Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Conventional wisdom would hold that it is a bad idea to invite 4th graders (actually, any kids) to the swamp on the day before Halloween. We're not sure what we are lacking (covention or wisdom) here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but the 4th graders from Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary School were model visitors as they toured the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp! Yesterday, the 5th graders from Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary were equally as impressive.

During the water cycle Head of the Cloud activity and the Animal Tracks activity, the students were focused, observant and asking questions that demonstrated their critical thinking abilities. Along the boardwalk, the students were able to recall information from their visits in previous years as well as ask insightful questions relating to knowledge they had obtained earlier in the day.

After a fine job in the swamp, we and the Big-eared Bats (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) say, "Happy Halloween!"

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Seasonal Naturalists for 2009

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is proud to introduce its two fall seasonal naturalists. Since arriving last month, Allison Houser (left) and Rachelle Snow have been learning about the old-growth swamp, helping with various maintenance/management activities, and preparing to lead school groups along the 1.75-mile boardwalk. This month, the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has mainly played host to students from Dorchester District Four, but various private schools, homeschool groups, and other public school groups have taken advantage of the educational programs at the swamp!

Allison recently graduated from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources Management and a Master’s degree in Informal Science Education, both from The University of Tennessee. Allison has worked seasonally for the USDA Forest Service in Northern California, Alaska, and Tennessee. She enjoys teaching young people about the environment and staying fit. She also worked for the YMCA as a Youth Fitness instructor and as an Environmental Educator.

Rachelle is from the Adirondacks of New York. She went to school at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY, where she recieved her B.S. in Environmental and Forest Biology with a concentration in Wildlife Science in 2008. Since then she has been working with threatened and endangered shorebirds in the summer and teaching environmental education in the fall/winter.

There are still good-weather days available on the Beidler Forest education calendar. Don't miss the opportunity to provide your students with an experience available no place on the planet!

Image by Mark Musselman

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mercury and Marbles

As the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has noted previously in this blog, the fish in Four Holes Swamp are contaminated with mercury. The mercury is mainly generated by the burning of coal for electricity generation. The mercury exits the smokestack and settles in water systems across the Coastal Plain. Once in the water, bacteria convert the mercury into methylmercury, which is moved up the foodchain as larger fish eat smaller fish. Eventually, humans catch that big Largemouth Bass or Bowfin and ingest the mercury when they eat the fish.

The state's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) posts advisories regarding the consumption of fish from various rivers, lakes, and swamps, but there has never been a study regarding the effect of mercury on the state's citizens who consume the contaminated fish. The Post and Courier reported today that a study set to determine the effects, if any, of mercury-contaminated fish on humans has now had its funding reduced.

Today, we were visited by the Lowcountry Institute's Master Naturalist class from Spring Island. We didn't detect any mercury, but we found a group of animals that is declining around the globe. Habitat loss, environmental pollution, increased ultraviolet radiation, and disease are all factors in these amphibian population declines. What we found were several Marbled Salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) along with some Slimy (Plethodon glutinosus), Southern Dusky (Desmognathus auriculatus), and Three-lined (Eurycea guttolineata) Salamanders. Under one log, we found a female Marbled Salamander guarding her eggs. Hopping nearby were Southern Cricket Frogs (Acris gryllus), a Pine Woods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis) and a Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris).

Naturally, our camera was inavertently left in the car when the group consolidated into fewer vehicles for the arduous chore of unlocking and locking four gates along the access road to the bluff at Mallard Lake. Fortunately, there were numerous other cameras taking images and we were promised copies! We'll post them as they arrive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is not a polite way to tell someone to, "Shut your mouth!" According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Terrestrial carbon sequestration is the process through which carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is absorbed by trees, plants and crops through photosynthesis, and stored as carbon in biomass (tree trunks, branches, foliage and roots) and soils. The term "sinks" is also used to refer to forests, croplands, and grazing lands, and their ability to sequester carbon. Agriculture and forestry activities can also release CO2 to the atmosphere. Therefore, a carbon sink occurs when carbon sequestration is greater than carbon releases over some time period.

Old-growth forests, such as Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, qualify as "sinks" for carbon sequestration. This month's National Geographic Magazine highlights the old-growth redwood forests of the Pacific coast in "The Tallest Trees: Redwoods." Not only are the environmental benefits of old-growth discussed (soil erosion control, higher water quality, greater species diversity, carbon sequestration, etc.), but scientists have found that older trees grow more rapidly and have higher-quality wood than younger trees. Although they may not be growing as rapidly, the younger portions of Beidler Forest's 16,000 acres are also sequestering carbon, since they are no longer being logged.

Today's Post and Courier reported on a local plan to deal with excess carbon dioxide in Bo Petersen's "Storage for Carbon Dioxide?" Geologists from the University of South Carolina will determine if it is feasible to pump carbon dioxide deep into the ground of the South Georgia Rift, which "is a very deep basin filled with sedimentary rock. It's 200 million years old. It's well, well below that coastal plain aquifer" where freshwater wells are drilled, said John Shafer, the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute director at the university. (Post and Courier, 10/21/09).

If pumping into the earth below South Carolina works, it will take some effort. We find our method much easier...let the trees grow for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity! Come see our 1000-year-old, carbon-sequestering, cypress-tupelo swamp!

Image by Mark Musselman

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hunting Hawk

The Master Naturalists from the Georgetown area took the tour of the 1.75-mile boardwalk and paddled the canoe trail through the old-growth, cypress-tupleo swamp, but the highlight of the day happened in the parking area of the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. While enjoying lunch, the group observed another diner in the forest.

One of the master naturalists spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) in an attack glide that took it to the leaf litter on the forest floor. Although it appeared to have missed its intended target, the bird either reacquired it or found a new target on a nearby sapling. The hawk launched from the ground, fluttered perpendicular to the tree's trunk, and grasped with its talons at its intended meal. Red-shouldered Hawks will eat rodents, snakes, lizards, and insects. Flying off, it was easy to see that the hawk had a Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) in its talons.

During this cold snap, be glad that warming yourself in the sun like the lizard does not invite death from above!

Images by Mark Musselman

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Can't Miss Them

Although the rain has abated, the overcast, cool day has kept down the number of visitors seeking to explore the old-growth swamp at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest. However few, almost all of the visitors made note of one animal in the swamp. They simply could not escape detecting this species and humans were not the only ones taking notice!

The ears of the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the image are up for good reason. Although there is no hunting or fishing allowed in the sanctuary, hunting occurs on nearby properties. The sound the deer and our visitors could not avoid hearing eminates from the dogs set free to chase deer towards waiting hunters. The deer understand where they are safe from gunfire and settle down in the sanctuary. Unfortunately, for both the staff and visitors, the hunting dogs cannot read the signs posted at the sanctuary's boundary and follow the scent trail even as it leads them under the boardwalk and deeper into the swamp.

There is little that we can do beyond holding the dogs until the owners finish hunting and retrieve them. The swamp, however, does have a control mechanism and it too has made an association to the constant barking. Did someone mention dinner?

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, October 15, 2009


As previously noted in this blog, landfills are an issue that occupies the thoughts of few individuals until the site or associated truck traffic impacts their neighborhood. NIMBY stands for "Not in my backyard" and it normally applies to the placement of some undesirable facility or activity. However, some in Dorchester County may now invoke the acronym in response to neighboring Charleston County's plan (as reported in the Post & Courier) to send a portion of their waste stream beyond their borders to the Oakridge Landfill in Dorchester County.

Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest shares a property line with the Oakridge Landfill along Four Holes Swamp's end run to the Edisto River. The capacity of this or any landfill is not infinite and the Oakridge Landfill cannot expand into the swamp. Once full, the site must close and a new site opened to accept our continuing waste stream. Although waste is inevitable, there are ways to minimize its impact. Reduce, reuse, and recycle remain sound pieces of advice. All three actions eliminate or minimize the amount of waste entering our landfills. This saves space in the landfill and reduces transportation costs, including wear on the roads.

We are quickly reaching the point where NIMBY will not be feasible due to high transportation costs and the fact that our backyards are getting closer together! Take a cue from nature...reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Image by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Things That Make You Go, "Eeeewwwahh!"

Previously, we posted an entry regarding the Squirrel Bot Fly (Cuterebra emasculator). On Friday, we spotted a Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) out our office window at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and it was not a pretty sight! The squirrel was host to numerous parasitic bot fly larvae.

Although we cannot identify the species of bot fly in the images, the ovipositor at the base of the abdomen can be clearly seen. The female does not deposit her eggs within or on the host. Instead she deposits her eggs in an area likely to be visited by the desired host. It isn't known how she determines this, but in this case, she is depositing eggs around an area where water is seeping from a hollow portion of the tree. When a host brushes by, the egg is picked up. When a larva emerges from the egg, it will burrow into the host's skin forming the bot. It is unknown how great an infestation is required to cause health stress for the host or for young, if a nursing female host is involved. However, we would submit this squirrel as a candidate for "too great an infestation to remain healthy." The larva remains hooked inside the host as it feeds until it emerges through its breathing hole and drops to the ground in which it will burrow and pupate. The itch generated by the larva causes the the squirrel to scratch, which in turn causes the loss of hair and scabs around the bot.

Disclaimer: Do not view these images before, during or after a meal. Maybe that should have been at the top of this entry. The next time you feel compelled to complain about a common house fly or mosquito, remember that it could be much worse!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Kiawah Island Naturalist Group

Due to Monday's rain, a naturalist group from Kiawah Island got a bonus during their visit to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest...bird banding! The mist nets were to be taken down on Monday, but we could not do any banding in the rain and did not want the nets to go into storage wet.

Before taking the tour through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp along the 1.75-mile boardwalk, the group met Jeff Mollenhauer, director of bird conservation for Audubon South Carolina, at the bird banding station near the maintenance shed. The mist nets were set along the fire line which separates the sanctuary from land logged prior to purchase by Audubon SC. In the last decade, the land has grown into a dense mixture of young trees and shrubs that attracts a variety of birds on migration, including Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) that we banded near the boardwalk this season as part of Project PROTHO.

The birds banded today included:

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) - note the orange crown; this individual also had considerable fat in place for its migration.

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fruit Pickers

Although the day began overcast and gray, the sun eventually made its appearance and brightened the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. The light brought out the color in the swamp and also brought out the fruit pickers!

A migrating male Black-throated Blue Wabler (Dendroica caerulescens) stopped along its journey to pick fruit from a Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea) vine outside our office window. Yesterday, a Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus), a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) all made a stop at the Yellow Passionflower vine. Male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers look nothing alike and were considered different species by early naturalists. This is an interior forest bird, so its numbers have been adversely affected by logging and development across its summer range in the northeastern United States and across the border in southern Canada. Although some of the summer range lands are returning to forest, lands in the bird's wintering grounds throughout the Caribbean are being cleared.

At the end of the boardwalk at Goodson Lake, a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) weighted down a branch as it picked fruit from a Viburnum species, possibly Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker remaining (Ivory-billed Woodpecker was larger) in the United States and Canada. The Pileated Woodpecker needs trees with sufficient girth in order to build its nesting cavity. Therefore, the removal of old-growth forests has an adverse affect on this bird. Fortunately, the Francis Beidler Forest continues to protect 1800 acres of old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp. The Pileated Woodpecker plays an important role in the forest ecosystem as it excavates cavities for nesting, roosting, or while in search of food. A variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates use these cavities for nesting and shelter.

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Homeschoolers in the Swamp

Yesterday's rain kept us in the office working on the Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest boardwalk-specific iPhone/iPod Touch app. The app is ready for testing on actual devices versus the computer simulator, but we're running into problems with loading the app. Anyone that knows an easy way to covert Dashcode to Xcode for uploading to a device, please contact us and help end our frustration!

Today, our email inbox had a note from the homeschool group that visited last week. Although we have walked the boardwalk hundreds, if not thousands, of times, it is a different experience each time. It may be a tree seen at a new angle, an animal finally captured in an image, an animal in a new place, a new behavior observed, or simply different lighting in the swamp. However, due to our experiences over the years, we can never recapture the awe of our initial interaction with this unique place. Therefore, it is always a pleasure to hear from groups of any size or age range regarding their experiences in the old-growth swamp, especially when it's their first.

Here in their own words is the Four Holes Academy's experience:

Today we visited Francis Beidler Forest located in Harleyville, SC. Inside the forest is Four Holes Swamp, which is the same swamp we named our homeschool after. It's the largest remaining strand of virgin baldcypress-tupelo gum swamp forest in the world, and it's one of the only two cypress/tupelo swamps in the world. There are tress in this swamp that are over a thousand years old. We first learned...more.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Forest Builders

Being birders, most of us here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest have been irritated more than once by feeder-raiding squirrels. It might not be such an irritant, if the squirrels would not eat all of the seed set out for the birds or destroy the feeders in the process. However, squirrels also play an important role in the life of a forest.

You may have wondered how so many oak trees could sprout up in your yard. Left alone, many suburban yards would quickly become forested. Some of this simply a seed germinating in ideal conditions where it fell. However, many of the young oaks as well as hickories and walnuts can be attributed to the burying activity of the Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). As winter approaches, squirrels are busy burying nuts as food to be located later. Although squirrels eat a variety of plant material, fungus and even bird eggs, nuts make up their main diet during the winter. Studies have shown that the squirrels find nuts buried by scientists at the same rate as nuts they buried themselves. They can smell the hidden nut and memory does not seem to play a role in nut recovery. In fact, they only find approximately 85% of the nuts they hide. However, they also find nuts hidden by other squirrels. The nuts are buried in shallow holes, which makes it easier to sniff out a meal once winter arrives, but also provides conditions conducive to seed germination and tree growth. Therefore, nuts undamaged prior to burial and undetected throughout the winter will likely begin to grow as trees.

The old-growth forest here provides ample cavities in which squirrels may nest. However, in summer months or in areas without sufficient cavities, squirrels will build leaf nests in the forks of branches. They often have two litters, spring and late summer, of 2-5 young per litter. The young from the first litter will be weaned in 12 weeks, while the young from the second litter will stay with the female through the winter. With leaves coming off of the trees, it's easier to see the leaf nests squirrels have constructed.

With October's low humidity, clear skies, and mild temperatures, it is a wonderful time to visit the swamp. Just be warned, squirrels are harvesting hickory nuts and are known to drop a few...could be bird feeder payback!

Images by Mark Musselman