Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Counters!

On Monday the 17th of December 2012, we will be conducting the Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count and participating in the 113th Christmas Bird Count!

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Mark Musselman
The general plan is as follows - teams will meet on the morning of the 17th at Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest visitor center. We will meet at 8am and go out and count for 8 hours with our respective teams. Everyone will return to the visitor center by 4:30pm to turn in their lists. At that time, everyone is welcome to enjoy some hot beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) and snacks (cookies, cake, etc), which we will provide at the center as a thank you for volunteering!

Please note that there is no longer a $5 per person participation fee, which was used to pay for the compilation of the data and for the CBC results summary book that was mailed out each year. The data summary will no longer be mailed to individuals, but all data will be available via the web site  Therefore, voluntary donations are now even more crucial to the Christmas Bird Count. You can donate online at the secure CBC link:

Count sections
There are still some open territories (#7, #8 and #10) and some territories light on participants, so please share this with anyone you think may be interested!

Mark Musselman
(843) 462-2150

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Audubon South Carolina Nature Photography Contest

If you love Nature and you love photography, then you just might be interested in this special event.
Audubon South Carolina, in conjunction with the Carolinas' Nature Photographers Association, is presenting our fifth Nature Photography Contest, which runs in 2012 from April 1st through November 13th (extended, see below). Wildlife, plant and landscape images can be submitted, and a wonderfully generous donor has provided CASH prizes.

A happy ending to this entry was that this cypress buttress taken by Mark Hoyle became an 8-foot promotional photo for Beidler Forest in the Summerville Visitor Center!


THE DEADLINE TO SUBMIT IMAGES FOR THE Audubon/CNPA Nature Photography Contest has been extended:  Taking into account the very busy and recent  holiday weekend and to allow more time for folks to get images in for the contest, we have decided to extend the deadline for submitting images for this contest. Images must arrive at Beidler Audubon Sanctuary by the closing of the sanctuary (at 5 PM) on Wednesday December 5th, 2012.

Please send or deliver images to:  The Audubon Beidler Sanctuary, 336 Sanctuary Road, Harleyville, SC 29448, Attn: Nancyjean Nettles.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Master Naturalists Visit

Yesterday, the master naturalist class from the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island visited the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  What a difference a day makes!  A visit today, after the passing of the cold front, would not have produced the variety of wildlife sightings described below.

Upon entering the swamp, a Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) greeted us with a call as it flew inches off the ground between its inspections of decaying logs.  With the water level remaining low due to the lack of rain, we concentrated our wildlife searches around the few shallow creek channels.  Either the wildlife lives in the water or it eats something in the water.  We had our first hit along the channel near #5.  As we pointed out a frequently used deer trail, free of leaves and with fresh tracks embedded in the mud, a member of the group spotted an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) wedged low between two trees.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
As photos were being taken, another member of the group spotted a second cottonmouth nearly obscured by a log off the other side of the boardwalk.  A brief walk to #8 and another cottonmouth was discovered basking on a log.

All was relatively quiet at Goodson Lake and around to #14, which is halfway back on the return loop.  Beyond #14, a Barred Owl (Strix varia) was spotted low on a branch a few meters left of the boardwalk.  For several minutes, the owl tolerated the group of twenty-five adults along with the "aahs" and clicking camera shutters.  Eventually, it flew to a slightly more distant perch and gave a brief hoot to let us know it was time to move along.

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman
As we turned, we spotted the owl's mate ahead of us on the hand rail.  The second owl attempted to catch something on the ground to the left of the boardwalk and then flew to a low perch next to the hand rail.  Again, the cameras came up as the model posed patiently for the art gallery shots.

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman
Having not yet finishing discussing the fortuitous close encounters with the owls, we came upon a large Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) that appears to have sensed the cooling weather and has established a den near the fallen water hickory.
Collis Boyd repairing boardwalk - Mark Musselman
We continued on to the nature center for lunch and then made the short drive to the marl bluff along the southern edge of Mallard Lake.  The Six-lined Racerunners (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus) were absent this trip, but we did capture a young Southern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) in the dry, sandy upland habitat.  A short walk down the steep slope, approximately 20' change in elevation, brought us to a seep.  Seeps form when rain peculates vertically through the soil until it reaches the impermeable layer of marl.  Water then travels laterally until emerging from the base of the slope in a narrow (5'-6') and short (20'-25') wetland.  The cool, permanent and fish-free water is prime amphibian, especially salamander, habitat.  We quickly located a Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) and a Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) before being distracted by a small, beautifully colored Eastern Cottonmouth.  The snake quickly retreated to its likely den in an exposed root mass and we moved away from the bluff to explore the dry swamp.

An immediate and somewhat satisfying find was the skull of a wild pig (Sus scrofa), a scourge we have discussed previously in this blog.  Note the gnawing by other wildlife, mainly rodents, as they seek to meet their calcium needs.  Stirring leaves and rolling a few logs produced a variety of frogs, including a Southern Cricket Frog (Acris gryllus), a Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) , and a Pine Woods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis) as well as a beautiful Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum)!

Wild pig skull - Mark Musselman

Marbled Salamander - Mark Musselman

Marbled Salamander - Mark Musselman

Pine Woods Treefrog - Mark Musselman
Finally, before heading back up the bluff to the vehicles, Kelley Luikey snapped a photo of a richly colored Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus).  With today's cool, breezy weather portending overnight freezes, these spiders will not be around much longer.

Marbled Orbweaver - Kelley Luikey

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Beginning to Feel Like Winter

It is beginning to feel like winter at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!  The nights have become cold and the days crisp.  The trees have responded with various shades of red, orange, yellow and brown.  Along the boardwalk, most of the trees have lost their leaves during one of the breezy days in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Although this time of year finds fewer birds in the swamp and reptiles tend to remain hidden, the lack of leaves allows one to actually see the swamp both in depth from the boardwalk and from ground to the crown of the old-growth bald cypress trees.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are avoiding nearby hunters and are frequently seen as they vacate their resting spots in the dwarf palmetto covered high spots in the swamp.

White-tailed Deer - Mark Musselman
White-tailed Deer - Mark Musselman
This morning, we arrived to find a pair of 8-point bucks in the parking area.  Although not combative at the time, rutting season is not the time for virile males to mingle politely.  Later in the morning, we flushed one of the bucks from a bedding site between the driveways.  Ten minutes later, we did it again.  Instead of returning to the building, we waited behind a parked vehicle to see if the buck would return again to the same spot.  In less than two minutes, the buck moved right back and bedded down.  After retrieving a camera, we returned for a shot, but got only close enough to see the buck leave out the opposite side of the thick vegetation.  This time, however, a doe followed the buck.  No wonder he kept going back!

Dead White-tailed Deer - Mark Musselman
For whatever reason, one deer will not be making it through the winter.  Last week, we saw vultures at the upper end of Goodson Lake and detected the faint odor of death.  We could not see what the birds had found, but they appeared to be unable to open the meal.  Vulture bills work well at pulling flesh from a carcass, but they are not suitable for tearing through a tough hide.  Yesterday, we hopped off the boardwalk to identify the animals attracting the vultures' attention.  Unable to find an opening beyond the eye sockests and the anus, the vultures, Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) and Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), appear to be waiting for the deer to pop.  Based on yesterday's odor, it should not be long.

Turkey Vulture - Mark Musselman
Black Vulture - Mark Musselman
Other birds spotted along the boardwalk include year-round residents, winter residents, and a what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here? Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).  Like the cuckoo, most of the birds did not present us with photographic opportunities, so you will need to click on their names to link to images.  We saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoo fly from a high perch and would have dismissed it as an optical illusion, if we had not had the chance to watch it for five minutes when it landed high in a bald cypress.  Looking over its shoulder, the yellow bill, clean white underparts, bright rufous primaries and long tail were all evident and unmistakably cuckoo.

A winter resident that is seldom seen due to its fantastic camouflage is the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), which we flushed near #112.  Had it not exploded into flight, we would never had known it had arrived.  Although eBird continues to question the presence and number of Winter Wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis) we see along the boardwalk, the old-growth swamp appears to be desirable for this energetic bird that never appears to break an elevation of two feet above the ground.  Look for it flying full speed into hollow logs or knees.

Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus), Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula), Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) round out the list of frequently seen winter residents.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill shallow holes in something of a line and eat the sap that oozes from the wells or insects attracted to the same sap.  Near #104, we observed a pair of males engaged in noisy aerial combat.  Based on the determination of one male pursuing the other, it appears one was defending his territory and hard work of well drilling from an interloper.

Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) and Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) continue to enjoy the dam work done by the beavers.  Whereas most of the swamp is dry, having missed any contributions from Hurricane Sandy, the water remains knee-deep on the upstream side of the dam.  Perfect for paddling around and calling or diving for fish.

Yesterday, we encountered nine Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) moving north along the edge of the swamp by #115 with only their colorful heads peeking above the dwarf palmettos.  With leaves off of most of the trees, Barred Owls (Strix varia), especially at the #7 rest stop, appear to prefer resting in evergreen trees.  Out in the swamp, it is the oaks that are "evergreen," which is a technicality as they do drop their leaves, just not all at once.  Therefore, if you visit during the winter, look up at #7 and you will likely see an owl or two looking back.

Barred Owls - Mark Musselman
Finally, the edge of the swamp near #152 and the vulture convention, a large hawk wheeled in to check out the action.  Sounding like the whap-whap-whap of an approaching helicopter, a pair of Black Vultures launched from their roost high in a bald cypress as a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) landed.  The lighting was horrible and the landing brief, so the pictures below are not high quality.  Even so, the youngster is an impressive bird!

Red-tailed Hawk - Mark Musselman

Red-tailed Hawk - Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Unusual Wildlife on Migration

At this time of year, a walk around the 1.75-mile boardwalk in the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest will produce wildlife sightings that include White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), a host of woodpeckers, River Otters (Lutra canadensis), Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus), Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula), etc.  Birds like the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) and Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) have migrated here for the winter.  What you will not see is a Great White Shark, but they are closer than you might expect!

Two days ago, a 16-foot, 3456-pound female Great White Shark named Mary Lee paid a visit to the Charleston Harbor!  You can see her track and follow her progress south by visiting Ocearch Global Shark Tracker.

Like snakes in the swamp, sharks are predators in the ocean that pose little threat to humans and serve an important role in their ecosystem.