Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Educator's Week at Hog Island (by Matt Johnson)

What happens when you mix together the Maine coast, a 300-acre island owned by Audubon, a dozen expert staff, several dedicated volunteers, and 57 science teachers and informal educators? The answer: one of the most exciting and educational camps for adults held anywhere in the country!

This is the best way that I can think of to describe the Educator’s Week camp at Hog Island. Organized and directed by Pete Salmonsahn, the Education Coordinator for Audubon’s Project Puffin (http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/), this five-day camp focuses on reaching educators from around the country who teach kids and young adults about science and the outdoors. Attendees this year ranged from elementary and middle school teachers, to Girl Scout instructors, nature center educators, and Audubon naturalists.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the attendees this summer, and I loved every minute of it. I've been working as the Education Manager at Francis Beidler Forest for about 14 months, and I am so thankful that my Audubon colleagues agreed to send me to this camp.

Below are some of the photos that I took during my stay at Hog Island. I will caption each with a brief description and some details about my favorite parts of the week.

The reason for this post is not only to showcase one of Audubon's most prized assets, but also to let YOU know that there are scholarships available for ANY science educator to attend this camp. Several of the attendees received scholarships that covered half or all of the tuition costs for the week. IF YOU ARE A TEACHER OR INFORMAL EDUCATOR, CONSIDER REGISTERING FOR THIS CAMP IN 2015 - you will not regret it! See more information here: http://hogisland.audubon.org/ 

            Our view from the dock at the Todd Audubon Sanctuary, looking across the water at Hog Island. Access to Hog Island requires a short ferry ride from the mainland.

 Arriving on the dock at Hog Island. The camps made available each summer are among the oldest and longest-running environmental education camps in the country. The island can accommodate about 80 people at a given time.

 Plaque displayed in the "Fish House" auditorium on Hog Island. The Todd family played the most important role in the designation of the island as an Audubon sanctuary.

Our boat for the week: the Snowgoose III. This vessel took us on two harbor tours, one of which featured the bird that everyone was hoping to glimpse: the Atlantic Puffin. In the background of this photo is the mainland.

On board the Snowgoose IIII for our first voyage off of the island and around Muscongus Bay. Wildlife seen on this trip included Harbor Seals, Osprey, Black Guillemots (neat little relatives of puffins), Common Eiders, and Harbor Porpoises. Binoculars and a camera are helpful, so bring em if you've got em, and sunscreen is a must!

The first afternoon on Hog Island we spent in the intertidal area. We seined for marine critters and found quite a bit of neat organisms. The staff that led our little excursions were amazing - all lifelong educators with incredible knowledge and patience!

 Campers checking the seine for intertidal life.

Our haul from the seine net. Critters included Green and Hermit Crabs, shrimp, sculpin (fish), limpets, and much more!

A hiking trail through the spruce-fir forest on Hog Island. There were several miles of hiking trails, and plenty of time in between programs to explore. I thought that the flexibility of our schedule was great - plenty of programming with built-in breaks.

Sunset at Hog Island. Coming from a South Carolina summer, the weather we had at Hog Island was incredible! Highs in the mid-70s and lows in the low-60s with lots of sunshine.

Our second excursion into Muscongus Bay off the Maine coast. This was an all-day trip to Eastern Egg Rock (the island in this photo), one of the few breeding locations for Atlantic Puffins in the United States! This island is a featured location for Project Puffin, a multi-decade effort to reintroduce this species into its historic breeding range. Not only did we get a very interesting history of this project while on this boat tour, we also got to see puffins!!

Puffins in view! I neglected to bring my nice camera (bad mistake), so all of my images are with my smartphone. So...the small dots on the left-middle of this photo are indeed Atlantic Puffins, with the edge of Eastern Egg Rock in the background. We were lucky enough to see at least 50 puffins that day, plus several other rare/unusual seabirds!

While we did spent a significant chunk of time exploring the island and surrounding area, much of our programming on Hog Island was designed to help us better engage our target audience (aka students, visitors, etc.) regarding environmental issues. Pictured here is Trudy, one of the AMAZING educators that led us through several different mini-workshops during the week. These mini-workshops featured such things as: birds and bird-watching, water/watersheds, geology, photography, wetlands, sensory exploration, arts/crafts, and a whole bunch more.

 A simple, fun craft idea that we learned while on a nature hike one afternoon. This is just reversed tape with natural "items" that were collected while on the hike (leaves, sticks, etc.).

On our last night, we were treated to a lobster cookout, and we had Cream Puff-ins for dessert! The food on Hog Island was incredible. Let me repeat that - the FOOD WAS INCREDIBLE! Not only was every meal delicious, but every meal also featured a vegetarian and gluten-free option. I was so impressed by this, and by all of the volunteers who gave up their time to prepare and clean up from meals.

Leaving Hog Island. It was an incredible five days - a trip that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to take the environmental message back wherever you're going. Like I mentioned earlier, please consider applying when scholarships become available for camp in 2015!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count - February 14-17

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds!

Participants count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes (or longer) during the four-day period. Participants can count birds for a single day or during all four days of the GBBC. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. For example, if three robins are spotted in the yard, the count for robins would be three. Later, if a single robin is spotted in the yard, the count for robins would remain at three (most seen at one time) and not increase to four. Once you finish counting, simply visit the GBBC website (http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/), create your FREE account, and submit your checklist.

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. This is a tremendous opportunity for teachers to address science, social studies and math standards while helping scientists learn about birds in our hemisphere!

Pileated Woodpeckers - David Youngblood
By knowing where the birds are, scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn much regarding the current state of birds. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Barred Owls - David Youngblood
The GBBC is a citizen-science project where everybody’s help, no matter how small, is valuable. Help make sure the birds from our community are well-represented in the count. It does not matter whether a report is for five species on a backyard feeder or for 25 species spotted during a day's outing to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

There are plenty of ways to participate!  You do NOT need to be an expert on birds.

You can find tips here for counting birds, especially large flocks.

There is a poster of some common backyard birds here.


Twitter using #GBBC

If you’re looking for a fun way to get involved, consider joining Audubon staff during our FREE public bird-watching walk on the Sawmill Branch Trail in Summerville, SC on Saturday, February 15th. We will meet in the parking lot for the Sawmill Branch Trail at 8 a.m. and count birds for the GBBC for about two hours. This is a free and easy way to learn more about the birds in your area AND contribute important information for the GBBC!

More details about our public bird-watching walks can be found here: http://beidlerforest.audubon.org/saturday-morning-guided-bird-walks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Longleaf Pine Restoration

On January 14, 2014, staff and volunteers from the the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest planted longleaf pine seedlings on approximately five acres of land previously growing loblolly pine.  This small planting was a part of a larger project funded by a grant from the Alcoa Foundation and American Forests Global ReLeaf Partnership for Trees, in which approximately 65 acres was converted from loblolly pine to longleaf pine.  Currently, nearly 200 acres of the Francis Beidler Forest is longleaf pine.

In previous blog entries, we have described why we wish to restore the native longleaf pine forest ecosystem and how we manage those longleaf pine stands.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is unique. The longleaf pine is a hardy species resistant to wind, insects, disease and fire, which can subdue its frequently-seen cousins the Loblolly and Slash Pines. The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem developed with fire and it remains healthy as long as it periodically burns. Historically, these fires would have been caused naturally by lightning and allowed to burn slowly through the forest. The result would have been the near elimination of leaf litter and debris and the competition from hardwood tree species. Additionally, longleaf pine seeds fare better on exposed mineral soil, so the next generation of longleaf pines gets its start after a fire clears the forest floor.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem is greatly diminished throughout the Southeast and the total acreage continues to decline. Previously, over 90 million acres supported the unique longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem, while only two million acres remain today. Some reasons for this decline include the suppression of fires, intense logging, a switch to faster growing pines, and the clearing of land for agriculture and development. Not only is the total longleaf pine/wiregrass acreage declining, over 30 species of plant and animals that are associated with that ecosystem are currently listed as threatened or endangered, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker!

After the logging of the loblolly pines, the site had some remaining debris and emergent hardwood trees killed with herbicide.
Site before burning - Mark Musselman
The site was burned in December to remove debris and competition prior to planting the longleaf pine seedlings.
Site after burning - Mark Musselman
The longleaf pine seedlings, grown in containers at a nursery, arrived packed in moisture-conserving boxes.
Collis Boyd, longleaf and equipment - Mark Musselman

Buckets were used to carry the longleaf pine seedlings into the site.

Dibbles, orange metal tool, were used to open a wedge-shaped cavity in the soil in which to place the seedling. Once the seedling was in the ground, the dibble was placed in the soil behind the seedling and the soil between the dibble and seedling was compressed to seal the seedling in the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Occasionally, an extra step on the soil was needed to ensure a complete seal within the soil.
Planting seedling - Mark Musselman
 Only the western portion of the site remained to be planted...
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
 ...and the light rain made the day more interesting.
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman
Planting seedlings - Mark Musselman

Monday, September 30, 2013


Shifts in job responsibilities and the ongoing boardwalk construction have kept us from blogging. Here are some of the things we have been doing.

Hog management continues to be a full-time job. As noted in previous blogs, hogs are not native to any North American habitats and they cannot exist without adversely affecting the places they inhabit.
Wild hogs inspecting a trap
We have had limited success in eliminating hogs from the property as they can move off of our property and they breed throughout the year. Here two adults and four young hogs inspect the trap, but avoid entering it.  Below, hogs have inflicted serious damage to a neighbors soybean field. Wild hogs cause an estimated $1.5 billion (that's with a "b") in agricultural damage each year in the United States alone. Those costs do not include damage to water quality or to native ecosystems.

Wild hog damage to nearby soybean field - Mark Musselman

Although the wild hogs near the center have learned to avoid the trap, deer, raccoons, and this bobcat cannot avoid the game camera's motion sensor.
Bobcat on patrol
Boundary painting is an important and never ending task. To avoid confusion at the property lines, the lines must be clearly marked. Signs are posted denoting the various state and federal restrictions on the property and survey blazes are painted to further highlight the property line location.
Boundary line paint - Mark Musselman
Currently, the Francis Beidler Forest (FBF) has 102 miles of exterior boundary lines plus an additional 30+ miles of interior boundary lines. Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is being used to manage the FBF property, but all the data must first be collected and verified. The map below shows all of the lines that are overdue for painting, have an unknown status, or are due for painting in 2013.
Boundary lines remaining to be checked and/or painted in 2013
If you thought, "That looks like everything," you are close. However, in addition to painting when visiting the lines, location data on the survey corners, access points, and signs are gathered to be entered into the GIS database. The on-the-ground data collecting has helped us detect errors in Berkeley County's GIS database, thereby allowing them to revisit survey plats and update their files to accurately reflect our property lines. There is still work to be done with all three counties (Berkeley, Dorchester, Orangeburg) in which FBF holds parcels.

The new boardwalk continues its march and has moved beyond the fork. You can follow the progress on this map.
Boardwalk construction at the fork - Mark Musselman
Boardwalk construction at the fork - Mark Musselman

As construction has now moved beyond the fork, access has been restored for all individuals. Visitors will now walk out on the newly constructed boardwalk (see below) to the fork and then walk on the old boardwalk along the edge of the swamp, which is the reverse of the normal direction on the boardwalk. Once visitors encounter the construction zone on the front side of the boardwalk, they will need to retrace their path back to the nature center. Construction is scheduled to be completed by April 2014.
New boardwalk completed up to the fork - Mark Musselman

One does not need to go deep into the swamp to encounter wildlife. Plenty of birds are in the parking area, especially now during migration, but an occasional water snake ventures up to the high ground in search of a meal. Below a Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) found a sunny spot on a log and allowed for a few pictures to be taken.
Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
Longleaf Pine restoration work in March removed some of the competing oaks.
View in March 2013 - Mark Musselman
The view of the same site was quite different this week. Wiregrass grows in bunches, but the grass grows long and lies down over a wider area. Small animals can easily move beneath the drooping grass while benefiting from the cover it offers from predators. When it is time to burn, the wiregrass will allow the fire to carry across the plot.
View in September 2013 - Mark Musselman
In addition to the wiregrass, a multitude of native plants are flowering. We will post images in a separate blog once we have identified all of the plants.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Boardwalk Construction Continues

The construction of the new boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest continues with workers reaching the high ground between the nature center and the boardwalk fork. The lack of rain over the last week has allowed the construction bypass trail to dry out, so the boardwalk is open again except for individuals with certain mobility limitations. Once construction reaches the fork, there will be no need for the off-boardwalk bypass trail and access will be regained for all individuals. You can keep track of the construction progress by visiting the boardwalk map here.

Boardwalk Construction - Mark Musselman
Boardwalk Handrails - Mark Musselman
While checking the boardwalk for fallen limbs and damage, we noted some birds in migration and other wildlife on or near the boardwalk. American Redstarts have been seen recently and we spied both a Northern Waterthrush (also calling) and a Louisiana Waterthrush along the edge of the swamp between #174 and #179.

Near the Meeting Tree at #120, we observed a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the boardwalk handrail and later spotted it picking at crayfish-filled raccoon scat near the hollow tree at #179.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
It posed nicely for some additional shots, which we can add to our library.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
On the second platform out at Goodson Lake, we found a large, non-venomous, fish-eating Brown Water Snake taking advantage of the sunlight and the low visitor count.

Brown Water Snake - Mark Musselman
How can anyone be frightened by this mug?

Brown Water Snake - Mark Musselman

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Boardwalk Has Begun

The good news is that the new boardwalk has begun! The bad news is that the continued rain has flooded the off-boardwalk trail bypassing the construction. PLEASE call before visiting to ensure that access has been restored to the boardwalk.  Once construction reaches the high ground, flooding will not be an issue. Once construction reaches the fork, no off-boardwalk travel will be necessary and there will no longer be limits on accessibility for individuals with mobility issues.

New Boardwalk Construction - Mark Musselman
Nearly Completed Section - Mark Musselman
Story Map

Click here to view the story map.

Bookmark this page and return periodically to follow the construction progress.  We will post images and markers on the map as construction reaches various milestones.