact as the exact opposite effect!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Bird Count - Initial Report

All the precincts have yet to be counted, but early returns suggest that this year's Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count (CBC) numbers will be significantly lower than last year's.  With three of the 13 areas yet to report, the comparison to last year is 86 versus 100 species, and 7700 versus 17,300 individual birds.  The lower numbers were unexpected, since last year's weather rose to a high (read that as HIGH) of 34F and was blustery, while this year's weather quickly rose from 34F into the upper 60Fs and was sunny and calm.  Maybe the birds did not get the email specifying the date and time of the count.  Thank you to the 22 volunteer counters who turned out to help six members of the Audubon South Carolina staff.

While overall numbers are certainly lower, some groups had busy days, including team #11 counting in Harleyville and The Bend of Four Holes Swamp.

We had a great count yesterday.   We had 15 Sandhill Cranes, about 100 American Pipits, and 7 Wilson's Snipe as highlights for us. We had not previously recorded pipits or snipe in the past 3 years on this territory.  The pipits prevented us from reaching Giant Cement on time, so you can blame them!  The Giant Cement property did prove fruitful, giving us some wading birds, Bald Eagles, and Fox Sparrows.

Keith L. McCullough

 Taken Feb. 2011 near Harleyville

Keep watching this space!  We'll post the results of the CBC as soon as the counters of the remaining three areas send in their data sheets.

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, December 09, 2011

Beidler Forest Hotspot

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is an eBird hotspot!  From the eBird webpageA real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

eBird documents the presence or absence of species, as well as bird abundance through checklist data. A simple and intuitive web-interface engages tens of thousands of participants to submit their observations or view results via interactive queries into the eBird database. eBird encourages users to participate by providing Internet tools that maintain their personal bird records and enable them to visualize data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts. All these features are available in English, Spanish, and French. A birder simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing.

You can record your bird sightings anywhere you travel.  If you are someplace new or visiting your favorite old-growth swamp, you can use the eBird option on the Audubon Birds app.  The eBird option allows you to see what birds are being reported near your location, especially at hotspot locations.  If you are in our area, the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary is designated as a hotspot.  A quick look at the bar chart shows how abundant a species of bird is at Beidler Forest and when that species is present.  For example, in the images below, Carolina Wrens are frequently seen throughout the year, while Prothonotary Warblers are abundant when present from the end of March to September.

The Christmas Bird Count for Four Holes Swamp will be held on Monday, December 19th.  We can still use you help counting birds!  Call 843-462-2150 to join the count!

Expeditions with Patrick McMillan will feature Francis Beidler Forest at 7:00 pm (new time) on January 1, 2012.  With plenty of distractions on New Year's Day, we understand if you record the show for later viewing!  We have yet to see any of the video, but we were there live when it was captured and you won't want to miss what we experienced.  It was a typical day in the swamp, but typical here is always magical!

Images by Mark Musselman

Friday, December 02, 2011

Focus on Birds

Winter does not conjure within most people thoughts of birding.  However, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest will certainly be focusing on birds over the next few months.

First, from the Lowcountry Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Youth Grant Committee, we received $2000.00 to purchase 26 pairs of 8x40 binoculars. The binoculars will be used to launch a program to develop young birders.

Image by Mike Dawson

This birding program will enhance the boardwalk experience for students by allowing them to see and identify birds that would remain elusive to the naked eye. Albert Einstein said, "Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift." We can provide the old-growth forest in which a density and variety of birds exists throughout the year. However, we cannot bring the birds close enough for young (or old) eyes to see sufficiently in order for the observer to appreciate a bird's beauty or the subtle field markings necessary for proper identification. Lightweight, yet powerful binoculars allow students to use their observation skills to obtain the information necessary to identify a bird using a field guide like the one loaded to all of our iPod Touches

With the ability to look using binoculars, students will have the tools necessary to move toward comprehension, which we believe leads to appreciation and a desire to conserve the resource for future generations.

Next, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is rapidly approaching.  We will be conducting the Four Holes Swamp CBC on December 19th.  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.

From David Yarnold, Audubon president:
Both Audubon and the CBC trace their roots to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Audubon movement grew out of public outrage at the slaughter of wild birds, killed so that their feathers could be used to decorate the hats of fashionable women. This was the case with the magnificent Great Egret, hunted to near extinction in the early 1900s, and now the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

The Christmas Bird Count, proposed by one of Audubon’s founders, Frank Chapman, began in 1900 as an alternative to bird-hunting competitions. In these contests, called side-hunts, hunters would choose sides to see who could kill the most birds. Chapman challenged birders to count rather than kill birds. This “new kind of hunt” became the Christmas Bird Count.

Finally, it is not too early to begin thinking of the Great Backyard Bird Count (Feb. 17-20, 2012)!

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. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes or longer, if one wishes, on a single day or on each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Mark Musselman, education director at the Francis Beidler Forest, will be birding at various sites around Summerville on Day 1 (Friday, February 17th).  The count will begin at the parking area near the tennis courts in Azalea Park at 8:30 a.m.  Other stops will include Ashley Ridge High School, The Ponds and Middleton Place. Anyone can join this group for all or part of the day, especially those looking to learn about birding or improve their bird identification skills.  Anyone wishing to join this group or simply to follow the progress can check @TheSwampThing (!/TheSwampThing) on Twitter.

Go forth and bird! 

Images (#2, #3) by Mark Musselman

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ripped From the Headlines!

The staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest hopes that everyone had a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving...everyone and every thing!

Image by Mark Musselman

While enjoying our days away from the swamp, we had extra time to peruse the printed and online news.  Here are a few noteworthy selections:

In a callback to our post from last week, we spotted an article by Bo Petersen in The Post and Courier regarding an award nomination of local conservationist George Rabb for his lifetime of work protecting wildlife and their habitats.  Why are frogs disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate?  Mr. Rabb can tell you.  "He drove research that identified a deadly skin fungus literally being carried frog to frog as local species were transported around the world. Because of that work, a global effort is under way to find ways to diffuse the crisis and conserve healthy captive species as a fallback."

Next, work continues with Ashley Ridge High School and the new nature trail. Last week, we were on campus to teach the basics of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation.  Students quickly got the hang of the technology and found various objects like a manhole cover, a specific palm tree, white traffic arrows, and a bench.  All objects that could have been located with verbal directions, but it likely would have devolved into something akin to the old game of telephone.  With their newly acquired skills, students will be able to capture the coordinates of various locations along the nature trail, including wildlife sightings!  Using the data they collect, students will also be able to create their own maps.  You can read more about the day in the Summerville Journal Scene's article.

Images by Emily Cavell

Finally, "one of the world's rarest and most valuable books is out of the vault and on public view."  You can read the rest of Joann Loviglio's article regarding John James Audubon's "The Birds of America" in yesterday's Post and Courier.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Master Naturalist Visit

Last Monday, the participants in the Master Naturalist program at the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island visited the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  This time of year, wildlife along the boardwalk can be scarce.  Many of the birds have migrated to southerly locations, reptiles are less active and often hidden from sight, and deer are literally gun-shy.

During our walk around the boardwalk, we did see a variety of birds, Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) at the lake, a Greenish Rat Snake sunning on a tree branch, and this likely-born-this-year Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) basking in a patch of sun next to the Yellow Popular (Liriodendron tulipifera) sign.

After lunch, we moved to the bluff near Mallard Lake to inspect the seeps and see what might be living in the those moist habitats.  While still above the bluff on the sandy, dry stretch, Tony Mills caught a male Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus) basking on a fallen log.  Note the vibrant blue on the lizard's belly and throat!

Under a log, we found a female Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) with her eggs.  Once the water level rises and floods the area, the eggs will hatch.  Elsewhere we found Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Three-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata), and Slimy Salamanders (Plethodon glutinosus).

Finally, hopping across the leaf litter, we found what we are identifying as an Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum).  Variability in individuals makes this one tough to identify with only the image to examine.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, November 17, 2011

South Carolina's Wild Pig Problem

At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we have previously reported on the wild pig problem in the old-growth swamp.

Today, The Southeast Farm Press published an online article regarding the general problem of the non-native pigs and the specific issue the animals pose for agriculture.  The article is a fine summary of the problem, which affects us all directly or indirectly.  It is worth the quick read!

Images by Mark Musselman

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Elusive Wood Duck

If you have never seen a male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), then you are missing one of nature's works of art!  In fact, hunting this bird for its plumage and as food brought the species to the brink of extinction by the early 1900s.


Wood Ducks nest in cavities, natural or made by other animals, so they are often found in swamps and bottomland forests.  Loss of habitat and some forestry practices eliminated the nesting cavities sought by this species, which is the reason Wood Duck nest boxes became ubiquitous in some areas.  While the practice of placing nest boxes helped the species recover, more is not necessarily better as female Wood Ducks increase their habit of dumping eggs into other birds' nests as the density of cavities or nest boxes increases.  Clutches of 15-50 eggs can result from 2-10 hens contributing eggs to the nest.  Cavities may be quite high in a tree, but 24 hours after hatching, the ducklings will exit the cavity and free fall.  Their light weight and landing zones of soft leaves or water results in few injuries.

 female behind male

Over the last two weeks, Wood Ducks have gotten our attention at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest as their noisy courtship has begun. The female's vocalization, heard at the end of this audio, is what can be heard most often from the boardwalk and our offices. Displays will continue into the spring as groups of a dozen birds, more males than females, gather to court and eventually split into monogamous pairs. These displays occur mainly on the water.  The heavy weight of ducks relative to their wing area requires continuous flapping and makes aerial maneuvers and displays difficult to impossible.


The wet area behind a portion of the beaver dam (small portion shown in blue) near #1 along the boardwalk is where the Wood Ducks have been located.  As our Wood Duck images consist of distant blurs or the ones above taken inside at the South Carolina Aquarium, we wanted to try and capture some clear images in the swamp.  Down the hill from the outdoor classroom, there was a screen of large trees between us and the ducks.  We moved slowly and quietly while frequently checking with binoculars the location of our quarry.  Occasionally, a duck would swim out from behind the screen of trees and we would freeze until the duck returned to a position out of our view.  Quite pleased with our stealth, we arrived at a position close enough for our long lens to provide a quality image.  Alas, there were no ducks!  Scanning with the binoculars, we located a male watching us from a position 50 meter to the south.  Upon further inspection, we saw additional ducks silently swimming south down the channel.  As the trees screened us from the ducks, or so we thought, so too was the ducks' exit screened from us.  Visitors passing along the boardwalk caused the ducks to flush to flight, which revealed the presence of at least a dozen ducks when we had seen no more than five.  Obviously, we were not as stealthy as we thought and had been under careful observation the entire time, which allowed for the ducks' silent withdrawal.

The elusive ducks won again.  However, trips into the swamp would be less exciting if we did not have plenty of targets still on our image wish list!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Bridge at ARHS

Yesterday, the final bridge was cemented into place across the west end of the drainage ditch that parallels the majority of the Ashley Ridge High School nature trail.  This project was funded by a TogetherGreen grant, which is a joint effort by the National Audubon Society and Toyota that aims to inspire environmental leadership and community-based action.

During last month's workday, students were able to complete the first ditch-spanning bridge, build multiple smaller foot bridges, lay down a gravel trail through a low area, construct an outdoor classroom, and continue trail clearing.  Unfortunately, two of the four power poles generously donated by South Carolina Electric & Gas could not be moved into place before the workday.  Yesterday, the heavy poles were dragged by truck to a location close to the west end of the trail.

Once the poles were as close to the ditch as they could be moved by truck, staff from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, environmental studies teachers from Ashley Ridge High School, and several environmental studies students used rope and handles to carry the poles down the slight incline to the ditch.  More ropes and some muscle power got the poles to span the ditch.  Students used post-hole diggers to dig into the ditch bank, then attached some anchoring lumber, and finally filled the holes with cement to securely set the power pole supports in place.

Later this month, students will conduct a mini-workday to attach the decking to the bridge, which will allow safe access across both the east and west ends of the ditch and complete the nature trail!  Even though the trail has yet to be completed, a math class was already walking the trail and using the outdoor classroom space.

As we prepared to depart, we noticed that some of our trail leveling work had uncovered the nest site of an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum).  The four young turtles had hatched from their eggs, but had not yet departed the cavity in a high ground that had become part of the trail.  With plenty of oohs and aahs, we removed the turtles from the cavity and released them in a nearby low, wet area.

Maybe while studying all the other plants and animals along the trail, students will come across the turtles they helped get started in the world just south of the campus.

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Oh! Deer!

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been a common sight around the 1.75-mile boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Maybe it's all the hunting going on outside of the sanctuary or maybe it's simply easier to see through the swamp now that many of the leaves have fallen from the trees.  Whatever the reason, visitors have been able to view the deer at close range and capture images to take home!

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Christmas Bird Count 2011

The Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count will be hosted by Audubon South Carolina on Monday, December 19th, 2011!  Have you been wracking your brain for a gift to give nature?  Well, what would be better than joining 112 years of tradition by volunteering in a worthy and enjoyable citizen-science project for the better understanding of birds and their habitats?

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) eating Flowering Dogwood fruit

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a long-standing program of the National Audubon Society that began 112 years ago as a method for 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.

Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)

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 CBC veterans. Volunteers will meet at the nature center at 8:00 am to begin and return to the center at 4:30 pm to wrap up the day with some refreshments.

If you are interested in participating in this valuable citizen-science opportunity, please contact Mark Musselman at 843-462-2150. There is a $5/person charge to cover costs associated with compilation and dissemination of the CBC results. You can see previous results here.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

 Female Eastern Towhee (Piplio erythrophythalmus)
(Although this species is said to forage on the ground, this female was pulling fruit off the Flowering Dogwood.)

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wildlife Along the Boardwalk

With few visitors enjoying the cool, sunny day in the swamp and with our necks getting stiff from sitting in front of computers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we decided to take a stroll along the 1.75-mile boardwalk to count birds for our weekly entry on the eBird web site.  What birds we saw or heard are listed below.

Although the time of year and the breezy conditions were not conducive to great birdwatching, we were able to catch glimpses of some other swamp residents.  Near #136, we were observing three Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) soaring just above the treetops unable to find any rising warm air.  As we were about to continue our walk, we detected the subtle motion of a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) browsing quietly 20 meters north of the boardwalk.  The first section of the video below shows a portion of our time with the deer.

As soon as we reached Goodson Lake, we noticed the water rippling along the far bank.  A quick look through the binoculars revealed a Raccoon (Procyon lotor) using its extremely sensitive paws to probe for food in the shallow water.  As the small animal was too far away to effectively video with the iPod Touch in our pocket, we made a video through the binoculars.  The second section of the video below shows the foraging raccoon.

Finally, we used the iPod Touch/binocular combination to show the main threat to the raccoon in and around the holes (deep spots) like Goodson Lake...the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)!  It may be cool enough now that the alligator will not eat again until spring, but is it worth the risk?

Video by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

TogetherGreen Youth Fellows

This past weekend, the TogetherGreen (There's a Birding the Net Whooping Crane here!) Youth Fellows from four cities (Charleston, San Antonio, Seattle, and Columbus) met at the National Conservation Training Center outside of Shepherdstown, WV.  Each city had youth working on high school student-driven projects in conjunction with a local Audubon center, a local aquarium or zoo, and a local U. S. Fish and Wildlife affiliate. The retreat gave the young grant recipients the chance to met each other and share the projects they have been planning and implementing.

Image by Eddie Gonzales

We have previously reported on the projected facilitated by Emily Cavell out of the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Jim Tatum's article on Emily's Ashley Ridge High School project ran in today's Summerville Journal Scene.  The other projects for the Charleston area are floating wetlands at West Ashley High School facilitated by Marzio Gillis through the South Carolina Aquarium and native plant identification/uses trail at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge facilitated by Sam Buzuleciu.

Not only wast the trip to West Virginia the first airplane ride for several participants, Saturday's snow storm was the first snow experienced by several participants, including one of the first plane riders!  Fortunately for everyone, the snow was gone from the roads and Dulles airport before travel on Sunday.

 Images by Mark Musselman

The early snow was exciting, but the enthusiasm and passion emanating from the young men and women driving the variety of projects was inspiring!