Friday, September 30, 2011

Monarch Migration

At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, our Project PROTHO citizen-science project involves observing Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) along the boardwalk in the old-growth forest.  However, those birds have already migrated south for the winter, so we must look elsewhere for a citizen-science opportunity.

Visit Journey North's Monarch Butterfly Migration Tracking Project to help track the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) migration each fall and spring as the butterflies travel to and from Mexico. Report your own observations of migrating butterflies to real-time migration maps.

Scientists alone cannot cover the entire migration route for these butterflies.  You can look at the fall migration map and help fill in gaps in observations!  This is a perfect opportunity for families to go outside together and gather data that will help in the conservation of the monarch butterfly.

Image by Mark Musselman

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coal Ash Dump in Dorchester County

Today's Post and Courier reports that SCE&G is seeking approval for a dry ash dump in Dorchester County across the Edisto River from its Canaday plant. Four Holes Swamp, including the Francis Beidler Forest, is part of the Edisto River watershed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Audubon Magazine Online

In case you missed the Audubon Magazine article regarding the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, you can view it on the new Audubon Magazine webpage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Snake in a Tree

No, it's not the latest Hollywood movie title and snakes in trees are not unusual occurrences, but a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in a tree was a surprise.

On Friday, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest hosted two students from Ashley Ridge High School's workplace shadow program. In the morning, we walked the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp and discuss the varied aspects of work at the center.  After lunch, since the young men came wearing snake boots, we walked out to see the beaver dam and generally explored the off-boardwalk areas. We headed back to the center along the south side of the boardwalk in order to explore the area where we had earlier seen two fawns.

As we were walking 25 feet from the boardwalk, one student said, "Snake."  We stopped. We had been watching the ground carefully, so we were somewhat surprised that we had missed it.  Camouflage is what makes some snakes difficult to see (bad news for prey), so missing a snake was not impossible.  We were still looking ahead when the student said, "No, back here."  We looked back where we had walked and saw nothing.  The student again gave direction, "No, up here."  The Timber Rattlesnake (1-1/2' to 2') in the images was above the ground between a vine and a sapling.  We only had the iPod Touch camera and the snake had moved elsewhere by the time we returned with a better camera.

We were also able to capture a brief video.

No matter how many times we walk out along the boardwalk, we invariably see something new or something old doing something new or in a different place.  Never a dull moment!

Images and video by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fun With a GPS Receiver

On Saturday, we presented at the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's Geofest 42.  Before meeting the teachers in the computer lab, we took our GPS receiver and walked across the street to the top of the parking garage.  Our mission was to walk a specific route with the GPS receiver's track feature turned on thereby creating a piece of art.  Our message was quite simple, but its creation was not without incident.  The campus police, likely called by someone observing from a nearby tall building, stopped by to see if I was in need of any help.  "No, thank you. We're hosting a geography workshop and I'm doing some geography."  The officer said, "Well have a nice day."...and we did!

Penn State University has posted a video series (episode one) entitled Geospatial Revolution that discusses some of what we covered in our presentation and what we can provided as part of the education program at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Geographic Technology & SC Teachers

Tomorrow, the education department at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest will be making a "Geographic Technology:  GPS, GIS, & iPod Touch" presentation at the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's Geofest 42.  Teachers will be introduced to the technologies, including learning how to navigate with a GPS unit, learning how to create basic maps using free online software, and how to integrate iPod Touch devices into educational programs.

View Larger Map
A demonstration map for Geofest 42

View Larger Map
The watershed basins of South Carolina using data downloaded from the USC Geography Department GIS webpage.

Beyond our free boardwalk-specific app, we are using our 20 iPod Touches in a variety of ways.  We can tailor the use of the iPod Touch to any topic you wish to cover during a visit to the old-growth swamp!

Maps by Mark Musselman

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Migration Is On!

Today, while walking the 1.75-mile boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we spotted a variety of animals, including some migrating birds.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo announced our presence into the swamp, but numerous other bird species picked up the chorus as we approached the Meeting Tree.

A brilliantly-colored male American Redstart welcomed us to the ancient Bald Cypress and continued the show at eye level just off the boardwalk for over thirty seconds.  Flaring his tail as he inspected the leaves and branches, the burnt orange and black contrasted bright green, sun-washed leaves.  Overhead, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called or sang as they moved about in search of food.

Approaching Goodson Lake, the seemingly angry chatter of a Belted Kingfisher let the alligator and Yellow-bellied Sliders know that we were approaching.  In the distance, Pileated Woodpeckers called loudly as Barred Owls hooted and hollered to each other.  As we departed the lake, a White-tailed Deer was surprised by the sound of our boots crushing the dry leaves on the boardwalk.  Although the doe moved away from us, we caught up with her as our paths crossed near #12.  The doe moved up the creek channel browsing indiscriminately (at least to us) on green vegetation growing in the dry areas of the swamp or hanging from low tree branches.  At one point, the doe browsed Resurrection Fern from the trunk of a Tupelo Gum.  With some type of plant hanging from the right side of her mouth, the doe froze and stared back toward the T of the boardwalk.  Leaves could be heard rustling, but no other deer or predator could be seen.  Nevertheless, the doe remained on alert!  Apparently, just as we did, the doe saw the high-domed, male Eastern Box Turtle crawling through the leaves and relaxed with her snack.  As the doe continued up the creek channel, we continued back to the nature center.

Our walk back was uneventful except for a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks engaged in a war on silence.

As the month progresses, we will continue to see migrating birds stopping by the old-growth swamp for a rest and a bite to eat!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hungry Birds

With migration on the minds of many birds and water creeping back into the swamp, we at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest have noticed an exceptional amount of feeding activity.  Out our office window, the Horse Sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) fruit hangs as dark purple drupes attracting the attention of several species of birds.  Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus) are the most frequent visitors, but White-eyed Vireos (Vireo griseus) and Summer Tanagers also partake of the fruit.  A few minutes ago, a Veery (Catharus fuscescens) landed on a branch just outside the window, observed the office life and then began swallowing whole Horse Sugar fruits.

Yesterday, along the boardwalk we heard the chatter of a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) hunting at Goodson Lake and we walked up on a Barred Owl (Strix varia) perched on a cypress knee watching intently for a crayfish to betray its position in the water below.  We did not see the owl until we were within ten feet of its position.  It flew to a new perch ahead of us, but still within a few feet of the boardwalk.  As you can see in the video below, we were able to walk slowly as the owl preened and get to within a few feet of its position.

Video by Mark Musselman