Friday, March 30, 2007

Charleston County School of the Arts

Today, the Charleston County School of the Arts wrapped up two days of visits to the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.

In additon to the boardwalk tour, students learned about taxonomy and the use of Greek and Latin in scientific naming. Each student created an animal with characteristics that would help it be successful in the swamp environment. After creating their creature, each student gave their creature a scientific name using Latin and Greek stems provided by the education staff.

Some fascinating creatures appeared at the Francis Beidler Forest during the last two days!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Westview Elementary

Over the last week, the entire fourth grade from Westview Elementary School visited the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. While experiencing the wonders of the swamp, these eager learners saw a variety of wildlife, including Barred Owls, Eastern Cottonmouths, Red-bellied Water Snakes, Great Egrets, White Ibis, Banded Water Snakes, Yellow-bellied Sliders, Snapping Turtles (see images, notice the ornate leeches at the neck), Brown Water Snakes and White-tailed Deer. Additionally, the swamp was loud with the sounds of birds announcing their territory and availability!

Check out the education department calendar to see what days are still open for school visits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

SCE&G and Vance Elementary School

South Carolina Electric and Gas hosted Vance Elementary School at the unveiling of the SCE&G Outdoor Classroom at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Scana also sponsors the after-school program at Vance Elementary School.

Students created food chains and ultimately a complex food web by placing their individual magnets, which held images of various plants or animals, onto the magnetic white board in the outdoor classroom. Although the majority of the students indicated that they did not like snakes, they discovered that the food web would quickly move out of balance if all the snakes were removed. They learned that the same was true if a majority of the plants were removed or the habitat otherwise altered.

After the lesson in the classroom, the students moved out into the swamp to look for relationships between plants and animals and to indentify examples of animal needs (food, water, shelter and space). The highly-observant students spotted woodpecker holes, nests, capterpillar-chewed leaves, spider webs, deer tracks, a hunting cottonmouth, and two fighting Carolina Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) (see image).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Silver Bluff Coach & Carriage Drive

On March 23, seventeen coaches and carriages took part in the first annual Audubon Coach and Carriage Drive at Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary (near Jackson, SC). They traversed 7.3 miles of roads through the sanctuary, which showed the diversity of habitats and offered a glimpse of the beautiful Savannah River.

This special day was hosted by Jack Wetzel as a fundraising event for the sanctuary. Many spectators paid for the privilege of attending to observe the carriage driving, participate in bird and natural history walks, watch raptor demonstrations, and enjoy a delicious lunch – complete with chocolate riding boots for dessert!

Monday, March 26, 2007

CPR Training

The staff at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest participated in their CPR recertification training. The training included basic CPR procedures and use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which is located in the nature center. The staff also reviewed emergency procedures should anyone experience a medical situation on the boardwalk or the canoe trail.

The dragonfly in the other image is also working on its circulation. It has recently emerged from its life as an underwater macroinvertebrate and is preparing to begin its life as an adult. Its wings have not yet filled and stiffened to their flight-ready horizontally-extended position.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Silver Bluff Trail Ride

The 3rd annual Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary Trail Ride, held March 10, was enjoyed by 65 horseback riders and volunteers from around the state, with ages ranging from children to grandparents. The weather cooperated perfectly, and a bit of spring greening was evident as the riders explored nearly 14 miles of trails winding through the varied habitats at Silver Bluff. A mile of trail near the Savannah River was a new addition to the route this year and was a highlight for many. One participant rode that loop twice—though not meaning to!

Another highlight, as usual, was the chuck wagon run by members of the Midland Valley High School FFA Club. Their contribution to this event and others at Silver Bluff is appreciated by one and all.

If you missed the fun this year, put this date on your calendar for the 4th annual ride—March 8, 2008.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Charleston AFB Conservation Day

Audubon South Carolina participated in Earth Day celebrations at the Charleston Air Force Base. The staff from the Francis Beidler Forest brought macroinvertebrate samples for the participating 5th graders to explore and identify. The students learned that the quantities of various species indicate the general water quality in the swamp. By the way, the water in the swamp is outstanding!
"This is the best and most fun station of all!" said one student. Of course, we agree.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Hat Society

The Victorian Ladies Red Hat Society met on this lovely spring day to share in fellowship and the wonders of the Francis Beidler Forest. As you can see in the image, they came dressed to impress.

As they toured the boardwalk through the virgin, old-growth swamp, the ladies were serenaded by the returning songbirds. All were in agreement, "It was a delightful time!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Summer Camp

As the weather continues to warm, thoughts of summer camp begin to stir. The Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest hosts three separate weeks of summer camp set in its unique swamp environment. Kids will become familiar with the virgin, old-growth cypress-tupelo swamp during their 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. day. They will see and learn about the variety of plants and animals in the swamp in addition to creating a plethora of swamp art!

The group in the image are getting a close look at the fawn in the other image.

This year's dates are:

June 18-22, 2007
June 25-29, 2007
July 9-13, 2007

Call 843.462.2150 to reserve a space.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Coach & Carriage Ride at Silver Bluff

Enjoy Unique Activities on March 23rd!

The 2007 Audubon Coach & Carriage Drive at Silver Bluff Sanctuary near Aiken features a day in Nature offering a variety of activities. Observe the Coach & Carriage drivers prepare their rigs and then view the array as they make their way along the 6+ mile forested trail. Guided birdwalks and live Raptor demonstrations will be ongoing. Attendees will also enjoy a sumptuous lunch at 1:00 pm, catered by the Green Boundary Club.

Be sure to make your reservations ($25 per person) by March 19th, by calling Audubon South Carolina at 843.462-2150

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Checkers, the corn snake (Elaphe guttata), is currently listed as A. W. O. L. (absent without leave)! After removing the skin that was shed, the lid to the cage was not secured. Sometime in the night, Checkers made a break for the freedom of the nature center. Unfortunately, Checkers picked the night before feeding day to escape and there is nothing of nutritional value for a snake in the center at Beidler Forest.

Authorities advise caution, so that Checkers (see image) is not stepped upon. However, Checkers is considered unarmed and not at all dangerous.

Update: 3/16/07 - Checkers surrendered at 10:00 a.m. without a struggle after being located in the back office.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Not all the work at the Francis Beidler Forest is glamorous! There is a considerable amount of maintenance work that must be accomplished to keep the facility open and informational. Lumber on the boardwalk periodically needs replacing; trees fall through the boardwalk; vegetation reaches into the driveway, boardwalk and canoe trail; buildings need painting, potholes in the driveway need filling; boundary lines need get the idea.

Today, it was time to freshen the paint on the signs identifying various trees and shrubs along the boardwalk. Brad and Pete, the seasonal naturalists, braved the fumes and are now experts in the black art of lettering.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Great Backyard Bird Count Results

Here are the results from South Carolina. A total of 188 species were reported with a 60% increase in the number of reports submitted (total of 1,409). South Carolina missed the top ten list by one species to Louisiana's 189. Thank you for supporting citizen science. Mark your calendars for next February!

Within the last two weeks, the Yellow-throated Warblers (shown in image) have returned to the Francis Beidler Forest. Neotropical songbirds will continue arriving daily from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. The question that many people ask is, "Are the Prothonotary Warblers back yet?" Not yet, but any day now!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spotted Turtles

Looking over the images of a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) captured on Monday, March 5th, a distinctive arrangement of spots was noticed. As you can see in the image, below the white star is a pattern of spots that form a "L" on the left side of the carapace. The image on the left is from 2006 and the one on the right is from 2007. This male certainly knows his left from his right. Below is the data from the last year's capture and last Monday's capture.

4/20/06 2:40pm 171g carapace 10.65cm plastron 8.60cm
3/5/07 2:45pm 175g carapace 10.91cm plastron 8.90cm

This male has bulked up some in the last year and just in time for mating season.

When you visit the Francis Beidler Forest, you can learn more about the Spotted Turtle by interacting with the touch-screen display in the nature center. The display and previous Spotted Turtle research at the Francis Beidler Forest were sponsored by Santee Cooper, which owns the powerline that cuts across Four Holes Swamp and provides critical basking sites for the turtles.

Jackie Litzgus studied Spotted Turtles for four years here at Beidler Forest. She grew up in southern Ontario, Canada and has been studying Spotted Turtles since a chance encounter in 1991 while working as a biology instructor at a canoe trip camp. In the Bug House, the name given to the shed that housed the camp’s equipment, Jackie discovered a moldy binder of forgotten research data for Spotted Turtles dating back to 1977. Jackie was fascinated and immediately set out to see if she could find any of the individual turtles in the nearby pond. She did and she was hooked!

As an undergraduate from University of Guelph, Jackie began studying the Spotted Turtles in the Ontario area (45N 06’, 80W 04’), which led to her Master’s degree on the subject from the same university. In Canada, the Spotted Turtle is listed as an endangered species. Jackie’s 29 years of data constitute the longest running data set for the species on the planet.

Having studied the Spotted Turtles at the northern extent of their range, Jackie began looking for suitable sites to study at the southern extent of their range. Florida was eliminated as a possibility, since there no longer exists a large or healthy population of Spotted Turtles. Jackie’s four-year study at the Francis Beidler Forest site, which led to her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, began at the suggestion of herpetologists in our state. Jackie is now back in Ontario as a professor studying turtles.

"It was an amazing experience. Beidler Forest is a herpetologists dream…all the reptiles. It’s spiritual among the trees."
--Jackie Litzgus

We couldn't agree more!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Snapping Turtle

While out on the boardwalk looking for Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata), several Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) were sighted. The female in the image has in her mouth the head of a Bowfin (Amia calva), which she was consuming.

Snapping Turtles have the reputation for being aggressive. On land when they are out of their element, they readily snap in self-defense. However, in the water they are shy and opt for swimming away when confronted. When the turtle in the image caught sight of me, she dropped her meal and began to move away. I retreated to the boardwalk and the turtle returned for her fish head. In fact, that is how Snapping Turtles obtain most of their food. They scavenge for dead or dying fish or other animals.

In late spring and early summer, female turtles will move out of the swamp to find suitable nesting sites on higher ground. These nest sites are often far from water. Though many eggs may fall prey to raccoons or other predators, in 2 to 3 months, some young snappers will be heading towards the water.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Noisette Creek Monitoring

Yesterday and today, the staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest made Noisette Creek presentations to the junior and senior classes at the Charleston Academic Magnet High School. In preparation of the Noisette Creek restoration project, Audubon South Carolina is teaming with students from Charleston Academic Magnet High to collect water quality and bird population data. The data collected will be used in future years to judge the progress of the Noisette Creek restoration.

Obviously, a healthy environment is one in which the water quality supports a rich and varied community of organisms and protects public health. Birds can be excellent “indicator species” telling us much about the general health of an ecosystem. They are large enough to be easily observed, and yet they are dependent upon organisms and factors that are less easily observed. If the overall system is severely degraded, it will be indicated in the birds (or lack of!).

In the image, Noisette Creeks runs generally from west to east and empties into the Cooper River. A portion of Park Circle can be seen in the upper left corner. The northern portion of the former Naval Base straddles Noisette Creek and portions of the old golf course form the boundaries of the creek at its Cooper River end. The portion of the old golf course south of the creek will be returned to its former state as a marsh.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Seasonal Naturalists

This week, the staff at the Francis Beidler Forest welcomed the seasonal naturalists for the spring. Peter Schwantes (left in the image) and Brad Dalton will guide school groups around the boardwalk, lead canoe trips, help with Spring Break Camp, make nature presentations to school and community groups, assist in the maintenance of Beidler Forest, and contribute to the improvement of all of Beidler Forest's programs.

Peter hails from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and is earning a degree in Wildlife Management and Biology from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Peter enjoys being outdoors, most recently in Alaska, and will try any extreme sport imaginable.
Brad is from Williamston, SC and earned a degree in Biology from Anderson University. Brad has worked as a camp staff member for five years and had studied wildlife and ecology in a variety of places including Panama and the Galapagos Islands.
We welcome Peter and Brad and look forward to their contributions to the educational programming here at the Francis Beidler Forest.