Thursday, July 30, 2009

Get Out Your Life List

While you were sleeping, you became one bird farther away from completing your life list. An article on yesterday's BirdersWorld Magazine page and an article on today's BirdLife International page describe a new species of bird discovered last December in Laos.

"Scientists named it the Bare-faced Bulbul (right) because of the lack of feathers on its face and part of its head." --Matt Mendenhall,

You won't see the Bare-faced Bulbul at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but you can see plenty of life-list birds along the 1.75-mile boardwalk!

Image by Iain Woxvold

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Molting Mess!

Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) continue to be seen along the boardwalk at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, although they have become much quieter and are now more difficult to see. Many of the warblers that have been spotted in the past couple days are showing signs of molt. Several of the males spotted along the boardwalk did not have any tail feathers. You may also notice the color of the bill is changing from a jet black to straw-colored. It is a surprise to many that during the winter months Prothonotary Warblers do not have a black bill, but rather it is straw-colored.

The images show birds prior to molting and during the molting process.

Many adult birds molt their feathers at the end of the breeding season before heading south for the winter. Prothonotary Warblers only molt their feathers once per year and it typically occurs between early June and late August. In this way, the birds will have a fresh set of flight feathers for their long journey to Central or South America. Some of our Prothonotary Warblers have probably already embarked on their southward migration and most will have left Beidler Forest by the end of August.

Molting is not a pretty process, but it is critical and helps ensure that the Prothonotary Warblers of Beidler Forest will complete their migrations and return in the spring to provide additional data for Project PROTHO.

Images by Jeff Mollenhauer

Monday, July 27, 2009

460A is Finally a Daddy!

The last two weeks at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest have been filled with summer camp, so the blog has not been updated as frequently as we would like.

With time now available, we would like to update you on some of the stories from this first year of Project PROTHO. The season is rapidly drawing to a close and the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) of Beidler Forest will be migrating south to their wintering ground in Central America and northern South America. Stay tuned...with the birds now banded, we may find out exactly where on the planet the Beidler Forest Prothonotary Warblers spend the winter.

Previous blog entries highlighted the banding of 460A (March 31, 2009 & April 9, 2009) and his subsequent shift toward the less-desirable territory at the edge of the swamp. The map image shows several territories with 460A's being the bright yellow near the first fork along the boardwalk. His territory expanded slightly during the season. 460A was almost always the first Prothonotary Warbler visitors would encounter. He would come close to the boardwalk and seemed to always be singing. We commented that with all the effort 460A was investing in the breeding ritual, despite his less-than-stellar territory, he should have attracted at least one female. As other Prothonotary Warbler pairs were taking their fledglings out of the swamp to the habitat of the adjoining higher ground, it appeared that 460A would end the breeding season alone. Not surprisingly, we were wrong.

Although other pairs began the process of reproducing their species earlier than 460A, many of those nests failed or fledged fewer chicks than were hatched. Some of the attrition was due to predation, but some was the result of parasitism in the form of a Brown-headed Cowbird chick (see story here). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has published an article on why some songbirds may tolerate cowbird chicks in their nests, "Extortion Rackets and Egg-Farming by Cowbirds."

In the end, 460A found a mate and they made a nest behind the interpretive sign at #3. Three chicks hatched and were banded once their legs had reached their adult size. Observers have seen the parents feeding two of the fledglings, including caterpillars found hidden within curled, brown leaves.

We look forward to next spring and the return of the banded Prothonotary Warblers. What else will they be able to teach us?

Images by Mark Musselman

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Funky and Fearsome!

The beauty of working at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is that no two days are the same. Today, even with two summer camp sessions under our belts, we discovered some funky and fearsome residents.

Here are a few images from the last two days:

Along the boardwalk, a crayfish threatened to take on 19 humans ranging in age from 5 1/2 to 45.

A pair of Barred Owl (Strix varia) siblings preened each other.

A Red-femured Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona domiciliorum) waited for an insect to drop by for a meal.

A species of Robber Fly dines on a fellow insect at the edge of the powerline during our insect studies.

A blue wasp with red antennae hovered near the edge of the powerline during our insect studies.

A species of writing spider rested on a small web between the blades of grass in the powerline right-of-way.

A large Timber Rattlesnake remained in its ambush position along the low boardwalk as both groups of summer campers took pictures and made sketches on their maps! Can you see it?

A very old Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) that appears to be blind in the left eye.

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bird on a Hot Shingle Roof

Summer camp session #3 is full and underway at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest. Although the temperatures have been mild for all three camp sessions and campers would try to avoid the heat if conditions were different, some animals actively seek out the hottest spots in the swamp!

The forest canopy blocks most of the sunlight from reaching the forest floor. However, where there are gaps in the canopy due to fallen trees, holes (deep, ever-present water preventing tree growth), or buildings, birds and reptiles take advantage of the ample solar heat. Obviously, reptiles use the solar energy to help regulate their body temperature, but what are the birds doing on the hot, shingle roof?

The shimmering images of the trees beyond the center attested to the heat rising from the nature center's roof. However, all afternoon we watched out our office window as Great-crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor), and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) flattened or contorted their bodies onto the roof to maximize their exposure to the hot shingles. Birds will take dust baths in order to encourage the evacuation of parasites from feathers and body. The birds themselves likely can stand the heat of the shingles longer than any parasites can survive or remain.

Wasn't it Tennessee Williams that said, "If you can't stand the heat, get off the roof!"

Images by Mark Musselman

Sunday, July 19, 2009

End of Summer Camp #2

The second session of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest ended on Friday, but not before we made a few more discoveries!

1. Apparently, Caldy (camp counselor) is also a rockstar:

2. Female Golden Silk Orbweavers (Nephila clavipes) don't care for closeups:

3. Teenage White Ibis hang (Eudocimus albus) out at Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk:

4. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus) caterpillars rest on a bed of silk:

5. The White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) antlers found along the low boardwalk during the event mapping activity look a great deal like the antler on the display table in the nature center:

6. Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) produces some funny-looking fruit that will eventually turn red:

7. We got some competition when it comes to documenting the fun, excitement, and nature at summer camp! Session #3 begins tomorrow!

Images by Mark Musselman

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Camp - Week #2, Day #3

The second week of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest had a surprise yesterday. In addition to the scheduled bird house construction, bird feed building and insect collecting, Clint and Laura from the South Carolina Aquarium dropped by with an American Kestrel and a Screech Owl after hearing that our camp theme was "Birds!"

Coverage of week one of summer camp can be read in yesterday's Summerville Journal Scene.

Bluebird house construction:

Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris):

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae):

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) dragonflies:

Female Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) in web and Black-and-yellowArgiope (Argiope aurantia):

Images by Mark Musselman