Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween in the Swamp

Happy Halloween from the swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center! The swamp is the Rodney Dangerfield of the ecosystem world. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions associated with swamps and we aim to dispell all that we can.

Some of the top "mythconceptions" (we spent all morning working on that one) are:
  1. "The swamp stinks!" False...the water is flowing. Therefore, fresh water is always arriving and organic material that could smell as it decomposes is mostly washed downstream to the Edisto River.
  2. "The water is polluted!" False...if not for the animals depositing wastes into the water or occasionally dying, it is almost clean enough to drink. A shot of chlorine and it would easily meet municipal water standards.
  3. "The mosquitoes are horrible!" False...they don't care for the flowing water (see #1). The parking lot area can at times rival a Red Cross blood drive for pints given per hour, but not in the swamp itself.
  4. "If the mosquitoes don't suck you dry, the quicksand will suck you under!" False...first, see #3 and then refer to #1. There is approximately 1.5"-2" of soft, decaying material on the swamp floor covering hard-packed sand. Unlike the pluff mud of a marsh (flooded grassland), the swamp (flooded forest) floor is relatively firm. However, the hidden cypress knees, flallen logs, and limbs can make walking difficult if the water knee-high or higher.
  5. "The Indiana Jones movies would need to add more snakes if the scenes were shot in a swamp!" know Spielberg would go over the top. However, in reality there are not nearly as many snakes in the entire swamp as in one Indiana Jones scene. The swamp is great snake habitat, but snakes will avoid human contact and can be difficult to locate if the water temperature is not cooler than the surrounding air temperature.
  6. "Noisy kids keep the abundant alligator population well-fed!" False...all child visitors to the swamp are angelic in comportment. Additionally, alligators are cold-blooded animals and require sunny areas for warmth and to aid in digestion. All of the boardwalk, expect for the observation tower at Goodson Lake, is shaded under the tree canopy. Halloween hint: be very quiet at Goodson Lake!
  7. "Lizard Man is real and plays poker with Swamp Thing." False...Swamp Thing doesn't play poker.

One thing we can guarantee that you will see when visiting the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp are the ancient trees! They've been here for more than a 1000 Halloweens and have even developed a few scary costumes of their own.

Image by Ron Wright

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leopold Education Project

The Leopold Education Project (LEP) is a curriculum based on the teachings and writings of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and is sponsored nationally by Pheasants Forever. We first noted Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac in an entry last November. We learned about the LEP during our time at the South Carolina Science Council conference.

With its easy access to a variety of natural areas, including the old-growth swamp, the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center is ideally suited for the LEP conservation ethics curriculum (grades 5-12). "The LEP increases students' awareness of the land, informs them of how to make responsible choices for our planet, while simultaneously teaching important soical, collaborative and critical-thinking skills." (LEP brochure)

The objective is to teach the student to see the land,
to understand what he sees,
and to enjoy what he understands.
--Aldo Leopold

The LEP curriculum is distributed only through training workshops. The Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center would like to host one of these workshops for local teachers. Workshops require a minimum of 10 participants and will fill at 30 participants. The workshops typically take between four and six hours and will include a tour of the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp. There is a nominal registration fee that may be offset further by a workshop sponsor.

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.
One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery,
and the other is that heat comes from a furnace.

--Aldo Leopold

The LEP teaches the public about humanity's ties to the natural environment in the effort to conserve and protect the earth's natural resources. We would like to host a LEP workshop to help educators and their students increase their proficiency at "reading the landscape." Contact Mark Musselman if you are interested in participating in a LEP workshop and please share this information with a teacher you know.

Image by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vampire Slayers

In pursuit of the National Audubon Society's mission " conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humantiy and the earth's biological diversity," Audubon South Carolina would like you to slay some vampires. No, you don't need any garlic, although it is a fine seasoning, or wooden crosses. All you need is a device like the GreenSwitch, which is wirelessly connected to outlets throughout the house and can simultaneously cut power to all those outlets.

Vampires are electronic devices that continue to draw power ("standby power") even when they are turned off. The U. S. Department of Energy estimates that 5% of a household's monthly electric bill is generated by devices in standby mode with projections as high as 20% by 2010. These devices include (but are not limited to):

internal clocks and sensors;
external clock displays and panel display LEDs;
remote control sensors;
battery rechargers and power-conversion packs;
communications between a base unit and a portable unit (as in a portable phone).

Reducing the amount of electricity we use not only helps us each financially, but it helps us all environmentally. Globally, climate change is a topic of discussion. Whether or not you believe that climate change is real or, if real, whether or not it is caused by humans, it is difficult to argue that less resource consumption and less environmental pollution are bad ideas. Add that both, along with personal financial savings, can be accomplished with the flip of one switch and we believe it is impossible to argue against such technology.

Individual household carbon footprints can be calculated at the Environmental Protection Agency's website. In 2000, the national average output was 1.392 lbs of carbon dioxide generated per kilowatt hour of electricity produced by carbon-based fuel. The average home uses 11,965 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, so a 20% (2010 predicted vampire rate) reduction in electricity equals a reduction of 3331 lbs of carbon dioxide per household. In 2001, there were 107 million homes in the United States alone, so our country could eliminate over 356 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year by installing technology similar to GreenSwitch! (source EPA)

But wait! That's not all! As we have noted before, coal-fueled power plants also introduce mercury into the environment via smokestack emissions. If people eat the fish in these contaminated environments, like those in Four Holes Swamp, the mercury begins to accumulate in their bodies as well. Additonally, the coal ash from the same coal-fueled power plants can lead to groundwater and wildlife contamination (arsenic, selenium, strontium, mercury, and chromium) when it escapes waste storage ponds or landfills. Coal-fueled power plants are the norm for our area. The Post and Courier is currently printing a series of stories on this issue.

If the cost of energy is not an issue for you, we encourage you to look at the environmental effects of your energy consumption and make reductions wherever possible. Slaying vampires is an easy place to start!

Image by Mark Musselman

Monday, October 27, 2008

...five, six, pick up sticks

As we have previously noted, Audubon South Carolina is creating grassland habitat for birds on land previously used to grow Loblolly Pines. The sites had been bulldozed, but large pieces of trees (limbs, trunks, stumps) still remained scattered throughout the three 2-acre plots. Today, the staff from the Francis Beidler Forest scheduled a workday to manually remove any debris that might get trapped in the harrow, which would be used to prepare the site for seeding.

The original plan called for the dump truck to be driven through the site with staff and volunteers tossing the woody debris into the truck's bed. Unfortunately, the site was saturated due to the heavy rain that fell last Friday. Stump holes were hidden quicksand-like traps that momentarily caught everyone at some point during the day and almost permanently kept a loosely-tied shoe. The truck surely would have become trapped. The combination of leg-sucking mud and repeatedly bending over for debris promised plenty of sore muscles for young and old alike!

We'll let you know if the birds appreciate the hard work!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jeff Meets Mark

It's always a magical moment when the young naturalist gets to meet the seasoned veteran!  Too bad that Mark Musselman, the education Director at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, is both older and less-seasoned than Jeff Corwin, who "has been working for the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems around the world since he was a teenager."  He's also had some television shows, but who hasn't been on television before? As we noted in a previous entry, Jeff Corwin has never been to the internationally-recognized, largest-remaining, old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp in the world.

 Go ahead and pat yourself on the back if you already have that on your resume.  Well, while at the South Carolina Science Council's annual conference in Myrtle Beach, we put on the hard sell.  While Jeff Corwin was trapped in the exhibit hall for a book signing, we snuck away from our Francis Beidler Forest display booth and presented Jeff with a information-packed brochure, a business card with all the contact information, a Francis Beidler Forest patch and secured the valuable items together with a Francis Beidler Forest pin.  Not only did we present the material to Jeff Corwin in a manner that made it difficult to move directly to the nearest recycling bin, but we have photographic evidence of Jeff Corwin reading the material!

Budgets within school districts and within state agencies were already strained prior to the downturn on Wall Street.  However, the ensuing budgetary retractions have cut staff and travel funds making for disappointing attendance numbers.  The South Carolina Department of
 Natural Resources did not show and teacher attendance was down 500-700 below projections.  Of the 825 teachers in attendance, some were the sole representative of their district, their school, and/or their grade level.  At the Francis Beidler Forest booth, we made contact with approximately 150 individuals.  Besides talking about the unique ecosystem at Beidler Forest and the educational opportunities, we directed them to the educators section, the curriculum section, and the species images on our webpage.

Hopefully, between Jeff Corwin's conservation contacts, our contact with the teachers at the conference, and your word-of-mouth advertising, we will be able to spread the word about the planetary jewel located in South Carolina's Four Holes Swamp!

Booth image by Mark Musselman
Jeff Corwin image by A. B. Marshall

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feeding Wildlife

When you visit the new observation tower at Goodson Lake along the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, you will likely see Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) swimming right to the deck.  Although we have not seen anyone feeding the turtles, we suspect that human snacks are making their way into the swamp food web.  Never a good thing.

A photo we recently received via email shows
 that the problem is even worse in the nearby Francis Marion National Forest.  Black Bears have been spotted near Four Holes Swamp with one being hit by a vehicle on Interstate 26 near Jedburg.

No worries at the Francis Beidler Forest, our picnic tables are safe from bears, black and Yogi alike!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Maggot Mystery

We, the staff at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, have never claimed to know everything. However, it is a rare day that something is seen or found and nobody in the building can identify it or even point the curious in the right direction. It happened on Friday!

While preparing some vials of scent for the Girl Scouts' Saturday activity on smells, Mike Dawson decided that the Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), which had fallen into the rain-filled garbage can and expired, would make that perfect "foul odor." He had already removed the carcass and relocated to a spot in the forest away from the parking area. In the process of turning over the carcass in search of some "smelly 'possum juice," several creatures dropped out and began squirming on the ground. One of the specimens was brought into the office for identification by the staff. No such luck. The closest anyone came to a descriptive identification was "a sperm on tons of steroids." Spying the specimen this morning in its vial of alcohol reminded us to solve the mystery.

The Drone fly is well-documented in the rest of the world having arrived in North America prior to 1874. We've got to get out of the office more often! According to the North Carolina State University webpage, the rattailed maggots are the little darlings of drone flies, which resemble honey bees in behavior and appearance (though they have but one set of wings). The larvae are aquatic, so it's no surprise that they were in the semi-submerged, dumpster-diving Opossum. The species Eristalis tenax or Eristalinus aenus are difficult to identify in the larval stage. "The cylindrical, grub-like body may be up to 20 mm long with a tail-like breathing tube 30 to 40 mm long. This hard-bodied life stage is resistant to crushing." --NCSU
Copyright © 2005 Lynette Schimming

Until we get a good picture of the larvae, look here.

"Feeding Habits -- These flies are attracted by colorful flowers (especially yellow) as well as by odors of decay. They do not suck blood. Rattailed maggots feed on decaying organic matter in stagnant water or moist excrement." --NCSU. As the swamp is NOT stagnant water and we do not frequent sites of "moist excrement," it might explain why we haven't seen these guys before.

"Life History -- Drone flies have an unusual and little-studied life cycle. The female fly lays 4 or 5 eggs on or near contaminated water, sewage or other decaying organic matter. The larvae which hatch from these eggs are reported to reproduce paedogenetically, that is, each one gives rise to 7 to 30 daughter larvae. This method of reproduction may last for some time, but periodically female and male flies are also produced. Larvae can withstand many adverse conditions but are eaten by other fly larvae, particularly those of the genera Ophyra, Muscina, Phaonia, etc. Pupation usually occurs in a site drier than that in which the larvae developed. The number of annual generations produced is unknown." --NCSU. Are the flies from the other genera, which we think is scientific geek-talk for rival gangs, actually the dimwits of the fly world? Why else would they dine on the young of a species that actively sought out contaminated water, sewage, or moist excrement as choice birthing habitat?

Thinking back, we wonder how this would have worked for us..."Contractions? Honey, would you prefer giving birth at East Cooper Regional Medical Center or the wastewater treatment plant?"

Friday, October 17, 2008

South Carolina Science Council

Next week, the education department from the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center will be manning a booth at the South Carolina Science Council conference in Myrtle Beach. A copy of the program shows a variety of science-related workshops and lessons that can improve the quality of science instruction in South Carolina classrooms. We hope to draw attention to the unique educational opportunities in the natural classroom located in Four Holes Swamp!

Contrary to the office rumor mill, we did sign up because Jeff Corwin would be a guest speaker at the conference! Besides, Jeff Corwin has never been to the internationally-recognized, old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp that we get to call our office!

Visit us at the Francis Beidler Forest! Then you too can say that you've done something that Jeff Corwin has never done.

Images by Mark Musselman
Pictured are a small Red-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster), two Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) and a Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Eumeces inexpectatus).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eew! That smell!

"Ooooh that smell! Can't you smell that smell? Ooooh that smell! The smell of death surrounds you..." (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Well, we couldn't smell it on Tuesday, but today the smell of a dead deer was quite apparent to the Goose Creek High School juniors and seniors as they walked on the boardwalk. However, there were those in the Francis Beidler Forest that had no problem picking up the scent of death on Tuesday.

With a mug that only a mother could love, we introduce the Turkey Vulture (Coragyps atratus).

Until recently, the New World vultures were thought to be related to raptors as are their Old World cousins. However, DNA analysis has shown that the New World vultures are actually related to storks and ibises. Differences in physical characteristics support the DNA findings. New World vultures have weaker, thinner beaks than Old World vultures and the feet of New World vultures are chicken-like when compared to the raptor-like feet of their Old World cousins.

Most people realize that Turkey Vultures (named for their nearly-featherless, turkey-like head) eat carrion, but the birds also supplement their diet with shallow-water-aquatic vegetation and vegetable crops. The Turkey Vulture's digestion system has the ability to kill any virus or bacteria in the food that they eat. The nearly-featherless head allows the species to stick its head into a carcass without accumulating excessive carrion and its associated bacteria. Any bacteria that does stick to the head can be baked off by perching in the sun, which is partially the purpose of spread-wing Horaltic Pose. Heat regulation is another purpose of this pose.

Turkey Vultures use their keen eyesight AND sense of smell to locate a meal. Turkey Vultures are one of the few birds that use a sense of smell. If the deer by the boardwalk is what they're smelling, we'll pass on a keener sense of smell! Unlike reports of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), Turkey Vultures are non-aggressive and will not dine on living prey. If threatened, Turkey Vultures may hiss (they can only hiss or grunt) and vomit their partially-digested carrion meal. The foul smell and possible burning if the vomit contacts sensitive tissue (eyes) will likely deter a predator. A heavy meal might also be jettisoned if a bird needs to quickly attain flight. The inability to get off the ground in a hurry is a danger when feeding on roadkill and dealing with automobile traffic.

Turkey Vultures usually raise two chicks that appear white with dark heads. These birds do not build typical nests. Eggs are laid on the ground of caves, scratched out depressions in the soil, or in abandoned buildings. Chicks fledge after 70-80 days.

Turkey Vultures are tremendous soaring birds. They generally will not leave their roosting site until the air has warmed and begun to rise (as warm air is wont to do!). The vultures will flap their way into a thermal of rising warm air and then slowly soar their way to the top of the thermal with their 6-foot wingspan. Turkey Vultures can move laterally across the landscape by gliding towards another thermal. The birds will lose altitude as they move between thermals, but they can gain back the altitude by slowly soaring to the top of the new thermal. In this manner, Turkey Vutures can stay aloft for over six hours, travel up to 140 miles, and never flap their wings! This tactic is quite beneficial during long-distance migrations. Although we have Turkey Vultures here all year, the winter birds may not be the birds that are here in the warmer months. Turkey Vultures made up some of the birds spotted during the Rivers of Raptors trip to Mexico.

Turkey Vultures often defecate on their own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces to cool itself down. Really? Along with the vomitting, diet of decaying flesh, and the ugly mug, we suggest the Turkey Vulture gets a better PR rep!

Images by Mark Musselman

River of Raptors

Audubon South Carolina’s Director of Bird Conservation, Jeff Mollenhauer, and Development Director, Nancyjean Nettles, recently returned from a trip to Veracruz, Mexico where they observed the “River of Raptors.” Veracruz is well-known as one of the best spots in the world to observe migrating hawks and vultures in the entire world. In fact, more than 5 million raptors pass through Veracruz each fall! Single day totals at the hawk watch stations there often surpass 100,000 birds and can even go higher than 500,000 birds! Three species make up the majority of the birds counted at the hawk watch stations in Veracruz: Broad-winged Hawks (~1.8 million), Turkey Vultures (~1.5 million), and Swainson’s Hawks (~1 million).

In addition to seeing tens of thousands of migrating raptors during their trip, there were also several other spectacular sights. One morning at the La Mancha Biological Research Station, they saw a flight of perhaps 10,000 – 50,000 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers heading south to their wintering grounds! There were so many flying over in a constant stream that they looked like dragonflies. Without using binoculars, Jeff was counting approximately 60-75 per minute flying over the birdwatching group. The flight continued for several hours until small groups began to settle in trees. One tree was observed to contain more than 50 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers!

Another stop on the trip, a highlight for many of the participants, was watching an estimated 500,000 bats pour out of a cave at dusk. The cave was no more than a small hole in the ground in the middle of a field of corn. As the first bats flew out of the cave a pair of Aplomado Falcons and a Bat Falcon made several attempts to catch them, but were unsuccessful. Soon the tiny trickle of bats became so thick that they even created their own breeze! It was amazing to see how well they were able to navigate using echolocation. The bats had no problem flying between participants and even through people’s legs!

We hope to make another trip down to this amazing area in October 2009. If you are interested in joining us to see the River of Raptors in Veracruz, please contact Jeff Mollenhauer at

Images by Jeff Mollenhauer

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Timber Rattlesnake

It's getting cooler and the days are getting shorter at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Snakes of all species, including the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) are looking for mates and possible winter den sites.
According to Davidson Herpetology, “The timber rattler is one of the species of snakes typically used by religions that practice snake handling. Most timber rattlers are reluctant to rattle or bite, and instead, rely on their excellent camouflage for protection.” Notice how the dark patter on the snake matches the shadows on the forest floor, while the light colors match dead leaves and the orange stripe matches the fallen pine needles. Watch your step! Fortunately, although reaching large sizes, most individuals are docile when encountered in the wild and often will remain coiled or stretched out without moving. If threatened, they can deliver a venomous bite. However, the majority of documented bites have occurred when individuals were trying to pick up the reptiles.

The average size of Timber Rattlesnakes is four feet with males, up to six feet long, getting larger than females. All have solid black tails and black chevrons on the back and sides with the point of the (V) directed toward the head. Often a brown or orange stripe is present running down the middle of the back.

The Timber Rattlesnake populations require suitable winter denning sites in order to thrive. Therefore, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are the main threats facing this species. Timber Rattlesnakes are known to den communally and will return to the same den year after year in order to hibernate through the winter. Not only is the loss of suitable den sites critical to the Timber Rattlesnake population, but the communal denning behavior makes the species vulnerable to persecution (killed or collected) by humans. Several of the tree stumps outside our office windows have been used over the years by Timber Rattlesnakes as well as other snake species.

Females reach maturity after at least 5 years and typically wait at least 2 or 4 years between litters. The live young (5–20 per litter) are born in late summer or early fall around the same time that courtship and mating occur. Timber Rattlesnakes may live 20 years or more eating mostly rodents, which include mice, rats, and squirrels. The snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell to detect their prey. They spend the majority of their time (day and night) remaining motionless in coiled, ambush positions along animal runways awaiting the approach of unwary prey.

Beyond humans and their activities, Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula getula) are the only predator with which adult Timber Rattlesnakes apparently need to concern themselves.

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, October 13, 2008

Regional Growth Plans

At the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, we are keenly interested in the regional growth plans. The Post and Courier has posted an interactive map on their website that provides
basic information regarding the various governmental plans, including links to more detailed information and how citizens can become involved in the planning process.

A look at the Francis Beidler Forest's boundaries on Google Earth shows Four Holes Swamp as a ribbon of green winding through parts of Orangeburg County, Dorchester County, and Berkeley County. A closer look also shows development encroaching on green spaces in all three counties. Protecting land as the National Audubon Society has done with the Francis Beidler Forest or through conservation easements as Norfolk Southern Railroad has done with the Brosnan Forest or as private landowners have done will keep critical portions of the region green. However, unplanned growth in the remaining portions of these counties, as well as Charleston County, could have negative effects on the protected green spaces. Therefore, public involvement in the ongoing comprehensive planning process is crucial in developing a balanced plan for future growth and the quality of life issues.

If, in 1969, individuals in our area had not seen the value in protecting the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp that is the core of the Francis Beidler Forest, such a place would absent for at least another 1000 years! In other words, such a place would likely be lost to humankind. Like those in 1969, we need to be vigilant as the region grows to ensure we don't lose what we love before we notice it's gone.

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wildlife Watching in the United States

A new report recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that "expenditures on wildlife watching are equivalent to the amount of revenue from all spectator sports (football, baseball, and other sports), all amusement parks and arcades, casinos (except casino hotels), bowling centers, and skiing facilities."

Using data from the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new addendum report Wildlife Watching in the United States: The Economic Impacts on National and State Economies in 2006 states, "In addition to contributing significantly to people’s enjoyment of the outdoors, wildlife watching has a substantial impact on the nation’s and states’ economies. The $45.7 billion spent on wildlife equipment and trips in 2006 contributed substantially to federal and state tax revenues, jobs, earnings, and economic output."

In 2006, the direct expenditures of wildlife watchers generated $122.6 billion in total industrial output. This resulted in 1,063,482 jobs, a federal tax revenue of $9.3 billion, and a state and local tax revenue of $8.9 billion. The report details the economic impacts of wildlife watching expenditures by state with South Carolina's being found here. The top five states ranked by economic output include California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and New York. Direct expenditures by wildlife watchers were for items such as cameras, binoculars and bird food, as well as trip-related expenses such as lodging, transportation and food.

The report addresses participation nationwide in wildlife watching, associated expenditures and estimates of the total economic activity generated by these expenditures. In addition, it addresses the total employment and income associated with wildlife watching expenditures and estimates of the generated state and federal tax revenue. In 2006, nearly 71 million Americans (16 years of age and older) spent more than $45 billion observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife.

Come watch the wildlife at either the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center or the Silver Bluff Audubon Center.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, October 09, 2008

TogetherGreen and Rain

We have been in West Virginia for the last week at the National Conservation Training Center for TogetherGreen training.  Our days were full from sunrise to well beyond sunset with professional development and training regarding the implementation of our TogetherGreen Prothonotary Warbler banding project.  Blissfully, cell phone reception and Internet access was not readily-accessible.  Therefore, the blog took off a week.

Image by Brian Jonkers, NCTC

We did not arrive home until 0130 this morning due to flight delays caused by severe
 thunderstorms and fog in and around Atlanta, GA.  Today, the 8th graders from St. George Middle School were scheduled to visit the old-growth swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center, walk the 1.75-mile boardwalk, and discover the meaning of watersheds via the Hydrophobic Horse map activity.  Unfortunately, another severe thunderstorm system formed in the early morning hours and began streaming north straight at Four Holes Swamp and the Francis Beidler Forest.  In the interest of safety (and not our bleary eyes), we canceled the field trip, since the thunderstorms would arrive at the swamp while the students were out on the boardwalk beneath all those tall, lightning-attracting cypress trees!  To our chagrin, the storms streamed north all morning and repeatedly disappeared at the Georgia-South Carolina border.  If we had known that, we would have proceeded with the visit as schedule, but then the storms would have held together instead.

"Blessed are the flexible...for they shall not be broken." --Emilio Williams of The Koi Group 

Friday, October 03, 2008

Head of the Cloud

Fourth graders from Vance-Providence Elementary School visited the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. In addition to walking the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp, students learned about the water cycle using an adaptation of Project Learning Tree's Head of the Cloud.

In order to understand the swamp ecosystem and the dangers it faces, citizens must understand the water cycle. The Head of the Cloud activity had students moving between eight stations (cloud, bluff, groundwater, animals, plants, Singletary Stream, Atlantic Ocean, and the swamp). At each station, students read a strip describing what happened to their water molecule at that stop. For example, they may have evaporated and condensed into a cloud or they may have been consumed by an otter. After ten stops, the students have enough information to write descriptive accounts of their journey through the water cycle. Using their experiences and their unique stories, students can help educate the community regarding the journey South Carolina's water makes, in part through the swamp, from the mountains to the sea!

Image by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Francis Beidler Forest Ramsar video

In a previous entry, we highlighted the inclusion of the Francis Beidler Forest in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, which lists wetland's based upon their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology, or hydrology.

A video describing the designation has been posted to YouTube and can be seen here.

Image by Mark Musselman