Wednesday, September 09, 2009

New Sightings in the Swamp

There were some new sightings in the swamp today. Most importantly, the new seasonal naturalists were spotted at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! We'll save the full introductions until later. However, while showing Allison and Rachelle the boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp, we spotted something unusual at Goodson Lake...Wood Storks (Mycteria americana)!

Many of you may be familiar with Storks & Corks, which is an event hosted annually at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center near Aiken, SC. This year's event was held last month. The staff and visitors to Silver Bluff are accustomed to seeing Wood Storks, but the dense canopy of Four Holes Swamp usually relegates Wood Storks to "fly-over" status at the Beidler Forest. However, the space above Goodson Lake was apparently open enough for a dozen Wood Storks to settle in the trees around the lake's observation tower. Lousy day to forget the camera!

Wood Storks, the largest wading birds that breed in the United States, have been expanding their territory north of Florida as habitat within that state is eliminated or degraded. These birds are primarily tactile feeders, which allows them to feed in dark or murky water. Large populations were supported in south Florida when evaporation during the dry season concentrated prey in shallow water. This type of water draw down is done intentionally in the ponds at Silver Bluff. However, canals, irrigation, and other water diversion practices have altered the seasonal occurence of shallow water in southern Florida.

Although Wood Storks are not regular visitors to the Beidler Forest, they recognize an awesome place when they see it!

Image by Jeff Mollenhauer

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