Author: Camilla Sherman

Phinizy Wildlife Report, June 2nd

Phinizy Wildlife Report June 2, 2016

By Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Apologies for the lack of posts, I was in Texas for a large portion of May and had to miss a few weeks of Phinizy wildlife! The Phinizy wildlife was not unforgiving when I returned, though! Many wonderful creatures are out and about in the warm weather, most particularly insects.

Dragonflies such as Blue Dasher, Four-spotted Pennant, Great Blue Skimmer, Eastern Pondhawk, and Common Whitetail are all over the park. Butterflies such as Zebra Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, American Snout, Common Buckeye, and Broad-winged Skipper thrive in the sun too.

Naturally, the birds are taking advantage of this. Especially the birds that are breeding. The Barn Swallow nest on campus has five young birds that are almost ready to leave the nest, whereas the Eastern Phoebe nest in front of the research building has just hatched its second clutch! The (now) somewhat secretive local Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have been eyeing a cavity in a dead cypress ~50ft from the concrete bridge near the campus. They are most active at dusk and dawn. Not many migrants are left, but one exciting find was a Willow Flycatcher last Friday! It was calling “fitz-bew!” from willows along the Constructed Wetland Trail between the campus and the trail sign. This is the first record of this species in Richmond County and, needless to say, a first for Phinizy Swamp as well.


Effects of Seasonal Flooding on Fish

Effects of Seasonal Flooding on Fish

By Damon Mullis, Research Scientist

Katie with Carp

Research Scientist Katie Johnson processes a large carp collected during a fish sampling event in April 2016 after flood waters recede.

This past fall and winter, the Savannah River experienced unusually high water levels. Although flooding can have negative impacts in the form of property and infrastructure damage, it can have many benefits. Floods are normal occurrences that fill natural depressions, reservoirs, irrigation canals, and help recharge ground water supplies, which all are important sources of drinking water or essential for agriculture.  This periodic inundation of the floodplain is critical for the maintenance of the river’s ecological, geomorphological, and hydrological integrity. This interaction between the river and its floodplain is believed to be a major driving force for the maintenance of biotic diversity and the production of plant and animal biomass, including fish. This suggests that the floodplain provides an abundance of food for riverine fish and increases overall production. Many fishermen have observed this relationship, catching larger fish after flooding events.

Flooded Boat Landing at Oxbow

December 29th 2015- Flooded boat landing and parking area at Savannah River Oxbow (Miller Lake, Tuckahoe WMA)

In addition, high flows allow fish access to floodplain environments which are believed to be ideal spawning habitats for some species. It seems the timing of periodic flooding is also important for successful fish recruitment, with good recruitment occurring in situations when the rise in water level and temperature are coupled, and conversely, poor recruitment occurring if seasonal flooding does not occur or retreats too quickly during the spring.  This relationship suggest that flooding enhances recruitment by directly stimulating spawning and/or providing adequate spawning habitat, and indirectly by enhancing larval and juvenile survival by providing abundant food and habitats on the inundated floodplain. Since this recent flooding event occurred during our ongoing Savannah River Oxbow research project (, we will be able to explore the effects of flooding on the fish in these lakes as well as many other communities and ecological processes.

Weekly Wildlife Report, May 6

Weekly Wildlife Report, May 6

by Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Everything has been busy lately, including the wildlife. Migration is at its peak right now, even though this season has been unusually slow.

Weekly Wildlife Liam

Photos by Liam Wolff

Many neotropical migrants have been missing this year and the Glossy Ibis that had been in the Equalization Pond left when the storms moved through. However, birds like Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Blackpoll, and Yellow Warbler were seen in the park within the last two weeks, mostly at the end of the Equalization Pond. Bobolinks are all over the wetlands, feeding on grass seeds in the cells and the Distributional Canal. At least 800 were seen on Saturday. Buntings and Blue Grosbeak too are thriving on the bulrush seeds. Both Painted and Indigo are singing from short trees or powerlines. Kestrels, Barred Owl, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, and Osprey were seen this week. The Red-shouldered Hawk young on Cattail Trail are already branched and will likely start roaming soon. The Red-shouldered Hawk nest by the Equalization Pond has downy young in it. Swallows are all over the Equalization Pond, hundreds of them swooping low over the water, catching bugs of collecting mud for their nests. Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Barn, and Cliff Swallows were all seen there on Thursday.

Weekly Wildlife Liam

Photos by Liam Wolff

Bugs seem this week include the usual Zebra Swallowtail, Common Buckeye, Red Admiral, Broad-winged Skipper, Painted Lady, and American Snout for butterflies, and Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Four-spotted Pennant, Blue Dasher, Eastern Pondhawk, Common Whitetail, Fragile Forktail, and Rambur’s Forktail for dragon and damselflies.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Yellow-bellied Slider, American Alligator, Eastern Ratsnake, Black Racer, Brown Watersnake, and Cottonmouth for reptiles and Leopard Frog, Green Treefrog, Bronze Frog, Bullfrog, and Cricket Frog for amphibians.

Mammals: Raccoon and Nine-banded Armadillo on the Constructed Wetland Trail and Muskrat at the 3 Ton Bridge.


Stormwater Problems and Solutions

Stormwater Problems and Solutions

By Aaliyah Ross, Environmental Educator

Stormwater fees are currently a topic of debate in many cities and towns. Why does stormwater cause so many problems in urban areas? Read on to find out more about this issue and possible solutions.

The Water Cycle

USGS water cycle

The Water Cycle. Source: United States Geological Survey

You’re probably already familiar with the water cycle—rain falls to the Earth, where it either is intercepted by plants, flows downhill over the land surface (runoff), or is absorbed into the soil. Water in the soil can either be taken up by plant roots or can move downward and become groundwater. Groundwater provides a steady, consistent flow of water to streams, which is especially important during droughts.

The Water Cycle in an Urban Landscape

A comparison of the water cycle in a forested and an urban landscape. Rainfall can reach the stream in one of three ways: overland flow (i.e., surface runoff (O)), subsurface flow through topsoil (S), or percolation (P) into groundwater (G).

A comparison of the water cycle in a forested and an urban landscape. Rainfall can reach the stream in one of three ways: overland flow (i.e., surface runoff (O)), subsurface flow through topsoil (S), or percolation (P) into groundwater (G). Walsh et al., 2004

As areas become urbanized and more developed, natural land cover is replaced by impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces do not allow water to soak into the ground; these include roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and roofs. This means that less rainfall is absorbed into the soil to become groundwater, and more rainfall becomes surface runoff.

impervious surface

Depending on the amount of impervious surface in a watershed, the annual volume of storm water runoff can increase by up to 16 times that of natural areas. Source: Schueler, Thomas (1995) Site Planning for Urban Stream Protection.









Flashy Streams

A flashy stream in Oregon’s Tualatin River watershed. Flashy streams have dramatic differences in streamflow between wet and dry weather, resulting in high, steep banks as seen in the picture on the left.

A flashy stream in Oregon’s Tualatin River watershed. Flashy streams have dramatic differences in streamflow between wet and dry weather, resulting in high, steep banks as seen in the picture on the left. Photo by Tualatin Riverkeepers

In an urban area with lots of impervious surfaces, a large amount of rainfall flows into streams as surface runoff. This increases the frequency and severity of flooding, because a large amount of water enters the stream in a short period of time. Increased surface runoff results in higher levels of nonpoint source pollution in the stream.

Less rainfall soaking into the soil means that more water reaches the stream via runoff instead of through groundwater flow. This results in “flashy” streams with low flow during dry weather and dramatically higher flow during wet weather.  Flashy streams typically have high, undercut banks that can erode during heavy rain, have warmer water (which holds less oxygen than colder water), and support less biodiversity.


As our population continues to grow both regionally and globally, engineers and hydrologists have developed several innovative solutions to minimize negative impacts caused by impervious surfaces. Some examples include:

  • Bioswales—ditches lined with plants, compost, and rocks that are designed to receive runoff from a paved area. The natural materials lining the ditch allow some runoff to infiltrate the soil, and also help to trap pollutants before the water is discharged to a stream.
The plants in bioswales can filter pollutants out of runoff and allow more water to infiltrate into the soil. Source: City of Salem Public Works Operations Division, Salem, OR

The plants in bioswales can filter pollutants out of runoff and allow more water to infiltrate into the soil. Source: City of Salem Public Works Operations Division, Salem, OR

  • Retention ponds—manmade ponds used to collect and store runoff from areas such as parking lots, shopping malls, dog parks, pastures, and stockyards. Storm drains are sometimes re-routed to feed into retention ponds instead of streams. They help trap pollutants and also control flooding after heavy rains.
  • Rain Gardens—usually much smaller than retention ponds and often include attractive landscaping and wetland plants designed to make the area more aesthetically pleasing. Rain gardens are often built in residential yards and in community parks. They generally perform the same functions as retention ponds, but on a smaller scale.
rain garden

A residential rain garden in Athens, GA. Homeowners Gwyneth Moody and Daniel Peiken were awarded the 2016 Citizen Stormwater Steward Award by Athens-Clarke County Stormwater Management.

Many municipalities now collect fees from property owners to fund the development of stormwater infrastructure. Citizens can often reduce their fees by taking measures to decrease the amount of runoff generated on their property. Effectively managing stormwater protects water quality in our rivers and streams, reduces the risk of flooding, and helps maintain habitat for aquatic organisms. If you live in either Richmond, Columbia, or Aiken County, you can find out more about local efforts to reduce the impacts of stormwater by visiting the links below.

Richmond County Stormwater Utility:

Columbia County Stormwater Utility:

Aiken County Stormwater Management:

Quiz: Non-point source pollution. Are you part of the problem?

Quiz: Non-point source pollution. Are you part of the problem?

Could your daily activities be polluting your neighborhood stream? Answer a few questions to see!

1. Do you clean up pet waste from your lawn?

YES       Great job for being a responsible pet owner!

NO         When it rains, pet waste can be washed into a nearby stream and cause E. coli and other bacteria to increase in numbers in the streams. By walking through your yard a couple of times a week to clean up after your animals, your yard will not only smell nicer, you can know you are not contributing to increased pathogen levels in the stream.

2. Do you read and follow the instructions when applying fertilizers to your lawn?

YES        Awesome! So, you already know that more does not equal better, and to never, ever apply fertilizers before it rains.

NO         If excess fertilizer is applied to your lawn, or if applied just before it rains, the nutrients are washed into the stream and becomes food for algae. This can cause algal blooms and lead to depleted oxygen levels in the stream, often times causing other wildlife in the stream to die. Next time, read the label for application instructions.

3. Do you blow your leaves or yard clippings into the storm drains on your street?

YES       Storm drains lead to the closest creek or stream, so when you put yard waste into your storm drain, you are contributing lots of organic matter into the stream. When this extra organic matter in the stream begins to break down, it will use oxygen from the stream, and can contribute to depleted oxygen levels in the stream. Again, this can cause organisms in the stream to die if oxygen levels drop too low.

NO         You rock! Want to be really awesome? – Use your yard clippings to create a compost pile in your yard to simply return those nutrients back into the soil in your own yard! Or use the compost for your own garden next year.

Just a few small changes to our daily activities can help keep our streams happy and healthy! Stay informed and educate your neighbors to keep our local environment clean.

Weekly Wildlife Report, April 22nd

A really great week for wildlife!
Phinizy Wildlife Report April 22, 2016

By Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

This weekend is Phinizy’s Birding Festival, and it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. Migrants are arriving daily. This week Orchard Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Prairie Warbler, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Broad-winged Hawk, Little Blue Heron, and Solitary Sandpiper are all new arrivals in the park. By far the most exciting find this week was a new bird for the park – Wilson’s Warbler found by Sam Murray in the bushes near the Osprey nest. Other rarities seen this week include a Red-breasted Merganser hen in Cell 1 and a Glossy Ibis in the Equalization Pond. It is possible that a Black Rail was heard in the wetland cells after dark, but there was no confirmation (please note the park closes at dusk). American Wigeon and Blue-winged Teal are the only ducks remaining in the Equalization Pond, but Wood Duck are still present throughout the park, closer to the wooded swamps like the River Scar Trail. Osprey, American Kestrel, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl, Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture are raptors seen in the park this week. Also heard was a possible Barn Owl, calling between the windshear tower and the silos. Least Bittern can be heard calling from the Rain Garden Pond and Cell 3 and American Bittern were heard calling and seen flying, once in a group of 3! At dusk, a Black-crowned Night-Heron was seen flying over the wetlands, possibly one of the birds from Cell 3 in the Winter. Needless to say, the Birding Festival will encounter many awesome birds!

Dragonflies and Damselflies this week include: Eastern Pondhawk, Common Whitetail, Great Blue Skimmer, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Blue Dasher, Green Darner, Carolina Saddlebags, Fragile Forktail, Rambur’s Forktail, Ebony Jewelwing, Sparkling Jewelwing, and Variable Dancer. Butterflies this week include: Zebra, Black, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, Cloudless Sulphur, Viceroy, Common Buckeye, American Snout, Question Mark, Red Admiral, and Broad-winged Skipper.

Reptiles this week include: Alligators (Cell 1 and Clarification Pond), Southern Banded Watersnake, Cottonmouth, Eastern Box Turtle, Yellow-bellied Slider, Spiny Softshell Turtle, Five-lined Skink, Ground Skink, and Carolina Anole. Frogs heard: Green Treefrog, Leopard Frog, Bullfrog, Bronze Frog, and Southern Toad.

Barn Swallow (Top Left), Glossy Ibis (Middle Left), American Alligator (Bottom Left), Rambur's Forktails (Right)

Barn Swallow (Top Left), Glossy Ibis (Middle Left), American Alligator (Bottom Left), Rambur’s Forktails (Right), Photos by Liam Wolff

The Rambur’s Forktail

The Rambur’s Forktail

By Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Male Nominate, Female Blue Male-Like; Photo by Liam Wolff

Male Nominate, Female Blue Male-Like; Photo by Liam Wolff

Male Nominate, Photo by Liam Wolff

Male Nominate, Photo by Liam Wolff

The Rambur’s Forktail, Ischnura ramburii, is the most abundant species of damselfly at Phinizy Swamp and probably the most common wetland damselfly across the Southeast United States as a whole. Its range expands west to California into Mexico with an isolated population in Hawaii. One of the most interesting features of the Rambur’s Forktail is its polymorphic variation. Polymorphism is the occurrence of a species that displays two or more forms. These forms are determined by dominant and recessive alleles that are inherited at fertilization. Rambur’s Forktails, like many insects, demonstrate this polymorphism on top of sexual dimorphism. With sexual dimorphism, the males and females of the species are apparently dissimilar – they differ in appearance. To make things even more complicated, the color morphs are different at varying ages.

Rambur's Female Orange

Rambur’s Female Orange, Photo by Liam Wolff

Rambur's Female Green Male-like; Photo by Liam Wolff

Rambur’s Female Green Male-like; Photo by Liam Wolff

Nominate form males are light green on the thorax with similar coloration on the abdomen and a blue terminal end. Nominate females tend to be olive in coloration across the abdomen and thorax. As immatures, female Rambur’s Forktails are a bright orange. There are two female morphs that are very similar to males, though. One form is bright green like the male, but the colors are less defined. The other has a green abdomen with a blue terminal segment like the male, but the thorax is a sky blue. At Phinizy, most of the damselflies we study are in their larval stage. However, at this age it is very difficult to differentiate between species. Unlike many macroinvertebrates in the Savannah River which are scrapers or filter-feeders, the suborder Zygoptera (damsels) consists of predators.

Rambur's Female Olive

Rambur’s Female Olive; Photo by Liam Wolff

Weekly Wildlife Report, April 14th

Phinizy Wildlife Report April 14, 2016

By Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Babies are here! New young animals are hatching in the park. The Phoebe nest by the Research building on campus has chicks, and young Pied-billed Grebes are seen in the Distributional Canal with their parent(s). Ospreys appear to have young hatched as well. Not yet hatched are turtles, who have just laid their eggs in the ground.

It’s a great time of year for insects – the cool kinds! Mosquitoes and Deerfly populations are not high, but butterflies, damselfies, and dragonflies are out in full force. Zebra and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Common Buckeye, Broad-winged Skipper, and Cloudless Sulphur are butterflies seen this week, while Blue Dasher, Great Blue Skimmer, Eastern Pondhawk, Common Whitetail, Ebony Jewelwing, Rambur’s Forktail and Fragile Forktail are dragonflies and damselflies seen this week.

Many snakes are out; mainly Cottonmouth, but some Black Racers and Watersnakes as well. American Alligator, Yellow-bellied Slider, and Cooters are basking in the sun, too.

A few straggling winter birds remain. Blue-winged Teal are always the last to leave and the first to arrive, and there is still a moderate amount of them in the Equalization Pond. The final Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers of the season are sticking around as well, but in the next few weeks they will slowly migrate to their Northern summer homes. Parula, Palm, Pine, Prothonotary, and Yellow-throated Warbler are the only other Warblers this week, but all four species of Vireo (Blue-headed, Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated) were seen/heard! Summer Tanagers and Northern Rough-winged Swallows have finally made their way to Augusta. The local Kestrel was seen on Wednesday perched on the telephone wire outside the park and the Red-shouldered Hawks are as raucous and ubiquitous as always. Common Ground-Doves call their monotone, low “coooup” call from the forest edge near the River Scar and Least Bitterns can also be heard softly cooing in Cell 3. Other birds of note include: Spotted Sandpiper, Bald Eagle, Lesser Yellowlegs, Savannah Sparrow, Pileated Woodpecker, Field Sparrow, and Marsh Wren.

Weekly Wildlife Report 41416

Weekly Wildlife Report, April 1st

Weekly Wildlife Report, April 1st

By Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Weekly Wildlife April 1Despite the gloomy weather, wildlife is active! Snakes, Lizards, Turtles, and Alligators are out when the sun is, with species such as Cottonmouth and Southern Banded Watersnake, Ground Skink, Carolina Anole, Mud Turtle, Sliders, and Common Snapping Turtles. When the sun is not out, the frogs appear. Aside from the normal Green Treefrog, Bronze Frog, and Bullfrog, the Eastern Spadefoot Toads call from flooded ditches.

As for invertebrates, damselflies and dragonflies are out in full force. Ebony Jewelwings grace the woodlands with their fluttery black wings and Eastern Pondhawk, Blue Dasher, and Great Blue Skimmer are ubiquitous in the wetlands and woods. Butterflies seen this week include: Red-spotted Purple, Silver-spotted and Broad-winged Skipper, Common Buckeye, Cloudless Sulphur, Zebra, Black, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and Cabbage White.

Birds revel in the warm weather, particularly when the rain lets up. A few straggling Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck remain in the Equalization Pond with coots and grebes. The Buffleheads seem to have migrated northwards towards their Canadian summer home. Another group of stragglers at the Equalization Pond is a flock of Rusty Blackbirds, making a racket in the trees on the east side of the pond. King Rails are vocal in the morning and evening, with birds being heard from the sparrow field and the wetlands. The Raptors are very busy with nesting. The Ospreys fly to and fro, possibly caring for young already. The Red-shouldered Hawk nest by Cattail Trail has hatchlings too. Barred Owl activity is almost nonstop in the morning, with pairs vocalizing back and forth. There appears to be at least two pairs breeding in the park. A slow stream of neotropical migrants is dripping into Augusta. In addition to Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers sing in the cypress swamp by the bridge to the campus. A group of Pine Siskins too sing from this spot. Other birds of note include: Black-and-White Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, and Wilson’s Snipe.