Friday, June 27, 2008

Canoeing Conclusion!

A 45-minute paddle through the virgin, old-growth cypress-tupelo swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest brought the first session of summer camp to a satisfying conclusion!

We have no images of the campers paddling (some for the first time) in the swamp. Although the water in the selected channel is deep enough for the draft of the 16-foot aluminum Grumman canoes, it is shallow enough for the smallest camper to stand with their head high above the water and their Coast Guard-approved life preserver. In fact, the cool water never reached the soprano regions of the adult camp counselors. All that being noted, we were not willing to risk expensive camera equipment around all that water, fun, and inexperience. Believe us when we write that there were smiles on every face (except for moments of trepidation brought on by small spiders catching a dry ride or siblings threatening ramming speed to silence boat-handling criticisms) and nobody wanted to come off the water. Lunch, however, is a powerful motivator.

We will be off all next week. Therefore, the blog will go silent until the next batch of campers arrive on July 7th. Enjoy your holiday weekend and remember why it is we celebrate. If in doubt, come to the swamp the next time the campers pile into canoes!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Otters and Bobcats and Bears, oh my!

Camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is almost over! Today, campers had the opportunity to become familiar with the tracks of the local mammal community. Armed not with guns, but identification guides, measuring tapes and pencils, the campers moved to eleven different stations along the low boardwalk to find tracks baked in Sulpty clay along with the appropriate mammal scat (that's the scientific word for poop). The scat was plastic as were the tracks used to make the impression in the clay.

After identifying the tracks, campers prepared to make a plaster cast of their favorite track (minus the black bear and beaver tracks which were too big). After the plastic track was selected, it was pressed into damp sand and surrounded by a plastic ring cut from the cylinder of a 2-liter soda bottle. Next, campers mixed water into plaster of Paris using a popcicle stick and the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle as a bowl. When the plaster was the consistency of a good cake batter, it was poured into the ring surrounding the track. Once the plaster cured, the track was shown in three dimensions.

Bring on the canoes!

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Camp #1

The first week of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is half over. Campers have already worked with snares and traps, learned wildlife observation skills, painted with sand, designed pinch pots, navigated with a compass and determined north using a stick, created dreamcatchers, tried to make fire, decoded the unbreakable World War II Navajo code, designed jewlery, and immersed themselves in the spectacular beauty of the virgin, old-growth cypress-tupelo swamp (see images from boardwalk)! Animal track identification, weaving, medicine bags, and canoeing are still to come!

There are still a few openings available in the final two weeks (July 7-11 and July 14-18), so call 843-462-2150 now to reserve your spot!

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Observation Tower

Some years ago, money was donated to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest in memory of an avid birder. The money was to be used for something related to birds. It was decided that the money plus matching funds from the Heritage Corridor would be used to build an observation tower standing 15 feet above Goodson Lake.

A variety of regulatory hurdles, weather and water levels, and conflict with prime birding and visitation seasons kept the project from completion. However, the recent low water levels and end of school group visits coupled with successfully clearing the regulatory hurdles has allowed for construction to begin. Dockmasters was able to approach Goodson Lake from the southwest along a long-abandoned fishing road and then floated it across the lake on a mini-barge. The pilings have been driven and the lumber delivered. Unfortunately, for the Dockmaster workers, the lumber is sitting in the nature center's parking area and must be pushed nearly a mile on a cart along the wooden boardwalk.

Judging by their expressions, the Birds-eye View Wildlife Observation Tower lumber push has pilates, spinning, and jazzercise beat by almost a mile!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, June 23, 2008

Swamp Transformations

There have been some spectacular transformations at the swamp this week! The lack of rain caused the swamp to be dry along the boardwalk except for the hole that is Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk. The canoeing activity on summer camp's Friday schedule looked in doubt (still a few openings in week #2 and #3). However, the nearly 5" of rain that fell yesterday afternoon upon the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has transformed the swamp into wetland with a 1-foot deep sheet of water. Water is lapping at the access to the "hollow tree" (a.k.a. the bat tree). That brings us to transformation #2.

Last Thursday, lightning struck another hollow Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree and caught it on fire (see previous log). Today, while showing another pair of Santee Cooper interns around the boardwalk, guests were found to be residing inside the hollow tree at #19. The tree is sometimes referred to as the "bat tree," but there aren't any bats in the hollow cypress. That is until today. Today, there are dozens of endangered Eastern Big-eared Bats (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) seeking daytime shelter in the hollow, yet living, cypress. The species' range closely approximates the historical range of the great cypress swamps.
As those swamps have disappeared (another reason to visit the Francis Beidler Forest and see a cypress swamp unmolested by humans), so to have the Eastern Big-eared Bat. It's possible that the bats now residing in the "bat tree" were previously residents of the nearby hollow cypress that burned last Thursday...they simply relocated sans U-haul.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Owl Prowl

After spending the day learning how to create fantastic maps in ArcMap using any data imaginable, we headed to the Congaree National Park for an owl prowl. We host a monthly nightwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but we've never been in the Congaree National Park after hours.

Ranger Fran met us at the nature center and gave us the history of the Congaree National Park, including that the land was once owned by Francis Beidler. Along the way, we talked about the habitat, including the flooding that occurs each year and nurishes the swamp unlike what occurs in the nutrient-poor Four Holes Swamp. We saw a Marbled Orbweaver dining on an unknown beetle, saw an Eastern Cottonmouth resting on a log in a creek, heard a Barred Owl comment on Ranger Fran's call, heard a White-tailed Deer snort its displeasure at our disruption, and saw fireflies begin to synchronize their flashing.

There are plenty of similarities and differences between Franics Beidler Forest and the Congaree National Park. We enjoyed the visit, but we're looking forward to returning home!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Google Earth

Today, a variety of examples were introduced for bringing data into the classrooms using Google Earth. The Francis Beidler Forest boundaries along with the canoe trail and the boardwalk have been available in Google Earth for awhile and can be launched here. However, additional species data files will be made available in the future.

Obviously, the examples used had nothing to do with data from the Francis Beidler Forest. Much of the data was gleaned from the U. S. Census Bureau and could easily be classified as "less than exciting." However, Kevin Remington, the creative Geographic Information System (GIS) manager at the University of South Carolina, produced a map of Middle Earth (if you said, "Huh?" ask a Lord of the Rings fan) and projected it onto the Earth as seen from space.

We promise to use our newfound knowledge only for good!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Columbia!

In an effort to bolster the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) capabilities within the Audubon South Carolina staff, we're in Columbia on the campus of the University of South Carolina at the South Carolina Geographic Alliance's Summer Technology Institute.

Yesterday, we dealt with geospatial concepts and data to prepare for the instruction during the remainder of the week. The goal of this short course is to provide exposure to geospatial technology and software so that the technology can be used effectively by educators.

Part of today's instruction included a introduction to the basics of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and one possible application for students. The Cruise the Campus geocache was designed for the 2003 SCGA Summer Institute. The geocache has three possible routes to the final cache highlighting historical events, arts/architecture, and monuments. For the first time in four attempts, it did not rain during the activity, though a line of powerful thunderstorms did generate discussions of the "curse" when it formed just east of Columbia. In the end, all 28 participants were competent GPS receiver operators and confident that they could navigate between two points and maybe even find some more geocaches!

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, June 13, 2008

High-tech Trash and Recycling

We don't always get a chance to slow down and read. When we do, we read what is at hand, which is not always the most current issue. This weekend we picked up National Geographic Magazine's January 2008 issue. There were two articles that we feel every American should read so that they are informed as to the disposition of their high-tech devices once the items are deemed to be trash and informed regarding recyclable waste.

The first article "High-Tech Trash" by Chis Carroll describes the journey of computer (and other high-tech items) from our desktops to distant countries with lax or non-existent environmental laws where precious metals and lead can be extracted via highly-toxic practices.

The second article "Recycling: The Big Picture" by Tom Zeller, Jr. discusses whether or not recycling makes sense. We think it makes sense as does Mr. Zeller, "It makes sense to reuse products, of course, and to reduce consumption altogether, as well as to improve initial product design. But given the rising mounds of waste worldwide, it also makes sense to recycle."

Laetiporus sulphureus or Chicken of the Woods is one of Beidler Forest's low-tech recyclers!

Image by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, the low water unlocks a world seldom observed by ordinary humans. Although there is little water on the surface (Ask the crayfish, fish, and aquatic insects how they like that situation!), there is still plenty of water near the surface. Crayfish burrow down to the water and form mud chimneys as they clear the mud from their tunnels. Not only does that water allow crayfish to survive outside of the puddles turned kill zones by predators, but it keeps the soil moist for capturing tracks.

Although our mission this morning was to take images of a newly-discovered Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) nest, we did cast a few glances to the mud to see what had beaten us to the spot during the night. First, the Prothonotary Warbler couple were quite busy feeding the three chicks that apparently hatched last Saturday. At one point, the female with a mouth full of mayflies had to wait for the male to finish stuffing his mayfly catch into the bright-red-trimmed-in-yellow maws. The female gave us a look as she left, but neither parent appeared too concerned with our presence.

Nearby, the tracks of a potential Prothonotary Warbler nest predator divulged that a Raccoon (Procyon lotor) had passed by during the night. The tracks looks as if the Raccoon were practicing for what it believes is a future opportunity for stardom immortalized in a distant cement sidewalk. Not far from these tracks were the ubiquitous White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) tracks. This set of deer tracks circled an item of curiosity as it too arrived in the night. Without help of a stormy wind, a branch had fallen from a tree.

As the water continues to retreat, turtle tracks of all sizes can be seen in the mud between the remaining pools of water. With birds, reptiles, and mammals exploiting the shallow pools of water for an easy meal, our shadows were enough to cause the water to roil with retreating prey.

You want to be careful following an S-shaped track for you might find yourself looking at an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) patrolling those same pools of water for fish, amphibians and other snakes!

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yellow and Deer Flies

They're back!! "Why are those visitors waving at us? They haven't even met us yet. Maybe they're just extra friendly." Actually, they're swatting at the Yellow Flies (Diachlorus ferrugatus) that have appeared over the last few days making the trip from the parking area to the Francis Beidler Forest nature center an annoying insect adventure and a torturous gauntlet if both hands are full.

As previously reported: The flies (deer, horse, and yellow) are from the family Tabanidae. The males are easily identified because their eyes are connected while the eyes of the females are widely separated. However, after smashing the fly between the palm and scalp in response to a painful bite, it is difficult to ascertain if the eyes were originally connected. It will undoubtedly be a female, because as with mosiquotes, it is only the females that bite humans and other animals.

The flies are ambush predators. They lie in wait in shady area until they perceive a meal passing by. Darker clothing in motion appears to be the most attractive to the flies. Using their scissor-like mandibles, they can inflict a wound deep enough to cause bleeding. They also add an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing. A group of 20-30 flies feeding on a cow for six hours can remove 100 cc of blood! Beef cattle can lose substantial weight and dairy cattle milk production can be dimished.

The fly problem is mainly in the parking area and the dry forest, but with the low water (zero in many places) in the swamp, the flies have ventured into previously unexploited territory. The fawn in the image was bedded down near the snake sign at #8 along the boardwalk. Although, quite close to the boardwalk and disturbed by our proximity, the fawn's attention was mainly on the fly that was tormenting it. The fly can be seen between the fawn's left eye and left ear. Even though movement might disclose its location (it thought itself better hidden than it truly was), the fawn could not resist an occasional twitch to get the gnawing fly airborne.

Hopefully, the flies will stay only for their normal two weeks and not the 6+ weeks they spent gnawing on us last year!

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bird Audio

Director of Bird Conservation, Jeff Mollenhauer, and seasonal naturalist, Denise Ecker, have been busy recording bird vocalizations this week at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The equipment they are using consists of a Marantz PMD660 (an audio recorder that records in digital audio formats onto a Compact Flash memory card) and a Sennheiser ME 66 (a shotgun microphone). The goal of this project is to create an audio library of sounds at Beidler Forest. These sounds can be used to create CDs for the gift shop, train seasonal naturalists how to identify birds, and for playbacks to attract/capture birds for research purposes.

Just like humans, many bird species also develop regional dialects. Carolina Wrens, White-eyed Vireos, and Prothonotary Warblers are just a few of our species that have picked up a southern drawl. By creating an audio library for Beidler Forest, we will be recording important information about the dialects of the bird species here in this amazing forest. Be sure to click on the samples below to hear some of their best work this week.

Carolina Wren (hear it)

White-eyed Vireo (hear it)

Prothonotary Warbler (hear it)

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fall Seasonal Naturalist Position

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest near Harleyville, South Carolina is searching for two (2) seasonal naturalists for the fall (September 3 - December 14). College internship credit is possible, in accordance with individual institutional guidelines.

1) Lead groups of all ages (mostly school children) on interpretive boardwalk tours.
2) If Fall water levels allow, lead occasional canoe trips into the swamp’s interior (trips last 4 hours). Take responsibility for the canoe trip reservation process.
3) Help run the Visitor Center on weekends and other days as needed. Includes staffing reception desk, greeting visitors, informal interpretation. Center “housekeeping.”
4) Assist with ongoing projects and programs. For example: Water Chemistry and Benthic Organism Survey, Water Level Monitoring, BOO In The Swamp, misc. fundraising, other special events assistance, etc.
5) Lead occasional general public Naturalist Walks on weekends.
6) Assist with general maintenance of building, boardwalk, and grounds.
7) Completion of a special, independent project that blends the needs of the sanctuary with the skills/interests of the Seasonal Naturalist. To be decided after arrival.

Present enrollment in, or recent completion of a degree program in some area of the Natural Sciences. Interest in pursuing a career in Environmental Education, Naturalist-Interpretive work, Nature Center/Wildlife Sanctuary operations, or related careers.
**Not required, but helpful: Canoeing skills, handiness with tools, research/data collection experience, previous experience in public speaking/leading groups, computer skills.

September 2 through December 14, 2008.

Should be received by July 15, 2008.

Send or fax a resume’, a list of three references, and a letter of application to Michael Dawson, at Beidler Forest, 336 Sanctuary Road, Harleyville, SC 29448, (843) 462-2713 FAX or e-mail to

Housing is provided in a new, modern 3 bedroom/2 bath house located on a remote, secluded, and beautiful site on sanctuary property overlooking Mallard Lake. Utilities provided. Salary is $260/week. Uniform vest also supplied.

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Typical Day? Of course!

Today, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest hosted two interns from Santee Cooper. Maggie and Laura began their day at the swamp with a tour around the boardwalk. Naturally, we told the young ladies that it was just a typical day at Francis Beidler Forest.

Immediately upon entering the swamp, we were greeted by the loud singing of a male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea). We saw other birds, flowers on the Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), Ebony Jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata), uneaten crayfish parts, and a couple of Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta). The "typical" day continued once we reached the main creek channel that passes by Goodsen Lake. First, we spotted a large Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota) sunning on a branch over the water. However, our attention was quickly diverted when we saw a female River Otter (Lutra canadensis) and her two pups moving through the channel toward us. Before we could spend too much time on the otters, we noticed an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) nearby with a dead Brown Water Snake securely within its jaws. Back to the otters...we got ahead of them as they left the channel and entered the upstream end of Goodson Lake. Spotting us, the otters dove underwater and their bubble trails showed that one of the pups missed a turn signal. When the family surfaced, mom and a pup were 30 yards from the other pup. After a momentary panic and a few distress calls to mom, the family moved up the channel at the end of the lake. Typical day.

As we headed back to the nature center, we came upon a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn parked in a dry spot between a cluster of cypress knees. We hurriedly snapped a picture and moved on before the fawn felt the need to flee. On the other side of the boardwalk a Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunted crayfish. Farther down the back side of the boardwalk loop, we encountered a Barred Owl (Strix varia) perched above the water waiting to rain death down upon some hapless crayfish. Just beyond the owl, we found a female Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) laying her clutch of eggs in a rotted cypress log. Before leaving the swamp, we saw a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) chase a small fish into the shallow water and eventually capture and consume it. Typical day.

We got paid to be here. Typical day.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Eastern Mud Turtle

As turtles go, the Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) is not one of the more attractive species. At the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest, we have seen the Eastern Mud Turtle from "cradle to grave."

The Eastern Mud Turtle's name is derived from the Greek words "kineo" (move) and "sternon" (chest), which referst to the animals hinged plastron (lower portion of its shell). The Latin words "sub" (below) and "ruber" (red) refers to the red pattern evident on hatchlings and in the images to the right. We think this is the stage of their lives that the mud turtles look their best.

Throughout their lives, Eastern Mud Turtles search within their aquatic environment for a variety of aquatic organisms and plants. Along the way, organisms like the leech in the image dine upon the turtles. As with many reptiles, Eastern Mud Turtles have a relatively long lifespan of up to 40 years. In the end, however, something always gets them (and us). The final image shows a dead Eastern Mud Turtle (CSI and the coroner have not released a cause of death) on its back providing a site for the American Carrion Beetles (Necrophila americana) to lay their eggs and perpetuate their species.

Images (hatchling) by SCBrian

Images (adult) by Mark Musselman

Monday, June 02, 2008

Swamp Serenade

On Saturday, the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest hosted Piccolo Spoletto's Swamp Serenade. Guests began the evening with wine and hor'dourves in the nature center followed by a short walk into the swamp to the Meeting Tree at #4 along the boardwalk.

Kathy Livingston of Nature Adventures Outfitters sang and played guitar under the massive Bald Cypress tree that is surrounded by the boardwalk and seating for 30 people. Guests enjoyed food and drink while singing along with Kathy. Before leaving, a male Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) made an upclose appearance, sang a few notes of his own, and provided our guests from Mississippi with a "life bird."

Continuing the leisurely walk through the nearly mosquito-free swamp (they don't like the flowing water, contrary to recent newspaper reports), guests arrived at Goodson Lake for additional refreshments. The evening in the swamp was spectacular with clear skies, pleasant temperatures, low humidity and wonderful music. At the lake, Jessie Cockcroft entertained the group with a variety of accordion numbers, including requests. The alligator did not make a formal request, but its non-verbal did appear to say, "Have you no homes of your own?"

The final stop before returing to refreshments at the nature center was with Jack Smith, Poet Laureate for Dorchester County. Jack told several stories spanning American history from Colonial times to the present. His announcement that the "Barrrrge is coming!" to a Colonial plantation along the river was answered by a present-day Barred Owl (Strix varia) hooting just over Jack's head.

We hope you'll be able to join us next year!

Images by Mark Musselman