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2018 S.C. Naturalist Meeting – Focus on Congaree

The membership of the South Carolina Association of Naturalists (SCAN) comes from across the state to Columbia for their annual meeting each January. During the remainder of the calendar year, these SCAN members will fan out for field trips in every corner of the state, such as their December visit to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. The 2018 annual meeting featured a pair of rangers from Congaree National Park to discuss the history surrounding the old-growth hardwood forest there, and how the history birding is celebrated there now.

Naturalist Rudy Mancke is well known for the NatureScene TV program on PBS, and he founded SCAN in 1976 as an organization dedicated to exploring the Palmetto State. SCAN lists of the observed flora and fauna from each field trip to share with members, with the lofty goal of increasing the overall comprehension about the natural history found in South Carolina. SCAN has regional directors that plan and lead field trips in their respective area, so members can choose which outings fit their interests, and then make plans to visit different areas over time.

President Gordon Murphy greeted the SCAN members at the Lake House meeting facility at the Clemson Sandhills facility outside of Columbia. New members were asked to stand and be recognized, and were presented with published journals from 20 years of field trips. The format for the annual meeting consisted of guest speakers, with a break for lunch when members could get outside and explore the nearby waling trails around the lake area. The end of the day includes a business meeting to elect new officers, followed by the announcement of the 2018 field trip schedule.

Dr. David Shelley is the Director at the old-growth bottomland forest research and education center at Congaree National Park and he shared perspective on earth system science using geology to illustrate the passage of time. “A kind of prehistoric climate change helped to form the Congaree River floodplain as we know it today,” said Shelley. “There is evidence that the river was once a braided stream type of ecosystem, but that changed as Ice Age cycles came and went, creating mega channels from increased melt flows in Spring. Eventually the river narrows and as its course meanders over time, we are left with the rim swamps and bottomlands we observe today.”

“Early explorers visiting South Carolina report that the rivers ran clear, but man has altered the hydrology system so dramatically that we are left with a different reality,” said Shelley. “Plants are great wetland indicators, and they eventually become a source of sediment, and today’s climate is affecting what grows in the floodplain so we are monitoring these changes closely. Minor elevation changes are hard to map out inside the bottomlands, but the Orangeburg Scarp offers a clear line showing where the Atlantic Ocean used to reach up into the middle coastal plain.”
Shelley also offers some thoughts on the formation of Carolina Bays, saying that wind could have scoured holes along the landscape during dramatic weather cycles in the past. It’s then possible that water filled these low areas, with more wind producing wave action that builds up sand and sediment in the SE corners. Repetition over 18 Ice Age cycles could have been the catalyst to form these egg-shaped bays, along with other impacts on a landscape scale. There is no definitive answer on how Carolina Bays formed, but if you are curious about such things, then you might be a naturalist.

Congaree Park Ranger Jon Manchester spoke next about his fascination with the history of birding. “Mark Catesby was born in Essex, England in 1683 but found a lasting legacy by traveling to North America and documenting the native birds like the Carolina parakeet, which is now extinct,” said Manchester. “His work is still popular today with birders and we will feature Catesby this year during Earth Day in April at the Congaree National Park. Some of his noteworthy observations include recording how bald eagles sometimes steal food from ospreys.”

Other birding historical figures include Scotland’s Alexander Wilson, celebrated artist John James Audubon, and birding advocate Frank Chapman. “When Roger Tory Peterson from N.Y. published images of birds alongside written descriptions, that promoted birdwatching to the general public in a new format,” said Manchester. “His blueprint for a bird watcher’s handbook is often copied today, and birders are known for owning more than one handbook for cross reference purposes.” After all, what’s better than one bird book? How about two!
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (359 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com