Friday, July 19, 2013

Boardwalk Replacement to Begin

Help us spread the word!
Beginning August 5th and until further notice, access to the boardwalk at Beidler Forest will be limited due to replacement construction.

Boardwalk Replacement Material - Mark Musselman
As the first quarter mile is replaced, visitors will need to step down from the boardwalk and walk across uneven terrain around the construction area before stepping back up to the boardwalk. Therefore, those with mobility issues will be unable to access any portion of the boardwalk actually in the swamp.

Access to all will be regained once construction reaches the loop portion of the boardwalk.

Limited Access Zone - Mark Musselman
If you have any questions regarding boardwalk access, please all 843-462-2150.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Come High Water!

The rain over the last weeks has produced water levels not seen along the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest since the spring of 1997.  Although feet below the aftereffects of Hurricane David in 1979, when walking on the boardwalk would put one knee deep in water, this has been a significant water event for Four Holes Swamp.  We have posted a video at the end of this blog.
Hurricane David High Water Mark - Mark Musselman
A nail about a foot above the base of the Mockernut Hickory tree marks the extent of the water dumped by Hurricane David.  The current rain event has pushed water up to the base of the tree.
Marsh Rabbit - Mark Musselman
Although Marsh Rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris) are comfortable swimming, they apparently have their limits.  This individual was high in the pine woods directly behind the Loblolly Pine sign.

Water in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
Water often pools in the pine woods, mainly in depressions created by tip-ups when Hurricane Hugo knocked down 80% of the canopy.  However, during this rain event, the high ground was flooded and the water was running across the pine woods.

Water in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
White Ibis in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
A trio of White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) were foraging in the high pine woods because everywhere else in the swamp was too deep for wading.  We were not sure what they might be finding as the newly submerged habitat is not known for crayfish or fish.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) was wading in the water on the opposite side of the boardwalk from the White Ibis.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron in High Pine Woods - Mark Musselman
Approaching the fork in the boardwalk, the water could be seen up to the cross supports.
Swamp Edge - Mark Musselman
Although the boardwalk is relatively level, the 1977 construction was mainly accomplished by volunteers not professionally certified in carpentry, so the keyword is relatively.  The low spots could be detected by the various depths of water across the deck.
Approaching Fork in Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
In some cases, the water had already receded.
Water Over Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
Fork on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
The return portion of the boardwalk parallels the edge of the swamp and is often dry under the boardwalk.  In the image below, the water can be seen close to the deck.
High Water at #20 - Mark Musselman
At the #3 rest area, the water is up to the deck supports though the reflection off the water gives the impression of space below the boardwalk.
High Water at #3 - Mark Musselman
If any Prothonotary Warblers had nests below the level of the nest boxes on the signs, the nests were submerged and a loss.
Sign at #3 - Mark Musselman
Looking out from the rest area at #3, not a single one of the thousands of cypress knees can be seen due to the high water.
No Knees Visible From #3 - Mark Musselman
The cypress tree felled at #4 by Hurricane Hugo was under water except for a small portion at the root end.
Water Over Fallen Cypress at #4 - Mark Musselman
 Looking back at the Meeting Tree, the water can be seen approaching the boardwalk deck.
High Water at Meeting Tree - Mark Musselman
High Water at Meeting Tree - Mark Musselman
The high water limited the above-water options and made it treacherous for emerging aquatic insects.  A Dark Fishing Spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) made a meal of a dragonfly that had selected poorly and emerged on a boardwalk cross support.
Dark Fishing Spider - Mark Musselman
Dark Fishing Spider - Mark Musselman
The large knee at #5, which many state looks like a wave, is barely exposed above the water's surface.
"Wave" Knee at #5 - Mark Musselman
 Though the knees in the channel at #5 are quite tall, not a one could be seen above the water.
No Knees Visible at #5 - Mark Musselman
Approach to #6 - Mark Musselman
Rest Area at #6 - Mark Musselman
No Knees Visible Beyond 7' Knee - Mark Musselman
High Water at #8 - Mark Musselman
 The shadows make it difficult to see, but the water is just below the deck at the #9 rain shelter.
Rain Shelter at #9 - Mark Musselman
High Water at T on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
High Water at T on Boardwalk - Mark Musselman
 Animals of all sorts took advantage of any resting spots out of the water.
Yellow-bellied Slider with Eastern Mud Turtle - Mark Musselman

High Water at #10 - Mark Musselman
Bald Cypress at #10 - Mark Musselman
View of Second Platform From #10 - Mark Musselman
Tower at Goodson Lake - Mark Musselman
Tower at Goodson Lake - Mark Musselman
The average water level at Goodson Lake is 4.0'.  The level at the time of the image on Tuesday was 7.53' down from the morning level of 7.6'.  The heavy rain yesterday will likely counter some drop in the water level.
Goodson Lake Gauge - Mark Musselman
Looking back from the tower at Goodson Lake to an area that is almost always dry or extremely shallow, the water can be seen covering all the cypress knees, including one that had been used as a nesting site by Prothonotary Warblers earlier in the season.
Boardwalk to Second Platform - Mark Musselman
 A Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) could find no dry ground except for the boardwalk.
Southern Toad at #10 - Mark Musselman
Elsewhere, a small Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) also sought high ground on the boardwalk.
Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
The high water has basically eliminated all above-water basking sites except for the boardwalk we installed.  Fear not!  After taking the first image from a significant distance, the snake quickly retreated as we tried to get a more artistic ground level shot.  Dry is nice, but humans are huge and scary and retreat is the best option.  Remember, the majority of people have problems with snakes once they begin to mess with the snakes.
Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman

If you have not seen the swamp with high water, do not wait another 15-20 years for the next event!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer camps at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest were completed last month and we were able to avoid the rain during the 9am-2pm window.  However, plenty of rain fell outside of that window and continued through the first two weeks of July while we were away on vacation or attending conferences, ESRI International User Conference (view presentation) and the Audubon Convention.

Here are some images from the camp weeks:

Cotton Mouse - Mark Musselman
A pair of Cotton Mice (Peromyscus gossypinus) were hiding in the storage box at the #6 rest area.  They could come and go from under the boardwalk and between the deck boards.
Cotton Mouse - Mark Musselman
Cotton Mouse - Mark Musselman
This pair built a nest in the left corner of the storage box.  Unfortunately for the mice, Greenish Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata) also have no problem entering the box from below.  We do not know their fate, but the mice are no longer in residence.  Then again, their average lifespan is 4-5 months, with few living a full year.
Cotton Mouse - Mark Musselman
With the water level above normal for June, we had no problem navigating to all points along the canoe trail.  Unfortunately for the anglers of the advanced summer camp, the fish also had access to the entire swamp and nary a nibble was detected on any wet line.
Advanced camp fishing/canoeing - Mark Musselman
Advanced camp fishing/canoeing - Mark Musselman
Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest - Mark Musselman
Though we tempted no fish, Matt Johnson made a tremendous catch when he spotted a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) returning to her nest on a locust branch hanging above the water.  Even with her presence disclosing the general location of the nest, the nest was extremely difficult to detect and photograph.  The lichen on the nest's exterior and the nest's low profile provided outstanding camouflage.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
During the advanced summer camp's Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided swamp stomp, we encountered a large Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus).  Although the snake was alert and kept us in focus, it never moved and we proceeded with our walk.

Bronze Frog - Mark Musselman
Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) are likely nesting in the Francis Beidler Forest, possibly near the east end of the boardwalk.  The advanced summer campers selected trees from Google Earth imagery that appeared to rise above the canopy, a nesting preference for Swallow-tailed Kites, and loaded the coordinates into GPS units.  While navigating through the swamp to visit those selected trees, we came across a variety of creatures, including a distinctively patterned Bronze Frog (Rana clamitans clamitans).
Bronze Frog - Mark Musselman
Young Nine-banded Armadillo - Mark Musselman
A family of Nine-banded Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) moved in under the ramp leading into the nature center.  We noted their arrival in 2008 as they expanded their range from the south.
Young Nine-banded Armadillo - Mark Musselman
Armadillos always give birth to quadruplets, which we observed.  A single egg is fertilized and the embryo divides in two before each embryo again divides in two.  Thus, each young armadillo is genetically identical to its three sisters or three brothers.
Young Nine-banded Armadillo - Mark Musselman
Armadillos forage with their snouts for grubs, ants, termites, beetles and other arthropods.  They can also use their powerful legs and claws to expose a meal.  With a low metabolism and limited fat stores, the armadillo is highly susceptible to cool weather, which will eventually limit their range expansion to the north.  In the image above, a young armadillo found an earthworm, which it slurped up like a strand of cooked spaghetti.

Beaver - Mark Musselman
Having successfully navigated a 1.5-mile loop through the swamp during the advanced summer camp, we joined the boardwalk near #6 and headed to the nature center for lunch.  Near #4, there was the smell of death in the air and a camper spotted the source...a nearly hairless beaver (Castor canadensis) carcass.  The image above shows the only signs of injury, but the wound may have been the result of a scavenger.
Beaver - Mark Musselman
Turtles and fish likely nibbled at the beaver's feet exposing bone.
Beaver - Mark Musselman
American Carrion Beetles (Necrophila americana) and various fly species took the opportunity to lay eggs on the carcass.  The resulting larvae will quickly consume the decaying flesh.
Beaver - Mark Musselman
A young Eastern Cottonmouth sought refuge from the high water by sliding up the frond of a Dwarf Palmetto.
Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
Bronze Frog - Mark Musselman
Several Bronze Frogs, appearing to both be males, stared at each other from perches on neighboring fallen trees.
Bronze Frog - Mark Musselman
Bronze Frog - Mark Musselman
A Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) kept tabs on us from its dry perch on the buttress of a Bald Cypress.
Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
In the end, we had three successful summer camps and participants left with plenty of stories to tell of wildlife and adventure in the swamp!