Thursday, June 18, 2009

Santee Cooper and Summer Camp

The Santee Cooper powerline that crosses the swamp north of the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is clearly visible in aerial and satellite imagery. Some may see a tremendous scar across the land even though the electricity the lines delivery is a critical component of all our lives. However, things are not always as they appear.

Any visitor to the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at Beidler Forest will quickly observe the lack of sunlight reaching the forest floor during the times of the year that leaves are present on the trees. For this reason, alligators cannot be seen everywhere along the boardwalk, but only at Goodson Lake where the lack of trees allows sunlight to easily penetrate the otherwise dense canopy and provide the reptiles the warming rays that they desire. Likewise, other reptiles, including the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), seek basking opportunities. By radio-tracking Spotted Turtles for three years, Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus found that they spent considerable time in the powerline right-of-way where low vegetation provided cover but did not significantly diminish the warming power of the sun. The cut through the forest actually enhanced the habitat for the Spotted Turtle.

With summer camp quickly approaching, we are checking sites around the center for various activities. The area under the powerline has a variety of flowering plants not found in the shade beneath the forest canopy. The flowers attract numerous insects, which in turn can be eaten by birds (this year's camp theme). At our request, Santee Cooper has marked off a portion of the right-of-way beneath the powerline so that the area will not be mowed by the power company. This hands-off management will allow native plants (like the thistles shown) to thrive in a meadow habitat that would not have existed naturally at this site. It's location just beyond our parking area makes it accessible to visiting school groups and enhances the value of our educational programming. Although the site will also work wonderfully for our camp activity and we were able to capture the images below, we were disappointed to learn that we had picked up an aggravation (copyright pending) of chiggers.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) ; male and female (or immature male)

Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe)

Images by Mark Musselman

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