Alex Cook


This week was a great finale for the internship as a whole, we were able to visit the highest location on the property, where we were able to look down upon miles of forest that looked so small from where we were standing. It was a great time for reflection on what we accomplished over the internship from identifying macroinvertebrates, to simply learning the techniques required to catch them. Today, we began by checking the weather station, and learning about a local reporter, Karolyn Tredeau, what would be covering Southern 8ths, and our internship in a local newspaper called The Link. She asked some general questions while we were discussing our reading and overviewing what we had scheduled for the week. After we had our last preview for the internship, we moved to Kayak Take-Out, which is usually our second location, but we decided to visit it first in order to accommodate the older reporter and allow her to take photos while still being within walking range of the Learning Center. Something that I only learned this week was that the location of Kayak Take-Out was directly behind the Learning Center, I am not sure how it took me until the final week to realize where exactly on the property we were collecting data, but I guess that is a testament to how well I am able to differentiate between locations. While collecting macroinvertebrates, this week was actually the most fruitful that Kayak Take-Out has been over the course of our data collection, which was a nice end to our internship. It also put a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth, as it made me wish that that was the average amount of macroinvertebrates that we had found. After collecting the data and macros that we needed, we moved to Kayak Put-In, which almost completely disappointed us, as there were little macroinvertebrates to be found. Still, we were able to find two sets of animal scat near the stream, which had a large amount of seeds and pits. I thought it was in an interesting area, as it was down the edge of the eroded banks on a tree that grew into the stream, sitting on its roots, which I imagine to be a resting spot for whatever left the scat behind – possibly and otter or a fox. We were able to collect a small amount of macroinvertebrates at this location, which we attempted to identify once we returned to the Learning Center, which ended with one unidentified organism, which we believe to be some type of crustacean, but we were unable to identify what exactly it was. Overall, I am extremely thankful to everyone at Southern 8ths that took part in this internship with me, and I am sad to see it end this soon.


The internship this week was, in a way, the first of the final days we would spend as interns at Southern 8ths. It was the last time that we would be out in Fireworks Prairie and the Upland Hardwoods, and the last time that we would be visiting our transects that we had created almost 2 months ago while still getting into the routine of the internship. While it is sad to realize that the internship is coming to an end, it is instead more productive to look forward to whatever plans we have set ahead for us after we part ways. But before the final week of the internship, we still have the responsibility to report what had happened during the internship. And this week began by our group being introduced to a group of Research Grant Fellows and their professor, Dr. Blair, from Winthrop University, who were in the middle of collecting data on fish in the same stream that we were collecting macroinvertebrates from. After we shared data that we had found through our studies, we observed them in their collection methods which mainly involved electroshocking the water, and netting the fish with a seine net, in a similar fashion to how we use kicknetting to collect macroinvertebrates. While we were shadowing them, we were joined by Kaitlynn, my sister and field assistant worker at Southern 8ths, where she works to record trail camera footage, compiling and recording the data weekly. She stayed for a while as we observed the fish survey methods, and we removed a tire from the stream that was previously submerged. After parting ways with both Kaitlynn and the other group, we made our way to our transects, stopping on the way to feed the goats. The goats were surprisingly docile and were easy enough to walk past and feed. I remember goats typically being more aggressive than docile, but this herd was well mannered, and let us pass without tearing new holes in our clothes. The transects had mostly died back, resulting in a quick check over the plants that were still there, providing us with plenty of time to roam around Otter Pond, where we spent a few minutes of our time watching a truck that ended up belonging to a hay bailer that was supposed to be there, not a trespasser. We sadly weren’t able to actually see any Otters or Beavers at Otter Pond, but we were able to relax in the forest around the pond, where we took a short walk and then proceeded to steal some of the beavers sticks which, according to Bri, make for great toys for dogs.


This week was rather uneventful at the internship, with a quick introduction from a professor at Francis Marion University. We then started the internship by preparing t-shirts for dying. This involved us folding the shirts into intricate patterns, or just folding the shirt in a way that we thought would yield the best pattern. We then let them rest in a Black Walnut solution to allow the dye to stain the fibers in the t-shirt. This resulted in varying shades of brown being stained into the shirts, and t-shirts to commemorate the internship. After preparing the shirts we quickly moved on to discussing the weekly reading and the weather station data which confirmed how dry it has been. We then moved to Kayak Put-In, where we collected data about the creek, and noted the drop in water levels, and the drop in overall stream health according to the pH and Oxygen levels. This could be caused by the overall lowering of the stream due to lack of rainfall or could be related to the recent destruction of the banks further upstream. Overall, the collection of macroinvertebrates was lackluster, as only a handful of organisms were collected, and the most intriguing thing being found at the site was a recently deceased fish. We couldn’t quite figure out how it died. It had a gash through one side of the abdomen that didn’t cut deeper than the scales and flesh, and was not repeated on the other side, meaning that it likely wasn’t a bite that caused the death. But we left the fish alone, unsure of what caused the untimely demise, continuing to search for macroinvertebrates throughout the stream. When we collected all we could find through the combination of kick-netting and d-netting, we moved to Kayak Take-Out, where we again took the health of the stream into account, noting that it was slightly lower than in the previous weeks, but not enough for us to definitively say the stream was being impacted. After taking the data, I set off on a small mission to go and collect garbage that couldn’t be accessed from the banks, as it was too steep to reach. It was a bag of discarded dog food that had been stuck in a tree. After collecting our samples, which were again lackluster, we returned to the learning center and began to identify what all we had found, we were not entirely successful with identifying them this week, as we spent most of our time trying to identify a species that wasn’t available on the application we were using for identification.


This week was a rather stressful week for me. On top of five exams for my college classes, I also managed to hurt my foot to the point where I wasn’t able to go to Southern 8ths this week. This was an important week for the internship too, as we were supposed to have a student from Francis Marion University shadow us, with the idea that they could possibly begin a work-study program over the summer with Southern 8ths. Despite not being able to go to the internship this week, I made it a goal of mine to find whatever interesting happenings I could out of my dorm room window, which was surprisingly easy. Cats love to congregate around the medical center on campus, and I just so happen to live next door. And while I was observing them, purely for research purposes, not just because of my love of cats, I noticed that they didn’t care for birds all too much. The reason I find this to be slightly weird is because all of my family’s cats were rescues that we have found on our properties, and taken in. Before we were able to keep them as indoor pets, they loved to hunt birds and rabbits that were abundant in the area. But the cats on campus would have birds land right next to them, and they would simply turn away, or watch them curiously, almost as if they had never seen one before. I’m not sure if they simply gave up on birds long ago, or if they had just finished feeding before I began watching them, so the temptation of catching the bird was severely overshadowed by the energy needed to catch and kill it. Another “animal” I was able to observe clearly through my window was people, fellow students and how they tended to interact with one another. Now, I am not saying that I was spying on individuals, but if they were walking past me and there were no other furry friends in sight, I would observe them, and try to guess the relations between them as they continued on their way, none the wiser. And one of the things I noticed that people tend to change depending on their relationships with each other is how they express their hellos and goodbyes. Close individuals may hug or in extreme cases kiss when saying hello and goodbye, but this group mainly consisted of those in relationships, and people that were making a joke of it. I could tell which of the groups individuals belonged in by watching how they reacted while walking away, those in a relationship may look back at one another, while those that were simply friends would often pull out their phones, or continue their banter as the distance grew increasingly far, and they turned to continue past my sight through the window. I also noticed how some people will walk right next to each other without saying a word the entire time I was observing them, totally absorbed in their phones, leaving me not even sure if they were aware of the others presence, but sure enough, they would give a subtle goodbye as they parted ways, whether it be a slight nod of the head in the others direction, or any array of hand gestures that could mean goodbye. I am extremely excited about returning to the internship next week, and continuing our study of macroinvertebrates, but taking a break like this, and simply observing the world and people around you can be a nice change of pace.


With a tropical storm looming off the coast, the wind speed in the area managed to reach 30 mph, and was tormenting the trees and grasses, forcing them into a mangled dance that I felt as if I could watch for days, simply staring in wonder as the branches and leaves held firmly to their trunks. This was what was at the forefront of my mind while I was approaching the property, admittedly hurrying as I had been released from class late and I was terrified of being tardy, but I managed to make it before anything had been kicked off, and I was able to settle into the Learning Center to begin the fourth week of the internship. Before we began discussing the readings, or checking the transects that we had set up two weeks prior, we had a presentation from Laura Tedeschi about Edwin Way Teale’s contribution to nature journalism, along with the historic Trail Wood Sanctuary that she cared for.

After the presentation was over, and questions were answered, we first started off with some disappointing news. The high winds made it too dangerous to operate the drone which had been prepared in order to observe the property without having to interact with, and possibly damage the environment. After the general routine of discussing the weather station data and Thompson Creek data, we began by visiting the Drop Site, which was a stretch of Thompson Creek which runs behind the Learning Center and is used by River Otters as a latrine site. We saw the remnants of shellfish and other waste that the Otters had left behind. While there, we observed the area across the stream from us, which was a prescribed burn site just last year, but had already grown back a sizable amount. After learning a bit more about the creek and the area surrounding the site, we moved to our transect that we had laid out two weeks prior in Fireworks Prairie, preparing to submit the collected data to Nature’s Notebook. But supernatural forces seemed to be at play today, as nothing seemed to want to follow the plan, as the Nature’s Notebook site was only working on Bri’s tablet, and none of the interns were able to submit any data. But we were still able to observe and record the data through Bri’s tablet, and the tour of Fireworks Prairie was quickly completed, with little of interest happening in terms of our tagged vegetation, but we were able to observe some interesting changes off the trail, and from other plants that we had not previously marked. After touring and recording at Fireworks, we quickly moved to the Upland Hardwood Forest transect, which had relatively low changes, as most of the vegetation we observed had no fruit or had already released their fruits. For this reason, the observation and recording of data for the site went faster than I had expected. This left us with roughly an hour and a half before we had to return to the Learning Center. We used this time to tour the logging operations and cleared sites that were on the property, which is where we found possibly the most interesting thing I have seen since I was a child. At a loading deck for the logging operation, we found a wasp returning to its nest, but the wasp was not flying, instead it was dragging a dead or paralyzed spider behind it. We were not sure whether it was already dead, or whether it was simply paralyzed, as we were not able to approach the wasp because it became aggressive if we got too close. We observed the wasp dragging its victim for roughly 10 minutes, debating whether the spider was truly dead, and sneaking photos and videos of the event. We also learned about the property’s expansive history with logging, and the practices that were put in place in order to prevent the environment from being damaged. One of the rules put in place was the banning of heavy machinery on the property while it was raining, which could leave permanent tracks causing ruts in the soil and disrupt the environment’s ability to recover after the logging operation had moved. Overall, this week was very interesting, despite the numerous mishaps that occurred while on the property.


This week’s internship was different from what we had experienced so far as interns, as this was the start of the data collection for the stream study portion of our internship. We started this week by first observing the weather station data from the past week, and took note of a slight increase in stream level, and an overall decrease in temperature, which everyone at the internship is grateful for, as it means that the heavy clothing that is used for protection will steer further away from suffocating, and move towards keeping us from freezing while we are out in Fireworks, and through the stream. After observing the weather station and its data we discussed what the plan for the rest of the internship would be. The first item on the agenda was to move to Kayak Put-In, and collect data on the stream’s overall health, specifically the oxygen levels, the pH levels, and the turbidity of the water. We collected the data at numerous points throughout the collection site, but in general there were three places that we wanted to collect data, and that was before, after, and in the center of the riffle of the stream, or where the water ran over rocks, and where most macroinvertebrates were likely to be. After collecting and compiling the chemical and physical data for the stream’s health, we set to collecting the macroinvertebrate data for the stream. This data would help to set a general outline for stream health, as certain organisms have different tolerance levels in terms of pollution, only being able to live within a certain range. This was done with two methods, one was a method called kicknetting, where a net was set up downstream from the collection site, and it was our job as interns to do our best penguin impression as we slowly moved towards the net. We dragged our feet on the bottom of the stream, and disturbed the silt and rocks under our feet, along with any macroinvertebrates that were in the area, washing them down and hopefully into the net. This method had some flaws, such as the streams bed not being uniformly small rocks that were easy to disturb, as there were many large rocks that we were not able to move, along with being unable to cover the entirety of the stream with the net meaning that some invertebrates may have been able to avoid the net and move further downstream. The second method that was used to collect macroinvertebrates was the D-net method, where nets that had small holes in the mesh (that also resembled the letter D, which gives them their distinct name) were used to kick up sediment instead of using our feet. This method was, in my opinion, slightly harder to collect data compared to the kicknetting method and was not as fun to perform as shuffling through a stream. But, we were able to cover a larger area using this method, and were able to find some interesting macroinvertebrates that were attached to rocks that were collected in the nets. After sorting through the macroinvertebrates we found and putting them in containers so as to identify them at a later date, we moved to the second location along Thompson Creek that we would be observing. At this location we were not able to collect as much data, as we were running low on time, and thus we were only able to collect two sets of kick netting data. This location was somehow harder to collect data in, as the rifles primarily consisted of large rocks that covered the entirety of the bottom of the creek, making it difficult to disturb the substrate.

Regardless of the difficulties in collecting macroinvertebrate species at both locations, there were still some interesting finds that I would like to highlight specifically from the first location, as it yielded the most results. One of these finds is what we believe to be the larval stage of an aquatic species of beetle, but we were unable to completely identify it with the equipment that we had on hand, so it remains a mystery for now. We were also able to find some dragonfly larvae in the creek, which is a sign that the creek is healthy. This is also somewhat exciting personally for me, as dragonflies are one of my favorite insect species, due to the fact that they are extremely proficient hunters, with a near 95% success rate while hunting. We were also able to catch numerous species that aren’t macroinvertebrates, such as a small salamander, and numerous minnow-sized fish that had to be quickly returned to the water.  These species were all found while using the kick netting method, which showed the diversity in the species it can catch. There was only one interesting species that we found while using the D-net method, which was a leech that subsequently ruined the day for most of us. This is because we had previously been rather excited that we hadn’t found a leech yet and were hoping to make it through the day without being cursed by their mere presence. But they are also an important indicator of health in the stream, as they are able to withstand the “best” and “worst” conditions that a stream can be subjected to without complete loss of invertebrate life.


Once arriving on the property, we met a man that was one part attitude, one part story, and another part that had an insatiable thirst for questions. He regaled us with the story of the property, and his own personal experiences with life, and what he expected of the interns. Brad is the owner of the property, and the one who is giving us the opportunity to study and observe the land around us. After hearing his stories and advice, we began observing the weather station data for the past week, looking at the humidity and temperature of the area, along with the rainfall, and how it affected the water levels on the property. What was interesting about the water levels was the delayed response they seemed to show after the hurricane had passed over the area, instead of rising immediately, the elevated water levels only began occurring this week, which had relatively no rain in the area with only light showers and some storms north of the property taking place. This didn’t greatly affect what we had planned on doing during this internship, as we intended to set up two transects, one in the Fireworks Prairie and the other in the Upland Hardwood Forest close by. The prairie transect took around 45 minutes to prepare, as it involved a large amount of pushing through tall grasses, and navigating through minefields of fire ant hills, while trying to maintain a straight line to the best of our abilities. Overall, the transects were around 65 feet by 65 feet, with marking flags being placed every 10 feet around the edges., The goal within the transect was to find as much diversity as possible in terms of both plant life and observable fauna that is within, or close to the boundaries. However, not all of the plants that were chosen for observation were inside of the “square” that we had attempted to create, with some being no more than 5 feet off the borders of the transect. After preparing this transect, we marked the plants that we planned on observing, and moved to the Upland Hardwood Forest where we had planned to create the next transect., While moving to the forest we stopped and checked for any critters that we may have picked up while moving through the grasses, with ticks being my main concern. Growing up hearing stories of Lyme disease, and having known someone previously affected by this illness, I do not take ticks lightly, but knowing that I did not attract any on this outing was a huge relief on my end.

Once in the Upland Hardwood Forest, we began to look for possible locations for the second transect. This location was slightly harder to choose, as the diversity in the forest is harder to find than it is in the prairie, since many of the trees are old, or dying back., but despite that, we found an appropriate area that had a good diversity of tree species, and that was relatively easy to mark and access off the trail. While marking the trail, we had to watch out for spiders and their webs, as they seemed to be everywhere around head height this time of year, to get around these webs, we picked up sticks were picked from the ground to and used as sweepers in order to remove them webs, knowing that the spiders which will just be rebuild them anyway. This area didn’t take nearly as long as the prairie did, as we no longer had to fight through the grasses, but instead had to navigate through the trees and spider webs that were in the way. This is also where we discovered that not everyone has the best natural compass, as we somewhat struggled to figure out which direction we were facing in the forest. This was quickly remedied by a compass being used, and the transect mapping could continue. In the end, this transect was much closer to a square than the one in the prairie, but it was harder to choose trees and herbaceous plants which could be observed. After selecting the species plants which are to be observed, we walked down the trail to a small stream that was in the area, known as Talton Branch, and came across some of the mushrooms that could be found in the area. We then returned to the learning center and headed our separate ways.


The first day of the internship was first spent learning about the core objectives of the internship, along with the guidelines and learning methods that we will be using throughout the internship.  Before exploring the property, we were also told of many things to watch out for while on the property, one of which being the wildlife that could be found, including but not limited to wild hogs, wild dogs, and snakes, the last of which I believe to be most distressing, not for the fact that snakes are common on the property, but because of the possibility of walking right past them without knowing. While touring the property with the group we visited the sites for data collection along the stream, along with checking the various possible data collection points for the transects, along with possible locations for stop action cameras. Walking through the woods and through the prairie reminded me of wandering through the woods in Pennsylvania, but with much of the flora and fauna being slightly different than what I was used to seeing. It was a refreshing change of pace from the drum of college, and it was a good chance to talk to and learn more about the others in the internship alongside me.

With the recent hard rain that we experienced on campus, I expected the property to be harder to walk because of the rain, and the water levels being elevated, but the results of the rain were slightly disappointing, as there was little to no signs of the rain from the days before. There were also no signs of autumn along the tree line, as no leaves had begun to lose their chlorophyll, looking no different than they had over the summer. The only obvious change that summer was beginning to end was the dying back of some native grasses as their seasonal growth cycle came to an end. We were lucky enough to find a monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed, alongside other moths, and butterflies.