Friday, February 27, 2009

Water Oaks

Over the last week, the leaves of the tardily deciduous Water Oaks are finally starting to turn yellow. Soon to fall to the ground, I'm sure.

Spring, spring, spring! Such a lovely word :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Longleaf Pine Savanna

My first impression of the Longleaf Pine Savanna in Webb Wildlife Center was 'magical.' We fledgling Master Naturalists stood on the edge of the managed Longleaf Pine Savanna listening to the fascinating eco-history given to us by Bob Franklin, a Clemson Extension Agent.

The trees were so tall, you had to stand way back to take them in. The diversity of plants in a Longleaf Pine Savanna rivals that of the rain forest! Did you know that there are 300 plants, 74 amphibians, 91 reptiles and 71 species of birds that require an ecosystem that has forest fires every one to three years?!?

Wiregrass, Aristida beyrichiana, is the primary under-story ground cover. Summer fires are required for fall seed production.

According to the USDA, the GA, FL Coastal Plain has the highest frequency of thunderstorms of any region of North America! Native Americans, of the southeast, came to learn the benefits of wildfires caused by lightning strikes. They would purposely burn areas to promote new plant growth that game would flock to, to eat the tender new shoots of plants. Their fire-managed ecosystem lead to consistent food stores.

Prior to our field trip to Webb WMA, we had read the Sherpa Guide articles I've linked areas of this post to. You owe yourself some 'good reads' by clicking on these links.

I'm fascinated by the Earth friendly ways of Native Americans. I am drawn to them like bees to honey. Thus, the 'magical' first impression of the Longleaf Pine savanna. I could picture a lone NA standing in the tall grasses, an arm outstretched, feeling the tops of the grass. The same way Kevin Cosner stood on vast the prairie in Dances with Wolves. A peaceful beauty went right to my soul.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Webb Wildlife Center

We fledgling Master Naturalists arrived at Webb WMA at 9 a.m. on February 25th, 2008. My journal page notes indicate it was cloudy and chilly but the sun broke thru around 11. All in all, a pretty spring day.

I've scanned part of my journal notes for the morning session. We visited a Cypress/Tupelo swamp and bottom land hardwood forest to ID trees.

You'll note that my page is written in ink. I actually wrote it in pencil, and then after the field trip, cleaned up any misspellings, ( I'm famous for my phonetic spelling - sometimes spell check can't even identify my spelling interpretations!) and added an illustration of the Bald Cypress. This process really helped me distill the flood of new information gathered in class. I'm one who has to go over and over information to help it sink in and stay in my memory banks. It's one reason I've decided to share my field notes in my blog. One more opportunity to refresh my memory :)

I hope you'll enjoy learning about the Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum. Later this spring, after the cypress leaf out, I hope to make a journal page devoted to both the Bald and Pond Cypress trees. Their leaves are really quite different.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gopher Tortoise

A year ago, at this time, I began Clemson University's Master Naturalist Program at the Low Country Institute in Beaufort County.

One of our first field trips was to Webb Wildlife Management Area. I will discuss the morning session of our field trip in another post. In the afternoon, we visited a sand hill area that is the northern extent of the Gopher Tortoise, G. polyphemus, range in South Carolina.

As we walked closer to an area that contained a Gopher Tortoise burrow we were given a warning to watch for rattlesnakes, as they like to bask in the sun around borrows. We saw Harvester Ant mounds. Very interesting, but mostly our eyes were watching for snakes :)

Finally, we made it to the tortoise burrow. Tony Mills brought fiber optic equipment to insert into the burrow to see if it was occupied. After many tries, nothing was discovered. The tunnels can be 30' long and up to 16' below the surface! We didn't have quite that much cable.

There can be as many as 300 species of animals (including insects and other invertebrates) that use or inhabit the Gopher Tortoise's 'digs!' This makes the endangered GT a keystone species. The sand hill environment contained lots of wire grass and Turkey Oaks. These areas, like the Long Leaf Pine forests require fire regimes to stay healthy. The Turkey Oaks, Quercus laevis, are well adapted to drought stress and fire.

One of the things I enjoyed the most, while studying to be a Master Naturalist, was learning about the interplay of different species in their ecosystems. Everything is so intertwined and dependent upon each other. Image what would happen should the GT become extinct! What would happen to the 300 different species that seek shelter in the burrows?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Peepers, Leopards and Bronzes...... Oh My!

Well, my title doesn't roll off the tongue quite like Lions Tigers, and Bears.... oh my! But, the evening frog chorus that has filled my ears for the last week sure does bring a smile.

Yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens (l.) Aiton f., has started to bloom once again. I broke off a sprig and put it in a vase. I want to do an illustration of it to put on a spring themed wedding invitation. Think I'll include some red watercolor droplets to represent the red maples buds that are popping.
February in the low country.......... Spring has sprung :)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

2009 Journaling

The weather has been so cold (for SC) that when we get a day off and it's warm enough, we've chosen to play golf. I don't mind as golfing has become a '2-fer' for me. The challenge of golf and the pleasure of journaling :) I must say the journaling and my new driver are really helping to reduce my handicap. Golf is such a mind game....... After 26 years of trying to play the silly game, I think I may be catching on!

Our first game of the New Year was a treat. We played with 2 women that were visiting from Germany. They were so fun! The phrase of the day was Oooo la la! They said it with such a great lilt in their voices. They also knew how to say s--t. Quite the all purpose word in golf. Their pronunciation sounded better though :)

January 22nd we broke our 55 degree rule. That will be the last time we do that! Tooooo cold. Saw lots of birds though :)
February 1st was still a tad chilly because of the wind but...... we saw 4 Osprey catching the thermals over the practice range. It's good to see them back once again.

Today was one of the 'special order' days. It's why we northerners love living in SC in the winter. Sunny, 74 degrees, a west, 10 mph breeze - perfect! I could do 365 days like today. Didn't see many birds though. We played Hilton Head National. They have 3 nines there, The Weed, The National and The Player. We played Weed and National today. It is sooooo beautiful. I highly suggest playing this course should you visit this area. There are lots of Fox Squirrels too!

I've only 10 blank pages left in this journal. It should last the rest of this year. What a joy it is to look back through our days of play. The art is somewhat whimsical and the type crooked but the memories warm my heart :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spring Peeper

In the late evening of Ground Hog day, after Phil had seen his shadow, I heard a lone Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer, call from the woods :)

There is hope that is cold blast will end!