Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bald Mist Lilies

What is a Bald Mist Lily? It is a three-fer blog topic. Today, activities at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest included spotting a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), testing the boardwalk-mist-net adapters, and admiring the first Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasco) of the year.

While leading 5th graders from Sangaree Intermediate School around the boardwalk, we saw a pair of Bald Eagles fly overhead! The black and white plumage was unmistakable against the blue sky. One of the eagles was flying aggressively after the other eagle. Bald Eagles prefer habitat that is more open than the swamp, so we normally do not see this species from the boardwalk, especially once the canopy has filled with leaves.

From the Audubon of Florida webpage: In Florida, due to loss of available habitat for nesting and concentrations of birds in certain areas, intraspecies fighting with aggressive aerial territory battles can occur among eagles throughout the nesting season. Typically, talon wounds are inflicted on the legs, lower abdomen, chest and head areas, and in severe disputes, mortality occurs. Immature eaglets lacking the white head and tail coloration, are in non-threatening plumage, and generally will not be attacked by nesting birds, just escorted out of the territory range.

The birds involved in today's flyby had white plumage and appeared to be engaged in hostilities. If one male was indeed chasing another male from his territory, then a nearby cypress or pine may hold a nest within its crown. We'll need to keep our eyes skyward before spring leaves obscure the upper canopy.

Thinking of smaller birds, we are continuing our preparations for the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) banding of Project PROTHO. Collis, the resident handyman, constructed mist net holders that can be clamped to the handrail of the boardwalk (see images). This mist net adaptation will allow us to set up the net anywhere along the 1.75-mile boardwalk, especially near any identified nesting sites. The elapsed time for the first setup was just under 10 minutes. With just over a week to go before the Prothonotary Warblers are expected to return, we can now confidently say, "Bring it!"

Finally, on the way back to the nature center, we spied the first Atamasco Lily of the season. The plant also goes by the common names "Easter Lily" and "Naked Lady." The first common name refers to the bloom's appearance near Easter on the calendar and the second common name refers to the lack of leaves on the flower's stalk.

Images by Mark Musselman

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