Friday, August 24, 2012

Homegrown National Park

 Have you ever wondered how you can make a difference in the world?  News of the world can be overwhelming and as individuals our efforts can appear insignificant or fruitless.  However, take a cue from nature.  An individual ant cannot move a large grasshopper or traverse a wide gap in the terrain, but working together by the thousands, ants can move the insect and create a bridge of ant bodies to span the gap.

Below is a citizen-science project where anyone of any means can become involved to help wildlife and plant communities across our country.  Efforts can range from the size of a flower box to entire tracts of varied habitat.  Here at the Francis Beidler Forest, we protect the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp, but we are also restoring grasslands and longleaf pine forests.  Your efforts might not match our scale, but they will be no less important!  See Richard Louv's proposal below for ideas on how you can become involved and create a Homegrown National Park.

Excerpts from:
The New Nature Movement
Field Notes from the Future: Tracking the Movement to Connect People and Nature
by Richard Louv

How to Create a Neighborhood Butterfly Zone — and a Homegrown National Park

Our goal was to revive our struggling yard by planting part of it with species native to the San Diego bioregion, and support native birds, butterflies and bees (especially the California species; honeybees are, in fact, not native) and other insects essential to pollination and migration routes. These, in turn, nurture and grow wild populations of animals and plants.
Gulf Fritillary - Ricky Covey
Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home,” makes the case that everyday gardeners are the key to reviving urban biodiversity – maybe global biodiversity.

As I quoted him in “The Nature Principle,” Tallamy argues convincingly that it “is now in the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to ‘make a difference.’ In this case, the ‘difference’ will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.”

He’s not only referring to our gardens, but to your yards — a massive replacement of traditional lawns with attractive and productive native species.
But if we want to build our continent’s biodiversity, that information should be readily available to everyone, and part of a larger campaign to create, say, a Homegrown National Park made up of tens of thousands of miles of back yards that would serve as a new kind of wildlife corridor. That’s what Tallamy would like to see happen.
“The single most effective thing we can do is build biological corridors that connect isolated habitat fragments,” Tallamy wrote in his email. “That will take the collective effort of all the landowners in between any two fragments. At the level of the individual, if each person manages his or her property as a living entity instead of an ornament, we would be there.”

The suburbs have more lawns, but the goal could be pursued in urban neighborhoods, too, through portions of community gardens and public parks, window boxes and rooftop gardens.
But the act of creating a backyard wildlife habitat (as the National Wildlife Federation and Audubon have suggested for years) does capture my imagination, especially if our yard is part of a new nature movement that not only conserves but “creates” nature.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

eBird Calling on Photographers

We have plenty of wildlife images at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and you may too.  Read below to see how you may be able to put your bird images to good use.

From eBird:
Are you a photographer? Share your images to advance bird ID research!
August 18, 2012
Are you a photographer? Share your images to advance bird ID research! Merlin 
What if a computer could identify the Merlin in this photo? With recent advances in computer vision, this idea is no longer a pipe dream.  The Cornell Lab is teaming up with computer vision researchers, the Visipedia team, at UC-San Diego, UC-Berkeley and Caltech to tackle this challenge. To get this effort rolling, we are building a database of 70,000 correctly identified images to train our system to identify 550 North American birds, and we are looking for people to share their images of these species.  Click here to read more!
Image Guidelines: To train our computer vision algorithms, there are a few photo characteristics that are most useful. Strive to meet these criteria with the images you upload:
• Single bird takes up most of the frame
• Image includes the entire bird (wings, tail and legs are not cut off)
• Color of the bird appears as they do in the field. Avoid images that are over-exposed, over-saturated or with heavy flash use.
• Bird is not too obscured. Complicated backgrounds are ok, but a bird that is mostly visible is important.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Swamp Cleanup - Beach Sweep/River Sweep

On September 15th, help the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest clean portions of Four Holes Swamp as we join the statewide Beach Sweep/River Sweep!

We will be cleaning the litter that has accumulated along US Hwy 78 where it crosses Four Holes Swamp.  The majority of the litter is lightweight beverage and food containers that will float downstream once the water level rises in the swamp.  We will be operating well off the road surface.

See a map of the cleanup area and our results of two years ago by clicking here.

We will meet at the County Services building parking lot in the fork of US Hwy 78 and US Hwy 178.  You will need to wear long sleeves and long pants, knee boots or closed shoes that can get wet, bug spray, and work gloves.

Please let us know in advance if you will participate.  Call 843-462-2150.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

NestWatch - Citizen Science

Wondering how you can get involved in bird conservation?  The Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and Project FeederWatch not enough for you?  Well, you have some time before the next nesting season to become better acquainted with the birds in your local habitat in order to participate in NestWatch from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

After reading the Code of Conduct designed to protect both you and the birds and taking a brief quiz, you will be certified to record your nest sightings and observations. Observations include the location of the nest, the habitat around the nest, the birds species, the date of the first egg, the clutch size, the date of the first hatching, the date of the the fledgling, whether or not the nest was a success, what led to a failed nest, and any other data you may wish to add in the comments section.  The nests you observe in your area may seem "ornithologically" insignificant, but when compiled with all other sightings across North America, a clearer picture emerges for the bird breeding season.

Here at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we just entered the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) nest in the cigarette disposal container as our first observation.  Even though the nest did not succeed, the data are useful for those studying birds throughout North America.
Carolina Wren nest - Mark Musselman

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let the Migration Begin

With temperatures in the area still in the 90Fs, it is hard to think about winter weather at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  However, birds are already succumbing to the urge to fly south.  The first American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) of the fall season was spotted near #106, but the male remained hidden by the foliage and moved too quickly to be caught on camera.

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) A012 is still foraging in the upland area near his swamp territory, but other unbanded Prothonotary Warblers are in the denser habitat at the swamp's edge near #114 on the boardwalk.  Being unbanded, it's not known if these birds have moved to the edge of the swamp from territories deeper in the swamp or if they are merely making Beidler Forest a stop on their way to Central America.

Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman
Whether the Prothonotary Warblers were local residents or not, they were not welcomed by the resident Carolina Wren.  Both the male and female that we observed were aggressively chased by a vocal Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).  As has been observed in many a household, only the individual at the bottom of the pecking order is without a target for their displeasure.  After receiving his scolding, the male Prothonotary Warbler made it his mission to chase a lone Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla) from the area.  Meanwhile, amid the noise of the Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) and the Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), a Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) quietly foraged for a meal along a tree trunk.

Black-and-white Warbler - Mark Musselman
Elsewhere along the boardwalk, a Barred Owl (Strix varia) preened while perched on a branch near the boardwalk and a Banded Water Snake took advantage of the midday sun.

Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
Carolina Wren nest UPDATE:  During the night, an unknown predator made off with the five chicks.  Carolina Wrens have made a nest in the cigarette waste container in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012.  Only the 2010 nest fledged chicks.  A 25% success rate sounds low, but birds can have multiple nesting attempts each breeding season and 4-5 chicks will fledge from a wren nest.  The adults only need two of their chicks (from any of their breeding seasons) to reach adulthood in order to replace themselves.  There are enough chicks to reach this goal and provide meals to other animals of the forest.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Forecast: Rain

The weathermen in the area have had it easy for the last two weeks.  "Tomorrow's forecast, hot followed by rain."  Although the rain makes it tricky to plan a dry trip around the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, it sure makes the old-growth swamp look pretty!

With the constant threat of a downpour, we left the camera in the nature center.  However, we did some things during the last week.  One of the first things we noticed as we reached the edge of the swamp was an unusual sound.  Think of a babbling brook in a mountainous setting.  The last time we checked, the Lowcountry is relatively flat with little here to be confused with a mountain.  On closer inspection with the binoculars, we could see that the large volume of rainwater trying to move downstream to the Edisto River was rushing over the top of the low beaver (Castor canadensis) dam. With a quarter of a mile of dam, there was plenty of water to create the sounds of a mountain stream.  The beavers care little of the water going over the top of the dam as their desired level of water behind the dam remains constant.  If the water level behind the dam begins to drop, the beavers will take action to repair any breaches or extend the ends up the slope where they tie into dry land.

Although the fawns (Odocoileus virginianus) have gotten larger and and more coordinated on their legs, they still cannot keep up with mom if danger appeared.  Therefore, the fawns continue to bed down alone while the doe browses.  Visitors often see a fawn in the #154-156 area of the boardwalk.

A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) remain in the area of Goodson Lake.  The difference in plumage between the adults and juveniles has made this bird the focus of numerous visitor questions.  It is now like playing "Name That Tune."  The visitor says, "We saw a bird by the lake that..." and we respond, "Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron."  It's like a superpower.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman

Other birds still around the boardwalk include, the Prothonotary Warlber (Protonotaria citrea) A012 spotted in the upland area by #110, Northern Parulas (Setophaga americana) singing, Louisiana Waterthrushes (Seiurus motacilla) along the swamp edge, Kentucky Warblers (Geothlypis formosa) and Hooded Warblers (Setophaga citrina) in the upland area near #111, Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) calling near #162, Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) calling south of #109, and at least one Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) chick hatched in the cigarette butt container nest by the front door.

As if on cue, it has begun to pour outside!