Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Bird Count in Four Holes Swamp 2012

All the data sheets for the Monday's 2012 Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count have not been returned to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  However, with 95 species already tallied, we have bested last year's 90 species and are within striking distance of 2010's 100 species.  The species numbers for this year are surprising as the day's weather began with temperatures fluctuating noticeably between warm and cool, continued to cool and began to lightly rain by noon, and ended the birding shortly after 3:00 p.m. with the arrival of heavy rain.

Some bird highlights included 79 Sandhill Cranes flying near Beider Forest; a pair of Bald Eagles perched in a snag overlooking the Holcim Cement quarry; multiple Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and Northern Harriers; Loggerhead Shrikes with prey; Wild Turkey; and over 200 American Pipits.

In addition to the many birds we spotted, we also spied an alligator in a pond deep in the inactive portion of the Holcim Cement quarry.  Although the morning weather could not be classified as wintery, we all agreed it was too cool for a swim.  A few hundred meters away in the swamp, we surprised an animal better suited to be swimming in the cold water.  A large beaver with insulating fur slipped off the bank and swam down the lake away from the Holcim dock.

Thank you to the 32 participants in this year's count and to Argos and Holcim cement companies for access to their properties!  We still had some groups counting more than one section of the count circle, so we could use your help next December for the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count.  The date is tentatively set for December 16, 2013.

Due to the wet weather, we do not have any bird images to show from this year's count, so we will leave you with an image taken two days ago by one of our game cameras.

White-tailed Deer  -  self-portrait
We hope Santa's can account for all of his deer.  We will see you in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas and Screech Owls

We probably will not see any Eastern Screech Owls (Otus asio) on our own during the Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count on Monday, but there is a possibility we will hear one or discover one due to mobbing activity by other bird species.  Screech owls are strictly nocturnal and vary in color from bright rufous to plain gray.  Beyond being nocturnal, the intricate pattern of their feathers make screech owls difficult, if not impossible, to see against a backdrop of tree bark.

Recently, a motorist brought in a gray adult Eastern Screech Owl that was in the middle of the road.  Although they struck the owl, it may have been standing in the middle of road after having been previously struck by a vehicle.  Note the bird's coloration and size in the hand of Mike Dawson, center director.

Eastern Screech Owl - Mark Musselman

Eastern Screech Owl - Mark Musselman

Eastern Screech Owl - Mark Musselman
Mike Dawson with Eastern Screech Owl - Mark Musselman
Two years ago, we found a rufous adult Eastern Screech Owl in the middle of Beidler Forest Road.

Eastern Screech Owl - Mark Musselman
Six years ago, we took a picture of a Barred Owl (Strix varia) in the road.  Unfortunately, we see many vehicle-struck Barred Owls along the roads in and around the swamp.

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman
It is not only owls in danger of being hit by vehicles, but other avian predators like the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) shown below.

Red-shouldered Hawk - Mark Musselman

Red-shouldered Hawk - Mark Musselman

Red-shouldered Hawk - Mark Musselman
All of these predators perch near open areas like power line corridors and roadways.  Humans throwing food items or trash out of the window of a vehicle attracts prey animals to the road's edge.  Avian predators fixated on their prey will glide from their perch and risk getting hit by a vehicle as they fly low across the road.

Please keep you trash in your vehicle, so we can count all the owls and hawks during Monday's Christmas Bird Count!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

GPS Units Coming to Ashley Ridge High School

Ashley Ridge High School has received a grant from Lowcountry Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) to purchase six or more global positioning system (GPS) units.  Students will be able to use the GPS units to capture latitude/longitude coordinates for points of interest along the nature trail, including the abundant wildlife they encounter, or habitat enhancement sites they create.  Bill Salisbury, representing Dorchester County, presented the check to the grant writers Amy Litz,  Jerry Kociuruba, and Natalie Tarpein after taking a quick tour of the nature trail to see the many possibilities for integrating the GPS technology into the biology and environmental sciences classes.

(l to r) Natalie Tarpein, Bill Salisbury, Jerry Kociuruba, Amy Litz on nature trail
Over the last two years, students in the environmental science and AP biology classes have received GPS training (see Summerville Journal Scene article) as well as geographic information systems (GIS) training, which they used to create maps with the GPS data they had collected.  The training and GPS units used were provided by the education department at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and had been purchased with a grant from the South Carolina Geographic Alliance.

As an organization, Lowcountry RC&D sells year-old seed to individuals who wish to plant feed plots for wildlife.  Any profits are distributed to projects aimed at teaching students about the environment.   Previous Lowcountry RC&D grants to the education department at Francis Beidler Forest have gone toward the purchase of iPod Touches and binoculars (see below), which also have been used with ARHS students during various on-campus visits.

Ms. Tarpein and class learning birding basics
Geography is everywhere!  Thanks to Lowcountry RC&D, students at Ashley Ridge High School have some new tools to help them explore, map, and understand their environment.