Friday, May 27, 2011

Citizen-science: Counting Lightning Bugs

If you come to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest for a nightwalk, you may see fireflies or lightning bugs in the thicker vegetation in the higher areas along the swamp's edge or near high spots deeper in the swamp.  You may also see these insects in your yard, if your yard is something other than simply grass slathered in fertilizer and pesticides.

You may have noticed that fireflies appear less abundant than in your childhood memories.  Tonight, you have the opportunity to help scientist develop a picture of firefly populations across the Lowcountry.  From the Clemson University webpage:

Firefly Survey Information

Firefly as Ecosystem Indicators – Environmental indicator is used to communicate information about ecosystems and the impacts of human activity to groups such as the public or government policy makers.  The indicator can reflect a variety of aspects of ecosystems, including biological, chemical, and physical characteristics.  The researchers at Clemson University are studying firefly as environmental indicator for the coastal South Carolina. The unique bioluminescence property of fireflies provide visual clues of environmental quality and are easy to measure and quantify by the general public.

Fireflies are charismatic and reliable indicators of environmental health because their population density is correlated to the availability of healthy habitats (Kazama et al., 2009). A good firefly habitat is one that is moist, contains large amounts of natural organic matter (Wu and Perng, 2007). The habitat of fireflies is significantly impacted by urban development. For example, converting forested areas into open lawns, residential gardens, and agricultural field can change the structure of suitable habitats (Kazama et al., 2009; Juson et al., 2010). Indiscriminate use of insecticides in lawns and urban areas can kill many non-target insects, including fireflies. Pollution from commonly used chemicals (e.g., pesticides and fertilizer) and biological pollutants (e.g., pet waste) could also alter the quality of the habitat (Lee et al., 2008; Leong et al., 2007). Light can also be a source of pollution (Viviani et al., 2010). Strong, bright light can outshine firefly flashing and interfere with its mating behavior. All these factors work in concert to reduce the quantity and quality of habitat, thus reducing the density of fireflies. Therefore, the occurrence of firefly provides a visual clue on the quality of the natural environments. 

Kazama et al. 2007. Ecological Modeling 209: 392-400.
Wu and Perng 2007. Formosan Entomologist 27: 31-45.
Jusoh et al. 2010. Wetlands Ecology and Management 18: 367-373.
Viviani et al. 2010. Biota Neotropica 10” 103-116.

Procedure for the Survey

  • You will enter your information into the online survey form page at this link
  • Survey information should be from counts done on May 27th ONLY, from 8:15pm – 10:15pm
  • Turn out all lights for at least one minute before counting (i.e. houselights, flashlights, headlights, etc.)
  • Count the number of fireflies you see within 1 minute
  • Please enter your observation by June 1. Results will be published on this web site on June 5.
  • It is important to report your results even if no fireflies are observed.  Your input is very useful to determine the land use on the occurrence and population of firefly.
  • Below is the information you will record and enter into the online survey form
  1. Street Name
  2. City
  3. Zip Code
  4. Where did you see the fireflies?
Home lawn and gardens
Wood bordering lawn and garden
Others (please specify)
5.  How many fireflies did you count within one minute?
6.  Other Comments

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dendroica Departing

As reported in the blog by Kenn Kaufman, the genus Dendroica will cease to exist based on the decision of the Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of the American Ornithologists’ Union.  Basically, genetics dictated the regrouping.

At the Francis Beidler Forest, we have several residents that will be undergoing a name change, including the Black-throated Blue Warbler we saw out the office window in October 2009.  The species names will remain the same, but the genus name will be changed as shown in the [name].

Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia) [Setophaga magnolia]
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) - images [Setophaga caerulescens]
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) - images [Setophaga coronata]
Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens) [Setophaga virens]
Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica) - images [Setophaga dominica]
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) - images [Setophaga pinus]
Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) [Setophaga discolor]
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata) [Setophaga striata]

A brief summary of the changes can be found in Kenn Kaufman's blog.

On a completely different note, one class from today's Charleston County School of the Arts group located all five species of snakes along the boardwalk!

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Resident at Goodson Lake

Yesterday, while guiding part of the film crew for Expeditions with Patrick McMillan (show will air in October), we discovered a new resident at Goodson Lake at the end of the 1.75-mile boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  A 3-foot American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) slid off the bank across from the observation tower and loitered on the water's surface closer to the tower.

At various times, though not ever pictured together, two alligators reside in Goodson Lake.  There are many more than that in the swamp, but alligators prefer deeper water in which to escape or from which to spring an ambush attack and they desire sunshine.  Along the boardwalk, sunshine is difficult to obtain due to the tree canopy 100 or so feet above.  Therefore, alligators are almost always found in the holes where water is consistently deep and present thereby preventing tree growth that would block the sunshine.  The two alligators normally seen in Goodson Lake are much larger than the new arrival.  One alligator is bulky and in the 8-10 foot range, while the other alligator is slimmer and in the 7-8 foot range.  It is possible that the new 3-foot alligator is staying on the observation tower end of Goodson Lake to avoid the two larger alligators.

Tracks in the mud, feet and the dragging tail, show that the smaller alligator arrived via the main creek channel that runs just northwest of Goodson Lake.  It is possible that the lower water level in the swamp has caused alligators to congregate in holes where water remains and the smaller alligator may have struck out to locate less-crowded and/or safer accommodations.  If its presence is not tolerated at Goodson Lake, the smaller alligator may continue upstream along the relatively-deep main creek channel.  In the process of moving upstream, the smaller alligator could find itself in the pooled water behind the beaver dam.  Although not a natural hole in the swamp, the area behind the beaver dam and under the power line right-of-way mimics the characteristics of a hole...sunshine and consistently deep water.  Beavers beware!

There is never a dull moment in the swamp!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, May 23, 2011

Canoe Review

For those of you who have yet to take a canoe trip through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp in the Francis Beidler Forest, here's an unbiased review from a paying customer:

Image by Mark Musselman

Swallow-tailed Kites

In the past two weeks, we have seen a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) soaring over the parking area and the power line corridor adjacent to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  As the population of this species of bird is poorly understood, you should report any sightings on the Centers for Birds of Prey webpage.

The Francis Beidler Forest protects over 17,000 acres of Four Holes Swamp, including 1800 acres of old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp.  However, we have long understood that protecting the swamp itself is not sufficient to protect the ecosystem.  Snakes move out of the swamp to den in the higher, drier land that along the edges of the swamp.  Turtles must lay their eggs on dry land.  Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) bring their fledglings out of the swamp to the denser vegetation along the swamp's edge before they migrate south for the winter.  Studies of Swallow-tailed Kites show that they too require habitat beyond the bottomland forests.  A major food source for kites are beetles and other insects that are found flying over fields adjacent to the swamp.  Management of the fields can affect the number of insects available for the kites and development could eliminate the foraging habitat.

There is an article on the subject in yesterday's Post and Courier.

Image by Don Wuori

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parking Lot Birding

Parking lot birding?  If you are talking about acres of paved parking, you can expect Laughing Gulls and House Sparrows, but we're referring to the parking area at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  During lunch breaks at one of several picnic tables under the trees in the parking area, we are always pleased with the abundance and variety of birds.

Using the map as a reference, we have listed some of what we typically see or hear at points within the parking area.

Near the nature center, Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) can be seen and heard, including at their nest just beyond the entrance ramp.  In the past, Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) have nested in the cigarette disposal container right by the front door!  This morning a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) was calling over the building.  Previously, we have reported the many species of birds seen out our office window.

Yesterday, while eating lunch near #3 on the image, we observed the Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo lineatus) and discovered the nest with at least one chick.  Today, while observing the nest, we saw two Swallow-tailed Kites soar over and saw or heard the following birds: Wood Ducks, Tufted Titmouse, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, American Crow, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Yellow-throated Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, and Pileated Woodpecker.

At the edge of the power line corridor, we have previously reported a Muscovy Duck, Wood Ducks, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Indigo Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak.

At the other side of the parking area near #2, the wet areas Great Egrets, but mainly Northern Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-and-white Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-headed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, Northern Cardinal, American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Wild Turkey.

This is not a complete list, but you should get the idea.  You don't need to get far from your car to have a wonderful birding experience!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk Nest eating lunch at one of the picnic tables under the trees in the parking area at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we noticed a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) fly through the trees along the edge of the swamp.  In less than five minutes, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk fly in the other direction with what appeared to be a lizard in its beak.  We have learned that birds flying with food in their bills are almost always heading toward a nest.  Therefore, we watched.

Our watching paid off when we finally spied the nest in a crook high in a Loblolly Pine.

If you are having difficulty seeing the chick on the nest, follow the arrow! This view is from the parking slot in the bus loop where the ROC is stored.

There appeared to be only one chick in the nest.

An adult returned approximately every five minutes, though we could never see what was being brought as a meal.

Just beyond the entrance ramp at the center, is a Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) nest in a Horse Sugar leaning over the driveway.  The female has only been sitting on eggs for a few days.

Near #121 on the boardwalk, we spotted A250 foraging.  A250 was the male with the nest in the cypress knee in the channel near the Meeting Tree at #120.  The chicks were gone from the nest sometime this weekend, but we could not confirm that they had successfully fledged.  However, following close behind A250 was a fledgling , so at least one of the chicks is still in the game!

Beidler Forest is always full of life, but spring accentuates that fact!

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Swamp Potpourri

With school drawing to a close, it has become quite busy at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. We have not had time to blog regularly, so today's entry is a potpourri of items from the last week.

Insects, like the damselfly and dragonfly shown below, continue to emerge from the water where they have been for years.

Blue-tipped Dancer (female, Argia tibialis)

Great Blue Skimmer (female, Libellula vibrans)

The Great Blue Skimmer shown above recently emerged from a smaller version of an exoskeleton like the one shown below.  The nymph will emerge from the water, usually at night, and crawl up a structure (tree, plant, boardwalk).  The adult form will emerge from the back of the exoskeleton and crawl to a nearby perch to allow the wings and abdomen to expand, dry and stiffen before it can fly away.  During this time, the adult insect is vulnerable to birds, lizards, and any other predator searching for a meal.  In fact, the Great Blue Skimmer in the image was only able to muster a slow, loopy flight and would have been easy prey for a passing bird.

The fallen log in the image below apparently had sufficient prey items to keep the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) occupied in the the same spot for several hours.

Beavers (Castor canadensis) continue to maintain their network of dams.  While checking the smaller lodge and the damage caused by beavers and the standing water behind their dam...



...we discovered a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn hidden in a fallen log.  The female has not abandoned the fawn, simply parked it safely somewhere that the female's scent would not disclose her young's location.

Finally, today we were able to add another prey item to the list of things we have seen a Barred Owl eat.  Near #146 on the boardwalk on the way to Goodson Lake, we saw an owl tearing pieces from a small turtle, which was likely a Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta).  However, we were not able to get an image of the meal.

Images by Mark Musselman

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grant Brings GPS Units to Beidler Forest

The education department at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has received a $1000-grant from the South Carolina Geographic Alliance to purchase GPS units in support of a program to get Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology into the classroom.

 Image by Garmin

Part of the GPS/GIS program will involve students learning to use GPS technology while at the Francis Beidler Forest (FBF) as well as on their school campus.

Image by Mark Musselman

Once students are familiar with how latitude and longitude coordinates mark unique points on the globe, the next phase of the program will involve students using their school computers and free GIS reading software to analyze FBF-supplied species-sightings and research data.

Species Sightings

Where do Prothonotary Warblers nest?  How large are their territories?  Why are some much larger than others?

Prothonotary Warbler Territories

Why are Brown Water Snakes not seen on the western half of the boardwalk...

Brown Water Snake Sightings

...when Eastern Cottonmouths can be seen all around the boardwalk?  What are the habitat preferences for the two snake species?
Cottonmouth Sightings

Let us know if your school would like to participate in this technology-based program!

Maps created by Mark Musselman

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Owl vs Duckling Video

The last blog entry described how Barred Owls (Strix varia) were hunting Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) ducklings near the boardwalk in the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  We were also able to capture a few minutes of video.

The Wood Ducks can barely be seen as they swim through the swamp, but the hen can be heard calling.

Images and video by Mark Musselman

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Boardwalk Assassins

No, Boardwalk Assassins is not the title of a new movie based on a best-selling novel.  The title refers to the experience we had last night while waiting for darkness and the arrival of Dr. Brian Scholtens from the College of Charleston.  Tomorrow's blog entry will cover what we learned during Dr. Scholtens' visit regarding the insect community here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

Having been in the building all day running the front desk, we needed to stretch the legs before the evening insect activity.  We've learned to take along the camera, even if the light is rapidly diminishing, because one never knows what will be seen in the swamp.  Each trip onto the boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp is guaranteed to be a different experience and frustration is seldom greater than not being able to capture a rare sighting.  The saying in the education department is, "If you don't have a picture, it didn't happen."  Turn away now if you do not want to see owls killing ducklings, because we have the pictures.

Wood Ducks on an earlier day in the power line right-of-way

Walking at a rapid pace along the return side of the boardwalk loop near #15, we heard a female Wood Duck continuously calling.  Usually, the only sightings we have of a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) during the breeding season are by chance as she silently paddles away with her ducklings.  This hen was making a racket!  It soon became apparent that the cause of her stress was a pair of Barred Owls (Strix varia) perched low over the creek channel in which the ducks were moving.  This is not unusual owl behavior in the swamp as owls frequently hunt crayfish in the shallow water.  Tonight, however, the adult owls were serving ducklings to their young.

With each pass of an owl, the Wood Duck hen rose out of the water, flapping her wings and calling loudly.  The owls were unfazed and simply maneuvered around the hen and snatched a duckling.  After each attack, the ducks moved on with the hen continuing to protest.  Hearing the begging of its own young, the adult owl would carry a captured duckling to its offspring.  The lulls between attacks were only as long as it took the young owl to consume the duckling.  Once the begging began once more, the adult owl would reacquire the ducks and begin another attack glide.  Immediately, the hen would increase the volume and frequency of her calls and rise up to defend her young.  Each time the owls succeeded in removing a duckling from the group.

Eventually, the Wood Duck hen took her remaining ducklings out of the creek and into the forest where the Dwarf Palmettos appeared to offer some cover from the avian predators.  The results did not change for the duck, but once an owl had a duckling on dry land, American Crows began harassing the owl in hopes that the duckling might be dropped.

There is a reproductive strategy for having large numbers of young.  Not all will survive, but enough will survive to ensure the species continues to exist.  Today, the cells of growing Barred Owls along the boardwalk near #15 are being fueled by Wood Ducks, which previously received their energy from plants...and life goes on.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Birds From the Office Window

Although we would prefer to be outside, the windows at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest never fail to provide us with an opportunity to vicariously experience nature.  Previously, we have reported our sightings out the office window, but yesterday's activity produced an new set of images.

Three just-fledged Carolina Wrens learning to dust-bathe from their parents.

Male Northern Parula posing for pictures.

Carolina Chickadee searching curled leaves for a meal and...

being harassed by a male Northern Cardinal.

Although we couldn't get the camera pointed quickly enough, a Red-shouldered Hawk landed within six feet of the window.  This image is of one along the boardwalk several years ago.  The hawk by the office window may have been attracted by the erratic flights of the young Carolina Wrens.  However, our movement within the building, slight though it may have been, was sufficient to alert the hawk and send it flying though the forest.

Although we could not see the waterfowl from our office, we could hear them and we made a quick dash behind the outdoor classroom to take a look.  With water pooling behind the beaver dam, the area under the power line looks more like a pond than a swamp.  The changing habitat has attracted a Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata), which based on the color is likely an escaped domesticated bird.

The flooded area under the power line is also favored Wood Ducks, including this hen and her four or five ducklings.

While trying to get the shot of the newly-arrived Muscovy Duck, a Pileated Woodpecker landed overhead.

At the tree line, a male Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea) ate seeds from the grasses growing in the flooded area.  Shortly after spying the grosbeak, a male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) arrived and kept watch nearby.

To put a wrap on today, a Carolina Anole worked his way into the sun to do a few pushups and show off his dewlap.  The air temperature may not have reached 70F today, so the lizard was not his bright green self.

Although we would almost always opt to be outdoors, it sure is nice to have an office with a view!

Images by Mark Musselman