Monday, August 29, 2011

Wind Power and Bird Mortality

Life would be so much easier if our decisions could be based on black-and-white options!  Unfortunately, life is not that way and the mere presence of humans on the planet generates some negative environmental impacts.  Our goal should be to minimize our negative impacts whenever possible.

If you are reading this, you are most likely using an electronic device, which contains materials mined from the Earth, had to be manufactured using energy and other resources, had to be transported to its point of purchase, and requires some form of energy to operate.  There are negative impacts at every point of the process, but there are also opportunities to minimize those impacts.

Today, The Washington Post reports on the controversy between the wind power industry and various wildlife conservation groups regarding the danger to birds from spinning turbine blades at wind farms.

Wind farms currently kill far fewer birds than the estimated 100 million that fly into glass buildings, or up to 500 million killed yearly by cats. Power lines kill an estimated 10 million, and nearly 11 million are hit by automobiles, according to studies.--The Washington Post, 8/28/11

Obviously, we are not going to eliminate buildings and windows, but there are ways to minimize the impact our structures have on birds.  For example, there is the San Francisco Planning Department's newly-adopted Standards for Bird-safe Buildings, including a reference to an article published in Audubon.  Nor should we ignore other dangers to birds simply because they are not as deadly.

“We’re not against wind power,” said Johns of the (The American Bird) conservancy. “It’s clean and it’s better than blowing the tops off mountains. But we are not willing to overlook the problems that come with it. If you’re going to do it, do it right so that you don’t have to look up one day and say, ‘Hey, we’ve killed all the birds.’ ”--The Washington Post, 8/28/11

Alternative energy does not come without costs and it is not easy to process the information generated by all sides of a complex issue, but nobody said that life was easy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Things Are Cuckoo Here

Sure the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene might cause some at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest to act somewhat cuckoo, but we are actually referring to the bird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).

While eating lunch outside in the parking area under the canopy of trees, we caught sight of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo moving along a tree branch.  Normally this species is difficult to spot for an extended period of time, so we kept watching.  The bird eyed a small, dead twig and deftly snapped it from the larger branch.  With the twig in its bill, the cuckoo hopped its way through a network of branches and vines to a spot where another cuckoo waited.  The first bird passed the twig to the second bird and resumed its search for another twig.  The bird that received the twig began to work the twig into a loose network of twigs at its feet.  Our thought was, "Are these birds making a nest in late August?  That's just cuckoo!"  As it turns out, it seems it is just cuckoos being cuckoos.

The birds had departed by the time we retrieved a camera. These are last year's images.

Nests sites are "generally groves of broad-leafed deciduous hardwoods with thick bushes, vines, or hedgerows providing dense foliage within 10 m of ground,"1 which describes (dense vines) the site in which the pair was seen in our parking area. Although the construction of a nest at this late date is not a guarantee of a second clutch, cuckoos in the central and eastern ranges of the United States may double-brood with the second clutch beginning between mid-August and mid-Sep.2

We'll keep an eye on the area and see if our Yellow-billed Cuckoos do indeed start a second clutch.

1Laymon, S. A. 1980. Feeding and nesting behavior of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the Sacramento Valley. Wildl. Manage. Admin. Rep. 802. Calif. Dept. Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento.
2Hughes, Janice M. 1999. Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blue-winged Warbler

It looks like Hurricane Irene will miss us as she heads north, but the Blue-winged Warblers (Vermivora pinus) have stopped by the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest as they travel south to central Mexico and into Panama.

Denise Ecker, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon South Carolina, was on the boardwalk for a quick count of birds.  She did not get far (#106) from the building before she had already encountered 17 species of birds including the Blue-winged Warbler and a Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus).  You can keep an eye on the bird activity at the Francis Beidler Forest by checking eBird for the "Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary" hotspot.

The Blue-winged Warbler interesting as well as attractive bird.  The Blue-winged Warbler along with the closely related Golden-winged Warbler prefer habitat in succession from open field to brush and young woodlands.  Their ranges began to overlap as more farmland in the eastern United States began to revert to uncultivated vegetation.  Loss of habitat through human development and the succession of land to forest threatens both species.  Where their ranges overlapped, the two species interbred creating the hybrid types Brewster's Warbler and the rarer Lawrence's Warbler.  The hybrids are fertile and can mate with each other (though rarely) and with either of the parental species.

A Blue-winged Warbler was later spotted feeding in the parking area.  This species is often observed probing into dead or living curled leaves where insects and spiders may have created shelter.

There is plenty of food in the swamp to help birds bulk up for their flights south.  Maybe Hurricane Irene will provide a strong tailwind as the counterclockwise-rotating storm passes east of us!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mapping Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene is out there providing map-making opportunities.  You will see plenty of maps in the media over the next five days as Hurricane Irene threatens Florida and the east coast of the United States.  Obviously, the hurricane is a concern for us at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but the storm also provides relevant map-making opportunities for students.

Data in a variety of forms can be easily obtained from the National Hurricane Center webpage.  The first example shows the current track of Hurricane Irene as a Google Earth file.  Downloading the file launches it in Google Earth, if the free Google Earth software is on your computer.

In the next example, the track, including the projected track, was downloaded as a GIS file to the free

Look what city is currently in the crosshairs.

Finally, the Tropical Storm Force Wind Speed Probabilities map was downloaded as an image.

The above image can be used as shown or it can be added to the globe as an image overlay in Google Earth.  The wind map was stretched to fit over the Google Earth globe, which allows students to see the hurricane in greater geographic context.  This technique can be done with any image by using the Add>Image Overlay option.  For another example, see the Middle Earth map entry on this blog.

It is still too early to tell what type of storm we will experience in the swamp, but an umbrella will certainly be required equipment for the weekend!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making Maps at ARHS

In the last post, we covered the TogetherGreen project that the Francis Beidler Forest education staff will be developing with the students of Ashley Ridge High School (ARHS).  Part of the project will involve the introduction and use of various geographic technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Students will be using these technologies to gather data and create maps in order to analyze and share that data.  We have created an example map using the free site, which students can use to create maps for whatever data they collect or wish to highlight.  In our example, the proposed nature trail is shown on the south end of the ARHS campus.  The trail line was created from points collected with a GPS unit.  The stick pins show locations of interest.  If you click on a stick pin, an image and a description for that location will appear in a popup window.

Click here to go to the interactive map.

Images and map by Mark Musselman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

TogetherGreen at Ashley Ridge High School

Audubon South Carolina has received a TogetherGreen grant to help students at Ashley Ridge High School create a nature trail on campus.

The National Audubon Society and Toyota have joined forces to launch TogetherGreen, a nationwide initiative that aims to inspire environmental leadership and community-based action.  Announced in March 2008, TogetherGreen represents an important alliance between Audubon and Toyota, created through a shared belief that we must all work together if we hope to confront the tremendous environmental challenges and opportunities of today and the years ahead.  TogetherGreen supports building a greener, healthier future through innovation, leadership and volunteerism by engaging communities to work together toward progressive environmental goals.

The Ashley Ridge High School Nature Trail will be implemented under TogetherGreen Youth.  Audubon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have proposed TogetherGreen Youth as a national program designed to offer real-world, hands-on opportunities to students.  The basic goals of TogetherGreen Youth include educational training, programming and outreach, leadership development, and building connections to nature through experiential learning.  Students will explore environmental issues and apply knowledge to engage the next generation in understanding and caring for the environment.

Immature Common Yellowthroat

TogetherGreen Youth couples an Audubon intern, Emily Cavell here at Francis Beidler Forest, with area high school students, who work together to achieve a common environmental goal.  As part of Audubon SC’s TogetherGreen Youth grant, the Education Department at Francis Beidler Forest will facilitate a community action project involving the Ashley Ridge High School community.  ARHS students will plan and develop an on-campus nature trail, identify and catalog flora and fauna around the trail, prepare informational materials regarding the trail (research, content, photography, video, artwork, webpage, brochure, etc.), and map all aspects of the project using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies.  The ARHS Nature Trail will provide an outdoor space to investigate curriculum opportunities that stretch far beyond the traditional classroom setting, facilitating dynamic educational experiences for students and increased accessibility to hands-on outlets for teachers.  The addition of the ARHS Nature Trail will aid in fulfilling South Carolina Department of Education high school standards, perpetuate continued opportunity for students to create, develop and implement innovative ideas, and nurture exploration and discovery of the natural world.
Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What Grows Up, Must Come Down

Some of the characteristics of an old-growth forest include dead trees on the ground as well as dead trees still standing.  Unfortunately, here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest there is sometimes an issue during the transition from "dead and standing" to "dead and on the ground."

Sometime on Tuesday, two branches and two dead trees, possibly still soaked from Sunday's rain, lost their respective battles with gravity and passed through the boardwalk on their way to the ground.  Three of the the breaks were relatively easy to repair, but the cypress tree that came through the rest area at #6 required a full-blown replacement.  Today was day two for repairs that included hauling all the lumber and tools out to the sites and hauling out all the broken boardwalk lumber and tools once the work was completed.

Although we are in the process of raising funds to replace the current boardwalk with a wider, more-durable version, there will continue to be a need for repair as the old-growth swamp continues its normal function of falling apart!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, August 01, 2011

Francis Beidler Ghost Logs

The Francis Beidler Forest was created via a purchase of approximately 3400 acres from the Beidler family in 1969.  Although the logging of old-growth forest on Beidler family properties in South Carolina ended by the early 1970s, some of those logs are still around and in the news.

Today's Post and Courier reports on the controversy regarding harvesting logged trees resting at the bottom of Lake Marion.