Friday, July 16, 2010

Rain in the Swamp

Although there was no rain at any of our homes from Ridgeville to Summerville to West Ashley, there was plenty of weather action at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  The seasonal naturalists living at the cabin at Mallard Lake reported over 2" of rain, high winds and multiple nearby lightning strikes!  Fallen snags and branches littered the driveway on the way into the center, so we took a quick trip around the boardwalk to check for damage.

Nature's pruning service deposited hundreds of small to medium branches throughout the length of the boardwalk, but all of the fallen snags and large branches missed hitting the boardwalk.  The rain filled all the depressions in the higher ground along the swamp's edge and raised the level of water across the swamp.  Only a few places of earth remain above the water (shallow though it may be) within the swamp's floodplain.  We saw numerous species of fish and turtles exploiting the newly-submerged territory and its potential sources of food.

We also encountered an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) and what appeared to be its fledgling.  Both flushed from the shallow water at the swamp's edge with the fledgling landing midway up the canopy and the adult landing on the handrail of the boardwalk.  As we were taking images of the adult, a Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) called as it flew overhead.  Though herons are not even a possibility on the kite's dinner menu (mostly insects with an occasional bat, amphibian or lizard), the adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron took a keen interest in the kite's presence.

Just past #15, we arrived at a Golden Silk Orbweaver's (Nephila clavipes) web shortly after a moth had blundered into it.  The large female was in the process of dispatching and wrapping up her meal.  The considerably-smaller male remained at the top of the web and appeared interested in the meal, but maintain his distance as not to become part of the meal!  The female will continue to grow throughout the summer reaching an arachnophobe's nightmare proportions.


The timing of the higher water in the swamp is perfect for the start of the final summer camp session on Monday.  Monday's activities include a herp identification activity, so we should have little trouble finding amphibian and reptile specimens this weekend!

Images by Mark Musselman

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