Monday, November 30, 2009

Project PROTHO Intern Position

Always wanted to work with the National Audubon Society, especially in South Carolina? Here's your chance!

Description: Audubon South Carolina is seeking a field technician from March 1 – August 15, 2010. The technician will be assisting Audubon South Carolina’s Director of Bird Conservation with Project PROTHO, a citizen science project targeting Prothonotary Warblers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville, South Carolina. The technician’s main duties (>80% of time) will consist of monitoring 300 nest boxes for Prothonotary Warblers, mist-netting and banding Prothonotary Warblers, conducting point counts, and data entry. Other duties (<20%) education programs for students and adults; boardwalk, trail, and visitor center maintenance; and assisting at the front desk in the visitor center.

Qualifications: Must have a valid drivers license. Must be comfortable working alone in remote areas. Must have a willingness to work in tough field conditions. Experience with banding, mist netting, point counts, and identifying eastern birds by sight and sound is preferred, but not necessary to apply.

Salary: $7.25/hour. 40 hours per week. On-site housing is provided.

To apply please send a cover letter, resume, and 3 references no later than January 4, 2010 to:

Jeff Mollenhauer

Audubon South Carolina
336 Sanctuary Road
Harleyville, SC 29448

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is closed today, but we wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey is a key component to many Thanksgiving dinners, but the turkey is also a key component of Four Holes Swamp and the surrounding habitat. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) often flock together and roost in trees at night. They are non-migratory and often live for only 1.5 years. In 1987, 8 hens, 5 gobblers were reintroduced by Audubon South Carolina, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the Hoover family. The wild birds were were caught in the Francis Marion National Forest and released in the Francis Beidler Forest the same morning. It is not unreasonable to attribute the bulk of local Wild Turkey population to the progeny of the thirteen reintroduced birds.

Occasionally along the boardwalk, Wild Turkeys can be spotted where the boardwalk runs through higher, drier forest (markers 101-116) or where the boardwalk runs parallel to the swamp's edge (markers 154-181). However, as the image shows, the birds are not opposed to walking through the swamp, especially when a crop of acorns have fallen to the ground. If you miss seeing the birds while on the boardwalk, you might see them moving through the fields on either side of our driveway or the roads approaching Beidler Forest.

Enjoy your turkey dinner and we will continue protecting the birds' wild cousins!

Images by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

iPods on the Boardwalk

Over the last two days, Knightsville Elementary School's 4th graders visited the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and they brought along some of their iPod Touches.

Using fundsfrom a South Carolina Geographic Alliance (SCGA) grant, we purchased two iPod Touches and accessories. With the two iPod Touches brought by the school, each of the four groups had an iPod Touch as they rotated through the animal (mammal) track activity, an iPod bird call activity and the tour around the 1.75-mile boardwalk. Additionally, two groups used our Flip video cameras to record their experiences in the swamp.

During the animal track identification activity, students used the paper track identification sheet, but also had the option of using the iPod Touch to peruse the various animal track drawings. Images of each animal appeared next to the appropriate track drawing. Even on the best of days, which would not describe either of these two cold, damp days, mammals are not likely to be seen during a walk around the boardwalk. Gray Squirrels are plentiful, but the other mammals (Raccoon, Opossum, Bobcat, Gray Fox, River Otter, White-tailed Deer, Coyote, Beaver, Marsh Rabbit, Feral Hog, rodents, and recently-arrived Nine-banded Armadillo) are mainly nocturnal, secretive, or sufficiently alert to move away from the boardwalk when humans approach. The image of a track and scat was at the Black Bear stop. Although Black Bears are not known to be in Four Holes Swamp, they are in the nearby Francis Marion National Forest and one was hit on I-26 near Jedburg several years ago.

A bird calling station was set up in each of the rain shelters along the boardwalk with each group stopping at one of the stations. Speakers, published bird field guides, Beidler Forest-specific field guides, and other bird identification-related materials were staged at the rain shelters. Using the iPod Touch and speakers, students played an Eastern Screech Owl call attract other bird species within range for visible inspection. Students could use the six S's to narrow the bird species possibilities. Additionally, our two iPod Touch devices contained the National Audubon Society bird field guide app that provided images, content plus a variety of audio for each bird. Once the coding issue is resolved for our Beidler Forest boardwalk-specific app, the same information will be available for use by students and other visitors without the clutter of plants and animals not present or likely to be seen along the boardwalk.

During the tour around the boardwalk, students accessed the extensive library of images showing plants, animals, and maps (boardwalk, watershed boundary, Beidler Forest boundary). With the poor weather and time of year, many animals were not present or not visible. However, as we talked about animals or as students asked questions, the student with the iPod Touch could be tasked with finding an appropriate image to share with the group.

Having the images, content and other data available on the boardwalk when the questions are being asked or the students are looking at the plant, animal, or habitat is a powerful learning tool. It is our desire to obtain additional iPod Touch devices so that we have an iPod for every four students.

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Never Saw That Before!

As naturalist guides at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we are occassionally asked if we get bored leading the same tour around the 1.75-mile boardwalk. The answer is "no" because it is never the same tour. The group of students or visitors is always different and without cages the animals are free to be anywhere doing anything. Therefore, each trip onto the boardwalk offers the opportunity to see something new. Yesterday was one of those days that we were able to say, "Never saw that before!"

The AP Biology seniors from the Westminster Schools of Augusta were visiting late in the day. The plan was to walk the boardwalk and then investigate macroinvertebrate samples in the outdoor classroom. Several things slowed our progress around the boardwalk.

First, we saw a Barred Owl (Strix varia) fly across the boardwalk ahead of us as we walked between #14 and #15. In the owl's talons was prey of some sort. We caught a brief glimse of the prey's yellow belly when the owl first perched low in a nearby tree. The owl quickly relocated higher up in another tree. As the owl flew, it appeared that its prey item was a bird. Looking through our binoculars, we could see the head of the bird (red arrow), which confirmed our initial identification of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). Although small mammals and invertebrates account for over 90% of the Barred Owl's diet, the owl is an opportunistic hunter with birds being approximately 5% of the diet. Sapsuckers maintain their sap wells on a daily basis. Possibly, this sapsucker was too occupied with its duties to notice the silent approach of death. We've all seen Barred Owls hunting and catching crayfish, but never have we seen an owl with a bird!

The next delay came as the group inspected the hollow Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree. The question was asked, "How many people can fit in the tree?" Never having tried to determine the maximum number, we didn't have an answer. The group of 11 began entering the tree. All but the claustrophobic individual in the group made it into the tree's interior. As the ten other individuals spilled from the tree like a car full of circus clowns, we took their pictures. Nine senior-sized bodies and one adult is the official, photo-documented, never-before-seen record.

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pecky Cypress

This weekend, a visitor at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest asked about pecky cypress. Although there are no examples along the boardwalk and many of the old-growth (1000+ years old) trees are hollow in the middle, there is a classic example of pecky cypress along our canoe trail. The tree was felled by Hurricane Hugo with the pecky interior exposed when the portion blocking the trail we use for tours was removed.

Image by U. S. Forest Service

The wood-decaying fungus Stereum taxodi attacks the heartwood of the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) creating the long, narrow "pecky" cavities (a.k.a. brown-pocket rot). The fungus usually attacks older trees (we have 1800 acres of old-growth) from the canopy through the heartwood and down to the base, but ceases once the tree is harvested. Fungal spores enter at a point where the tree has been damaged in some way (lightning, wind, other trees falling). A cursory look at the ancient trees along the boardwalk reveals that all of the trees have experienced some form of damage. However, not all trees are attacked by the fungus and any tree that has been attacked cannot be identified until it is harvested.

The pecky cavities form from the middle of the tree outward along the tree's growth rings. Not all pecky is created equally. Pecky cavities come in small, medium, and large sizes, which will offer different textures and patterns when the wood is milled (see some images here). As long as there is sufficient wood unaffected by the fungus, the wood products will maintain their strength.

The well-drilled snag in the image is not an example of pecky cypress, but is an example of incessant pecking activity of the resident species of woodpeckers!

Image by Mark Musselman

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

"Rain, rain, go away!" is a simple sentiment. However, as with much in this world, nothing is that simple.

With school budgets tightening and field trips being severely restricted or banned, it was a quiet spring and has been a slow fall at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest when it comes to visiting school groups. The sunny, mild weather of September and October has given way to rain and cooler temperatures this week. Both grant-sponsored school groups (80+ students each) scheduled for this week canceled due to the rainy weather. "Rain, rain, go away!"

Last week, we began painting an internal, cross-swamp boundary line. We began on the north side of the swamp and moved southwest. The tract of the swamp we were painting was clear-cut prior to its purchase by Audubon South Carolina, so we moved through areas alternating between thick blackberry bushes and open cypress/tupelo stands that were left as buffers around creek channels. Overall, the water level in the swamp has been very low, so the majority of the work was done on dry land. However, the thick vegetation ensured that our progress was infinitely slower than it would have been through an open, mature forest. As you can see in the image, we stopped painting just before reaching the wettest portion of the transect. This week's rain will fill all the creek channels, which will go swimmingly (pun intended) with the cooler weather! "Rain, rain, go away!"

However, as we noted at the beginning, nothing is that simple. The Four Holes Swamp watershed is not associated with an incoming river system. Therefore, water in the swamp is nearly 100% rain-generated flowing off the land into small creeks, into larger creeks and eventually into one of the many braided-creek channels in the swamp. All the water within the boundaries (purple line) of the swamp's watershed flows down slope to the Edisto River just upstream from Givhans Ferry State Park. Visitors to Francis Beidler Forest expect to see water when they walk the boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp. "Rain, rain, go away (after distributing a sufficient quantity of water to maintain the health and beauty of the swamp)!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Marines!

"Happy 234th birthday," to the United States Marine Corps! Semper Fi!

Today, around the world Marines pause to remember the past and celebrate the present. Depending on their location, their celebration may be elaborate or spartan, last well into the night or exist only long enough to acknowledge the date. However, no matter its form, today's birthday will unify men and women of all backgrounds, active duty and otherwise, under the banner of United States Marine.

The birthday cakes may look rather plain (think MREs) in some remote and hostile sites, but there will be something representing cake. What we are certain of is that the cake won't look anything like the fungus growing outside of the classroom at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Although the Sparassis spathulata is edible, it must be cooked slowly and the younger the better. This is a species that grows in the eastern United States under Virginia pines and other pine/hardwood sites. Today's rain will undoubtedly encourage more fungus to send forth their fruiting bodies. We hope to add some additional species to our list!

Did you hear the one about the Marine at the birthday party? He was a fungi to have around!

Image by Mary Wheeler

Monday, November 09, 2009

How Others See Beidler Forest

For the last week, the education department has been away from the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Upon our return, we found a webpage link waiting in our inbox.

Earlier this year, professional wildlife photographer Doug Gardner visited the Francis Beidler Forest with Don Wouri, also a photographer and member of the Audubon South Carolina board. The 25-minute video of their one-day visit along the boardwalk can be seen here.

Although, at this time of the year, some of the animals in the video are not present at Beidler Forest, the leaf-off state in the swamp offers a perspective not possible outside of winter. There is never a bad time to visit the swamp...every trip offers a new experience!

Image by Mark Musselman

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Fauna Update

The salamander images from last week have arrived. The Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) is shown on the notebook and the female Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) guarding her eggs.

Salamander images by Christina Bryant (slimy) and Michelle Baldwin (marbled)

Although not yet showing on their webpage, this month's edition of South Carolina Wildlife magazine contains an article by Steve Bennett describing the winter behavior of many of our state's amphibians. Most notably, heavy winter rains trigger explosive breeding episodes in some species. The cooler temperatures allow for more oxygen in the water, which is beneficial for adult and young amphibians alike.

The bot fly that we discovered earlier in our office has been tentatively identified as Cuterebra fontinella fontinella. Jeff Boettner, Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences, at University of Massachusetts-Amherst spotted our images on the web and noted that it was not the Squirrel Bot Fly (Cuterebra emasculator) that we later described on this blog. The previously-unidentified Cuterebra fontinella fontinella seeks Peromyscus (deer mice)as a host for its larvae. Apparently, there is also a bot fly that targets rabbits. Who knew? Well, somebody...but not us. You should be noticing that our insect species list continues to grow as we identify specimens. We welcome all those who are willing to study and/or identify our insects as they are a critical component of our old-growth ecosystem.

Bot fly images by Mark Musselman