Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Hot in the Swamp!

It's been hot in the swamp this week.  The rain that fell Tuesday at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest did little more than fill some low spots in the swamp, but water has yet to begin flowing downstream toward the Edisto River.  In some areas, only the cracks in the mud collected water.

In lower areas, the water is more than an inch deep, but the cracks can still be seen below the film-covered water.

Though the heat and humidity have been high and the water level low, but the business of producing life has continued.  A Great-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) was spotted sitting on a nest across Goodson Lake from the observation tower.  The nesting bird is half rolled on its side with its mouth agape in an effort to dissipate heat.

On the boardwalk stretch back to the nature center, we were able to capture something we had previously observed regarding Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes) behavior.  The male spider is much smaller than the female and she continues to grow throughout the summer.  Males are often observed on the web with the female, but  males maintain above and behind the female.  This positioning appears to be an attempt to remain off the female's dinner menu.  However, the male is there for a reason and how is mating to occur if such a safe distance is maintained?  The male's strategy seems to be one of patiently waiting until the growing female must shed her too-small exoskeleton and, like a soft-shell crab, is too flaccid to fend off or devour an amorous suitor.

The female's shed exoskeleton can be seen above the pair of spiders.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Camp Boardwalk Scavenger Hunt

Yesterday afternoon, summer campers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest headed out onto the boardwalk for a scavenger hunt.  Items to locate included various reptiles, a nut, a berry, a insect-chewed leaf, a bone, a deciduous tree, an insect with wings, an animal track, scat, etc.  This week's group of campers was loaded with sharp eyes and nearly every items was discovered.

One of the winged insects that we saw was a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros) caught in the web and being eaten by a Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes).  The next largest spider in the images is the male Golden Silk Orbweaver.  He tends to stay behind the female and out of the way, though he did move in closer as she was feeding and possibly distracted.  The smallest spiders on the web appear to be a separate species and may survive on the scraps left in the web after the larger spiders have fed.

A bright green Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) moving across some orange fungus made it easier to spot.

After the recent rain, fungus of all varieties was plentiful around the boardwalk.

Although the campers did not have time to reach the section of the boardwalk where water has finally begun to pool, we headed out after camp to #5 and beyond.  If water continues to flow downstream from areas that had greater rainfall, we should have plenty of water for a swampy feel during tomorrow's walk.  Out at Goodson Lake, we saw an alligator enjoying the sunshine and discovered a Great-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) on a nest across from the tower.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Camp - Week 3

The third week of regular summer camp has begun at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!  This morning's rain will not do much to change the dry state of the swamp, but the tree frogs were calling in anticipation of puddles suitable for egg laying.  We were glad to see the rain, especially as we rescheduled the boardwalk tour from this morning to yesterday morning.

Here are a few of the things we spotted during our walk through the dry, old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes), female

Golden Silk Orbweavers, female (large) and male (small) eating prey

Unidentified orbweaver

Red-femured Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona domiciliorum)

Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata)
(left side thumb)

Fawn pretending it cannot be seen

Rain kept us in most of the day, but the skies lightened after lunch and campers were able to go in search of letters and numbers created by nature's plant life.

Some of the Xs and Os

Images by Mark Musselman

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Advanced Summer Camp a Success!

The first advanced (ages 13-16) summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest ended on a high note despite the continued heat and humidity.

Day #4's canoeing on Mallard Lake was a respite from the heat despite the fact that we could only paddle a tenth of the way up the canoe trail.  However, the heat was still sufficient to addle our brains and keep us from using the camera safely ensconced in the waterproof bag.

The morning of day #5 was schedule was to be filled with exploration of Longleaf Pine stands from recently planted to 20+-year-old trees.  However, the continued heat advisories dictated a change in plans.  Instead, we opted to remain in the shade of the forest canopy above the boardwalk and play boardwalk bingo.  Everyone's bingo card had the same items under each category (five snakes under the snake category).  Therefore, everyone could cross of something each time an item was spotted, but only one participant received "first-to-see" credit.  One could win by straight bingo, if one was the first to see the final item needed for that bingo.  One could also win at the end of the walk by having the most "first-to-see" credits.  Although we did not see everything on the bingo cards, we saw plenty as the competition appeared to heighten the observation skills of the campers. The images below are a sample of what we saw, including "Elvis" the much-photographed knee that the female campers felt looked like the rocker's hair.

Flower - Green-fly Orchid

Hanging out on Elvis

Greenish Rat Snake climbing a tree just beyond Elvis

One more time into the hollow cypress tree

Tomorrow begins the final week of regular summer camp for 2011.  We look forward to seeing everyone back in the swamp for regular and advanced summer camp in 2012!

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Advanced Camp - Day 3

The heat and humidity have returned to the swamp!  Day 3 of advanced summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest had campers soaking wet even though the swamp is nearly dry.

The plan for the day was to hunt for reptiles and amphibians during the morning and then insects within the sunny power line corridor after lunch.  Heat index values approaching 112F caused some modifications to the plan, including an early afternoon retreat to the air-conditioned nature center.

Here are some of the images captured during the day:

Very young Carolina Anole

Eastern Cottonmouth (only snake seen)

Early in the herp hunt

Appeared to be a young Bronze Frog

After some swamp stomping

Non-target spider species


Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Advanced Summer Camp - Day 2

The second day of advanced camp involved swamp stomping off the boardwalk after learning to use Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.  Campers ran a short navigation course around the parking lot at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest hone their GPS-navigation skills.  After discovering the final cache full of swamp-related prizes, campers were prepared for long-range (500-800 meter) navigation legs through the swamp.

The first target was north of the nature center across the power line that runs east-west through the old-growth swamp.  The campers didn't know what was at the final destination and only one camper was responsible for the GPS navigation on any single leg.  As we approached the end of leg and the GPS beeped and showed "Arriving at Destination," the subject of the hike, the large Bald Cypress tree shown at the beginning of the Bodacious Beidler Kneeknocker video, was obvious.  The humidity has returned to the Lowcountry, so the cool, AC-like air flowing out of the opening at the base of the huge, hollow tree was refreshing!

The next camper had the leg that led southeast to the power line where the ground was noticeably wetter.  The gnawing marks on plenty of nearby trees indicated that we were entering the home range of the resident beavers.  The lodge in the middle of the power line right-of-way was surrounded by standing water and a thick barrier of cattails as a result of the dam across the creek channel.

After a quick stop for lunch at the center, we headed out to the final GPS-navigation destination.  The final leg was mainly on the boardwalk and over 800 meters from the center.  The only snake we saw all day was a young Eastern Cottonmouth below the boardwalk.  Within 30 meters of the destination, we departed from the boardwalk and found a pile of trash behind a large tree.  On closer inspection, the pile of trash wasn't random, but the copper sheeting, steel drums, and glass jugs were remnants from an illicit moonshining enterprise.

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, July 18, 2011

Advanced Camp - Day 1

The first day of advanced summer camp with its focus on Project PROTHO has ended at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!  After an overview of Project PROTHO, campers set out onto the boardwalk to seek Prothonotary Warblers and anything else that might show its presence.

Below are a few of the subjects spotted during the morning's trip on the boardwalk and the afternoon's stroll off the boardwalk through the mainly dry swamp.

Wasps hijacking an artificial nest box

Fawn near #109

Five-lined Skink

Bald-faced Hornets and nest

Eastern Cottonmouth

Banded Water Snake

Dog-day Cicada

 Male (small) and female Golden Silk Orbweaver

Fawn still there on return trip

 Southern Black Racer

Images by Mark Musselman