Friday, February 22, 2013

2012 Nature Photography Contest Winners

Audubon South Carolina Announces Winners in
2012 Nature Photography Contest

Audubon SouthCarolina is pleased to announce the winners of the 2012 Audubon South Carolina Nature Photography Contest, co-sponsored by the Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association.
The contest invited photographers to capture the beauty of the natural world at one of South Carolina’s two Audubon Sanctuaries: Francis BeidlerForest (Harleyville) and Silver Bluff(Jackson), as well as any other natural habitat in South Carolina. Over 40 entries were submitted by participants from across South Carolina. 

Contest Winners - Nancyjean Nettles
“BEST in SHOW Award” was won by Raymond Colin Murray of Charleston, SC, for “Taking Flight,” featuring a Barred Owl flying directly toward the photographer.
First Place, Wildlife: Catherine Miller (Charleston, SC) for  “Parenting Pause”
First Place, Plant/Landscape: Mary Presson Roberts (Tega Cay, SC) for “Leaf Reflection
Second Place, Wildlife: Raymond Colin Murray (Charleston, SC) for Skimming the Shore”
Second Place, Plant/Landscape:  Sherry Schumann (Monck’s Corner, SC) for “Autumn Walk”

Third place, Wildlife: Sparkle Clark (Columbia, SC) for “Food for the Nestlings”
                      Wildlife: Marian Davis (Columbia, SC) for “Sphinx Moth Caterpillar
Third place, Plant/Landscape: Joanne Wuori (Columbia, SC) for “Spring Morning”
                      Plant/Landscape: Mary Presson Roberts (Tega Cay, SC) for “Forest of Green”

A generous anonymous donor provided cash awards totaling more than $1,000 for the winners.
The winning photographs will be on display for several weeks at the Summerville Visitor Center at
402 N. Main Street.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rain, Rain, Save the Day

It was beginning to look like there would not be any canoe trips at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest due to the minimal rain since August 2012.  With yesterday's rain on top of the rain last week, that is no longer an issue.  In fact, two groups were on the canoe trail yesterday.  The morning group beat the rain and the drop in the temperature, but the afternoon group did not fair as well.  It was still a beautiful paddle, but hot beverages and maybe a warm fire were on most of the post-paddle schedules.

Last Tuesday, we took advantage of the "eye of the storm" to make a quick walk around the 1.75-mile boardwalk.  We quickly spied a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) and a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina), both likely in search of mates.

A shower of Red Maple debris greeted us early along the boardwalk.  Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are messy eaters.
Red Maple seeds on boardwalk - Mark Musselman
Depressions in the upland areas created by Hurricane Hugo-felled trees filled with water.  Amphibians will use these ephemeral, fish-free pools for breeding.  You may have heard the chorus of frog calls in your neighborhood too.

Upland forest - Mark Musselman
Elsewhere, water has reached even the elevations where the Dwarf Palmetto grows.

Swamp - Mark Musselman
Water flowing by knees - Mark Musselman
If you stand near the fork (#115) on the boardwalk, you will likely hear what appears to be the roar of a mountain stream.  Obviously, that is not the case here in the nearly level coastal plain. What you will be hearing is the cumulative noise of water flowing over the quarter mile of beaver dam.  The log near #154 that skims debris floating on the water's surface is also close to being overtopped.

Log across channel - Mark Musselman

We saw plenty of birds that were also taking advantage of the break in the rain.

Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary, Dorchester, US-SC
Feb 12, 2013 1:55 PM - 3:55 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.75 mile(s)
Comments:     Mostly cloudy, 60Fs
25 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  2
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  2
Barred Owl (Strix varia)  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  9
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)  4
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  5
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  3
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  4
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  11
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  10
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  12
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)  1
Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)  2
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)  6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  9
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  3
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)  1
Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  20
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  6

At #7, an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) took the opportunity to catch some sun atop the log it uses for its winter den.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
Beaver gnawing on Sweet Gum - Mark Musselman

Approaching Goodson Lake, evidence of fresh beaver (Castor canadensis) foraging could be seen on numerous trees and knees.  Like many of us, we're sure the beavers are looking forward to the warmer, sunnier weather of spring.  However, unlike the beavers, we do not need to worry that the warming temperatures allow the alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) to feed once more.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

2013 Great Backyard Bird Count Day1

Did you count any birds in your yard or neighborhood in support of the Great Backyard Bird Count?  If you didn't, why not?  It's easy!  There are still two more days after today.

Yesterday, we were at Middleton Place and here is some of what we saw on day #1:

American Coot - Mark Musselman
Common Gallinule - Mark Musselman
Double-crested Cormorant eating fish - Mark Musselman
Wood Stork - Mark Musselman

Middleton Place, Dorchester, US-SC
Feb 15, 2013 3:25 PM - 4:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.25 mile(s)
Comments:    Clear, 60s
27 species

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  2
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)  1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  26    <
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  1
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)  2
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  1
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)  4
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)  6
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  5
Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)  6
American Coot (Fulica americana)  3   
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  5
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  4
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  3
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  4
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  1
Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  10
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  3
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)  6

Monday, February 11, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count 2013

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held during this coming weekend (Feb. 15-18).

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes or longer, if one wishes, on a single day or on each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Northern Mockingbird - Mark Mussselman
Participants count birds anywhere for 15 minutes or longer during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. For example, if three robins are spotted in the yard, the count for robins would be three. Later, if a single robin is spotted in the yard, the count for robins would remain at three (most seen at one time) and not increase to four. Participants can report their counts by filling out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count website at

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs, including a contest, of the birds they see. This is a tremendous opportunity for teachers to address science, social studies and math standards while helping scientists learn about birds in our hemisphere!

By knowing where the birds are, scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn much regarding the current state of birds. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

The GBBC is a citizen-science project where everybody’s help, no matter how small, is valuable. Help make sure the birds from our community are well-represented in the count. It does not matter whether a report is for five species on a backyard feeder or during a walk through the neighborhood or for 25 species spotted during a day's outing to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

There are plenty of ways to participate!  You do NOT need to be an expert on birds.

You can find tips here for counting birds, especially large flocks.

There is a poster of some common backyard birds here.


Twitter using #GBBC

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sparrow Banding

Between January 26th and January 29th, we were banding sparrow species in a variety of habitats.  Mark LaBarr, Audubon Vermont and a federally certified bird bander, flew down to coordinate the proceedings and band the captured sparrows.

In the eastern United States, grassland habitat continues to disappear and consequently bird species that prefer that habitat are also in decline.  Previously, we have reported on our efforts to restore grassland habitats within the Francis Beidler Forest.

The four days of banding began at the recently burned Spring Branch grassland restoration site.

Unburned and burned Spring Branch - Mark Musselman
Lex Glover removing sparrow - Mark Musselman
Other certified banders, Lex Glover of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and Aaron Given of the Town of Kiawah, were on site to assist with the banding and data collection, but the significant help came from the Summerville High School Navy Junior ROTC volunteers.  The effort to capture and band sparrow species is not like some netting stations which are situated to be in the flight paths of birds conducting their normal activities.  Sparrows spend the majority of their time on or quite close to the ground, so they need to be flushed from their cover towards the mist nets.  That is where the extra bodies proved to be invaluable.

Purple line shows track of Mark Musselman during the day of banding
The middle of the three sections shown above in orange was the only section not burned.  The nets were initially set along the fire break to the west and set later along the fire break to the east.
Summerville HS NJROTC volunteers - Mark Musselman
With the large grassland habitat and small coverage area of the mist nets, the sparrows would have had no trouble leaking around the three banders and three Audubon staff members trying to drive the birds towards the nets.  However, with the quantity of high school volunteers joining the effort, we were able to cover a wide swath of the grassland and curl in the ends of the line to keep the birds moving directly away from the noise and humans and towards the waiting nets

The majority of the approximately 60 sparrows captured were Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows.  However, there were also several Savannah Sparrows and one Grasshopper Sparrow as well as an overly curious Northern Mockingbird.  The mockingbird was shown to the students and released without any bands, but all sparrows were given an official United State Geologic Survey (USGS) band.  You can read more about the North American bird banding program here.

Mark LaBarr with Northern Mockingbird - Mark Musselman
Savannah Sparrow - Mark Musselman
Grasshopper Sparrow - Mark Musselman
Grasshopper Sparrow - Mark Musselman
The second day of banding include a shut-out at the Longleaf Pine restoration site.  The emerging pine habitat still has a significant number of short oaks and wiregrass ground cover, which is clumpy and not nearly as dense as the grassland habitat at Spring Branch.  A return to Spring Branch later in the day resulted in additional sparrows being captured and banded, but without the large number of volunteers, we did not capture anything close to the numbers we saw flying over and around the nets and the six humans.
Clark tract - Longleaf Pine restoration
Days three and four were spent at the Oakridge landfill in Dorchester County and the Bees Ferry landfill in Charleston County.  Although landfills seldom, if ever, evoke images of wildlife habitat, they can be beneficial to some species once portions or the entire landfill have been closed.  Once a section or cell of the landfill has been capped, grasses are encouraged to grow on top and on the sloped sides in order to prevent erosion of the capping material.  Trees, however, are no allowed to grow as their roots would penetrate the capping material, which would allow water in and pollutants out of the waste cell.  Driving the mist net poles in to the ground would have the same effect as tree roots, so the poles needed to be set in buckets of sand.  This sounds good in principle, but the occasional gust of wind would topple at least one pole, which would in turn pull down several others.  Valuable time was then spent picking grass, twigs, and blackberry stems from the delicate nets.
Oakridge Landfill
Oakridge landfill has the distinction of having the highest point in Dorchester County at an elevation of 255 feet.  The small grassy lump in the left half of the panorama below is that high point.

Panoramic view from top of Oakridge landfill - Mark Musselman

Methane capture - Mark Musselman
Mark LaBarr removing sparrow - Mark Musselman
Setting mist nets - Mark Musselman
House Wren - Mark Musselman
Although we did not take pictures of the second site closer to the top of the landfill (see panorama above) was much more like an open grassland.  The site was full of sparrows, but we were again plagued with a limited number of bird drivers.  Additionally, the steep slope worked in the birds' favor.  When flushed from their cover, the birds flew straight out before diving back down for cover.  Unfortunately, straight out put them over the top of the mist nets running parallel to the contour of the hill.  The sparrows were not captured and banded, but their presence was noted and the habitat deemed suitable for grassland sparrow species.

Bees Ferry landfill was the site of the final day of banding.
Bees Ferry Landfill
Help from a variety of volunteers made it possible to set the poles and nets on an increasingly windy day.  Like the Oakridge landfill, poles could not be set into the ground to avoid puncturing the cap and or lining material.  Now, with an ample force of volunteer bird drivers, we lacked the bird numbers we had seen on previous days!

Mark LaBarr removing sparrow - Mark Musselman
Mark LaBarr setting nets - Mark Musselman
Volunteers helping set nets - Mark Musselman
First for Mark LaBarr, Le Conte's Sparrow - Mark Musselman
The day began with a breeze and the winds continued to increase in advance of the approaching cold front.  Setting the nets, already difficult with the sand-in-bucket system, was all the more frustrating due to the random gusts of wind.  However, Mark LaBarr was able to band his first Le Conte's Sparrow and landfill supervisor, Ron Tibbetts, was able to release one of the banded sparrows.
Mark LaBarr helps Ron Tibbetts release sparrow - Mark Musselman
Setting net at second site - Mark Musselman
Although wind and manpower prevented all of the observed sparrows from being captured and banded, we were successful in determining the general usefulness of a variety of grassland habitats to support wintering sparrow species.  In the end, sites like the landfills might mow less, which would save them money (salaries, fuel, maintenance) and provide better habitat for bird species in search of a winter home.

The birds banded over the four days will soon be heading north to establish breeding territories.  It's a long shot, but it is possible that Mark LaBarr could capture in his springtime nets a bird he first met here in South Carolina!