Friday, September 28, 2007

Boo in the Swamp!

BOO In The Swamp
Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest
October 26 and 27

Described as “a Night Walk on steroids, we take what is naturally spooky about the swamp at night and ramp it up a couple of notches! The night is designed to be “family friendly” as NO blood, guts, demons, chainsaw massacres, or other nightmare inducing scares will be included. However, participants should expect to be spooked, creeped out or otherwise given the heebie jeebies, along the way!

Full-costumed characters representing several nocturnal swamp animals that people are most freaky about (eg. bats, snakes, owls, gators, etc.) will be on hand. It is the job of these animal characters to dispel the myths surrounding these creatures of the night.

You’ll be assigned to a group of no more than 20, with start times at 15-minute intervals, beginning at 5:30 for parents with younger children and 7:00 for parents with braver kids! Cost is $10.00/adult and $6.00/child.

Reservations must be made at 843-462-2150. Weenie roast, smores, hot cocoa, reptile demo, and other kid stuff will entertain you while you wait.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Silver Bluff Butterfly Count

On Saturday, September 22, Silver Bluff Audubon celebrated the last day of summer by hosting a butterfly count. Several families came out to chase, net, and identify butterflies (and assorted dragonflies) on a beautiful, though eventually very warm, day. Needless to say, quite a few birds (including National Audubon’s symbol, the Great Egret) were seen, along with numerous other critters such as a black racer snake, “rainbow” beetles, and lots of large garden spiders.

The butterfly count at Silver Bluff, sanctioned by the North American Butterfly Association, was part of a 15-mile diameter count circle that also included Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Augusta, Georgia. While final results from the entire count circle have not been compiled, the count at Silver Bluff produced 21 species. Not bad for a group that was easily distracted by all the other wildlife sightings!

A butterfly garden located near the visitor center played host to species such as Palamedes Swallowtail (Pterourus palamedes) [see image on Blue Fortune Agastache] and Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae incarnata), and Silver-spotted Skippers (Hesperia comma). The garden was planted in June of this year by kids attending the weeklong summer camp at Silver Bluff and is maintained by a faithful volunteer, Beth Smith. Plans are in place to enlarge the garden for next year’s crop of butterflies.

Text and images by Paul Koehler

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


This time of year, birds and butterflies are moving south and many make a stop at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. All the talk about migration coincided with a friend pointing us to a computer jigsaw puzzle maker. Below is a sample that incorporates the migrating Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) with jigsaw puzzle technology. Enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2007

American Woodcock

Kim Counts of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) brought the Public Event Series to the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Today's field trip was entitled "Birding in the Headwaters of the ACE Basin" and birding they did. This trip and others will be highlighted on SCETV on or about October 13th. Check local listings!

Along the way, participants saw White-eyed Vireos, Black-and-white Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Veerys, American Redstarts, Northern Waterthrushes, and a Barred Owl. However, the surprise bird sighting was announced by one of the children in the group. The first image shows you what the young man saw when he spotted the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). Can you spot the bird? The images that follow show a closer look of the bird. In the first image, find the big leaf shown next to the bird in the closeup image and see if you can find the bird on your second try.

It was a surprise to see the woodcock because the bird is nocturnal and well-camouflaged. Both groups of 12-13 people stopped and looked at the bird on the way out. The bird remained perfectly still, was still there when the groups returned toward the nature center, and was still there an hour later when some follow-up images were taken. American Woodcocks eat primarily earthworms and can eat their weight in worms every night! Note the long bill that is used to probe moist soils to locate their prey. Although this individual did not move, the woodcock has a unique method of walking about. With each stiff-legged step, it rocks forward and back in the horizontal plane without moving noticeably in the vertical plane. The walk is accurately portrayed by the band Madness in their video (drag the video bar to the -1.00 position).

Although the walk is unique, the American Woodcock is known more for the male's breeding display. From the ground and often at dawn and dusk, the male will begin an advertising flight that takes it up in a tightening sprial to 300 feet. The bird then falls like a leaf generating a twittering sound as the air passes through its wing feathers. All the fancy footwork and acrobatic flying has not helped to maintain American Woodcock populations, which continue to decline at a rate of 2.8% per year. Once again, habitat loss is the main cause for the declining numbers even as 2 million birds are taken each year by hunters. The woodcock in the image will not need to worry about hunters and it could not have selected more prisitine habitat to spend the winter!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bats at the Bluff

Prior to the current forest management activities at Silver Bluff, much of the 3,154-acre property was utilized for a different kind of agriculture—crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, watermelons, etc. When Audubon acquired Silver Bluff in 1975 there were several old wooden tenant homes that were still occupied and others that were abandoned. All of these had a long history of housing families that farmed the land. Today only one of those residents remains, and most of the homes are uninhabitable….by humans, that is.

Turns out that Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) finds them quite suitable for bachelor pads, nursing colonies, and more. As many as 30 of these unusual creatures have been seen hanging out in the old tenant homes and outbuildings. The trouble is, all of these structures are in various stages of returning to the earth, so these rent-free bat homes are by no means permanent. Eventually the bats will need to find other quarters, such as hollow trees or the undersides of bridges.

Text and photo credit: Paul Koehler

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pole Raising

Today, not everyone was upset that it was overcast, cool and raining. Some of the staff from the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest found the conditions quite pleasant for their work. They were at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve to set the poles for the shelter that will be used for educational programming. Digging holes for the poles and setting them in concrete would have been been taxing in the sunshine, high temperatures and high humidity.

The Amish barn-raising teams need not fear the South Carolina competition. However, it should be noted that the poles that are leaning in the image have yet to be set. As has been noted previously, the shelter is an important first step towards providing educational programming at Wannamaker. Next, the driveway and parking areas. Would anyone care to volunteer the funds?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Welcome Seasonal Naturalists!

Erin Reno (left in image)
I am very excited to be working for Audubon as a Fall Seasonal Naturalist, and to be a part of the team here at Beidler Forest. I learn something new everyday about the swamp and I am eager to share this information with visitors.

I studied wildlife biology and forest management at the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources. I have had many wonderful opportunities since my graduation. I have worked as an environmental educator, a community forester, a GIS technician, and an ecologist. I have also had the unique experience of co-captaining a small sailboat to the Bahamas. I am a true believer that you can do anything if you put your all into it.

During my leisure I enjoy spending time with my fiancé, John. We like to jog, hike, sail, and play with our dog, Tallulah. We plan to get married this November and we recently purchased a home in Summerville.

I hope to become a full-time naturalist in the greater Charleston area and encourage good stewardship of our plant and animal communities.

Nicomas Red Horse (right in image)
Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii my favorite thing to do was explore nature at every turn. This led me to work as a location scout for the film industry, and an eco-tourism company. As well as my volunteer work leading hikes for the Moku Loa chapter of the Sierra Club, and coordinating for E Mau Na Ala Hele, an organization that documents and restores ancient Hawaiian Trail systems. Until 1997, I was a Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe competitor, paddling in Hawaii, Tahiti and finally in the first Hawaiian Outrigger exhibition race in 1984 at the Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1999, I earned a B.S. in Agroecology from the University of Hawaii-Hilo, followed by a M.S. in Biological Sciences from South Dakota State University where my research was in bee systematics and pollination ecology. My work experience includes working as a research biologist in sustainable tropical agriculture, a USDA lab technician, a GIS cartographer for a THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Office), and as a high school agriscience teacher. I am presently transitioning from teaching agriscience to working for the environment, either environmental education, or a position in natural and cultural resource conservation.

This fall I am working as a seasonal naturalist at Audubon-Francis Beidler Forest while taking a break from teaching and continuing my education at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF). I am a certified GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) trainer and I hope while I am here I will get the opportunity to train South Carolina teachers from elementary to the university level. There are GLOBE protocols for just about every discipline in science. Students enjoy the hands-on experience and they report their data online. Scientists then use this data as reference points and to monitor global changes. This year I have spent several weeks in Fairbanks learning about International Polar Year (IPY) and several new GLOBE protocols. Teachers will be able to use these protocols with their students to see seasonal changes in their biome that may be caused from global warming. These protocols are aligned with National Science Standards for science and math. They are also aligned with some states standards, and I hope to align them to South Carolina by November.

I am really enjoying my time at Beidler and it will be hard to leave when the time comes. All my pre-conceived notions of what a swamp is have changed tremendously. I never thought I would fall in love with a swamp!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Global Logistics Triangle

Yesterday's Post and Courier described Orangeburg County's desire to develop in and around the Global Logistics Triangle formed by I-26, I-95, and Hwy 301. Looking at the image, it's obvious why Audubon South Carolina is interested in how this area is developed.

In the image, the Global Logistics Triangle is outlined in neon green. The boundaries of the Four Holes Swamp watershed are in purple. The boundaries of Audubon South Carolina's Francis Beidler Forest are in red. Nearly the entire Global Logistics Triangle falls within the Four Holes Swamp watershed with the main floodplain of the swamp running along the southwest edge of the triangle. The entire area of the Global Logistics Triangle is upstream from the old-growth portion of the swamp protected by the Francis Beidler Forest. Anything and everything that occurs within the Global Logistics Triangle will have an effect on the water quality of the upper Four Holes Swamp, which in turn will flow into the Francis Beidler Forest. Audubon South Carolina has encouraged the Orangeburg County Council to ensure that the effects are minimal.

Vegetative buffers between developed properties and the swamp will help to filter runoff. Limiting the amount of impervious (unable to allow water to pass through) surfaces will limit the amount of runoff, especially runoff that collects oil and other pollutants as it washes across the impervious surface. Ensuring that fuel tanks are surrounded by a catch basin will prevent spills from entering the swamp. These and other simple measures will help prevent a water quality disaster in the middle of one of South Carolina's premier habitats.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In High Cotton

Did you ever wonder what "in high cotton" means? If you ever had to pick cotton, you would not be puzzled. The higher the cotton, the less you need to bend to pick it and the less your back will ache. If you're in high cotton, life is good!

Driving into work at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we pass several cotton fields. This morning's sunlight filtering through the clouds drew our attention to the yellow and pink blossoms of the cotton plants and encouraged us to stop and take some pictures.

Here's what we learned about the the life cycle of the cotton plant from Cotton's Journey:

Approximately five to seven weeks after planting, small flower buds called squares will appear on the cotton plant. As this square develops, the bud swells and begins to push through the bracts (leaf-like parts) until it opens into an attractive flower. Within three days, the flower will pollinate (the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of the same or another flower) itself, change from a creamy white or yellow color to a pinkish red, and then wither and fall, exposing a small, green, immature cotton boll (a segmented pod containing 32 immature seeds from which the cotton fibers will grow). This boll is considered a fruit because it contains seeds. As the fibers continue to grow and thicken within the segmented boll, it enlarges until it becomes approximately the size of a small fig. Now, the cotton fibers have become mature and thickened with their primary growth substance, cellulose (a carbohydrate, the chief component of the cell wall in most plants). An average boll will contain nearly 500,000 fibers of cotton and each plant may bear up to 100 bolls.

In about 140 days after planting or 45 days after bolls appear, the cotton boll will begin to naturally split open along the bolls segments or carpels and dry out, exposing the underlying cotton segments called locks. These dried carpels are known as the bur, and it's the bur that will hold the locks of cotton in place when fully dried and fluffed, ready for picking.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Barn Raising

Okay, the staff from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and volunteers from the Columbia Audubon Society will not be raising a barn on October 6th at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve. Instead, they will be raising an outdoor shelter. The footprint of that outdoor facility is outlined in tape in the image. The shelter will provide students with an area to spread out their collected treasures (leaves, insects, soil) or to escape the sun or rain.

The Wannamaker Nature Preserve was donated to the Charleston Audubon Society by the late by Mr. Jack Wannamaker and has since transferred to the Columbia Audubon Society. The preserve east of St. Matthews straddles Lyons Creek and is bordered by SC Hwy 6 and Beacons Light Road. Hopefully, the 2.5 miles of trails will soon be trod upon by students from local schools eager to learn more about the plants and animals in their backyard. However, before any of that can happen, a driveway and parking area must be constructed away from Hwy 6 to allow the students to safey exit their bus. Funds have yet to be provided for the driveway parking area, and bathroom facilities.

If you would like to help with the shelter construction or with financial support for the infrastructure required to begin environmental education programs, please contact Mike Dawson at 843.462.2150.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cancer Fighting Copperheads

We've already noted the folly of the statement, "The only good snake is a dead snake!" However, while watching a program on the History Channel covering poisons in nature, the staff at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest learned something about our resident Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).

Although the information has been published in medical journals for almost a decade, the cancer-fighting properties of the Southern Copperheads venom was news to us. A protein in the venom called contortrostatin (CN) causes a disruption in the tumor cell's ability to adhere to and invade neighbor cells while also inhibiting the development of new blood vessels required to sustain the tumor.

"CN belongs to a class of proteins known as disintegrins, called that because they disrupt the function of certain other proteins, called integrins, on the surface of cells. Integrins are involved in the adhesive phenomenon of cells. CN is effective in retarding the spread of tumor cells because it inhibits their adhesion to and invasion of normal cells in the surrounding tissue. "-- American Chemical Society on Science Daily.

Can you spot the Copperhead in the image?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Who Needs Sweet Tea?

Sweet tea is a staple of the South, but it's difficult to find in the natural world. The closest thing to sweet tea is the nectar which flowers use to bribe insects and birds to facilitate successful pollination. Don't let the Surgeon General know, but the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is guilty of feeding empty calories to the resident reptilians, which can only exacerbate the obesity epidemic in our country.

The male Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) has discovered that the hummingbird feeder is the spot to get his sweet tooth fix. The Carolina Anole (pronounced a-nō'lē) is not a cameleon, which can change its color to match its environment. The lizard can change from green to brown, but that has more to do with the mood of the individual. Green is the color of an individual that is aroused by activity, a threat (predators, "playful" domestic cats, or curious toddlers), a rival, or a possible mate, while brown is the color for all other times.

Everything in moderation...if eaten with a healthy diet of insects and spiders, a small amount of sweet water shouldn't send our lizard to Sugar-eaters Anonymous.

Monday, September 10, 2007

South Carolina Important Bird Area Committee

The South Carolina Important Bird Area (IBA) Committee met on September 7th at the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area. This 10,700-acre property, owned by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, is managed for deer and duck hunting and “non-consumptive” wildlife uses. Members of the committee (l to r) are: Marion Clark, John Cely, David Chamberlain, Ann Shahid, Lorraine Brown, Paul Koehler, and Jeff Mollenhauer. Members not pictured are Drew Lanham and Laurel Moore-Barnhill.

During the meeting, the IBA committee approved the nomination of Tomkins Island as the 43rd IBA for South Carolina. This 5-acre spoils island, located in the mouth of the Savannah River, was constructed as a mitigation effort in 2005 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the short time since creation of the island, over 4,000 Royal Tern pairs (most of birds in image) have nested at the site along with nearly 3,000 Sandwich Terns and other assorted “sea birds.”

Photo credit: Paul Koehler

Friday, September 07, 2007

Glossy Ibis

Dan Connelly, sanctuary manager of the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary, reported three Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) in the ponds on the property. He is unsure if a Glossy Ibis had been reported on the property in the distant past, so he is treating this morning's sighting as a "species" first for Silver Bluff.

The water level in the ponds can be manipulated. The image shows the pond as it was last month for the Storks & Corks event. The lower water level provides better feeding opportunities for Wood Storks (Mycteria americana). However, plenty of other wading birds (heron, egret, and ibis) take advantage of buffet provided by the wetland habitats of the ponds and nearby Savannah River.

Photo credit: Glossy Ibis by Don Wuori, Silver Bluff pond by Jeff Mollenhauer

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Out the Office Window

Today was spent in front of the computer learning the new ArcGIS software (geographic information systems), which is a complex and powerful mapping tool. A huge upgrade from the 3.2 version that was being used by the office at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Any movement outside the office window provided an opportunity to connect with the natural world.

The Yellow Passion-flower (Passiflora lutea) fruit continued to be eaten by Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus), Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea) foraged along the branches prepared to consume any prey that might be flushed from hiding, and a female Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) stopped by for a quick look into the building. A male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) (see image) moved rapidly from branch to branch fanning his tail in search of meals to provide energy for his continued migration south.

There is always something happening in the woods outside the office window, including a young couple skirting the nature center and the admission fee to slip seemingly undetected onto the boardwalk. It was 4:05 p.m. and we close, including locking the gate at the end of the driveway, at 5:00 p.m. Besides the obvious safety issues of having people on the boardwalk without our knowledge, those individuals risk being locked in for the night as there is no way to drive a vehicle off the property except through the open gate. Additionally, as a non-profit, the Francis Beidler Forest relies on donations, grants, and admissions to maintain and protect the virgin, old-growth forest the young couple felt compelled to visit.

Come and experience the swamp, but please allow us the pleasure of meeting you first.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Songbird Travel Plans

Preparing bird migration lessons and activities to be presented at the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's Geofest this coming Saturday has reminded us of the many threats facing birds. It is difficult enough to survive in the non-human animal world, but migration increases the stress and dangers for birds.

The main threat to birds (and most flora and fauna) is habitat loss. Without adequate habitat in the northern breeding areas, birds cannot find suitable nesting sites or enough food to feed their young or themselves in preparation for long migrations. Without adequate habitat along the migratory route, birds cannot rest, resupply, or avoid predators. Without adequate habitat in their southern wintering grounds, birds cannot survive to the next migration or have sufficient energy to complete the migration.

Although habitat loss is the main threat, there is plenty of competition for top billing! Along the way, birds risk collisions with airplanes, cars, radio/tv/cell towers, power lines, and windows. If they successfully navigate by these obstacles and land, they face the deadly efficient domestic cat, pesticides, herbicides, or other pollutants.

The Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp remains a sanctuary providing outstanding breeding habitat and a welcoming and fulfilling stop for migrating birds.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Check Local Listings

The new phone books are here. The Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is featured on the cover of the Real Yellow Pages. Although the phone number for the center cannot be found in the white pages section of the listing, the phone number (843.462.2150) can be found on the first page in the "About the Cover" text box.

The images shown on the cover are (from left to right) an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on a a Leucothoe (Leucothoe racemosa), Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). The Leucothoe shown is growing next to the platform to the right as you approach Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk. The other two flowers are not visible from the boardwalk, but apparently were easier to blend together on the cover than the other flora and fauna images submitted.

The Francis Beidler Forest is also highlighted in a 3rd grade textbook: South Carolina Science, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, 2008 edition.

Hopefully, this exposure will help folks discover the unique gem hidden in Four Holes Swamp. However, if you have experienced the beauty of the Francis Beidler Forest firsthand, please help us spread the word!