Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Action in the Swamp

The swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is alive with our spring residents – almost everyone has returned at this point. The morning bird chorus around the boardwalk now includes Northern Parulas, Black-and-White Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Great-crested Flycatchers, Acadian Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, White-eyed Vireos and of course Prothonotary Warblers! In the upland, Ovenbirds, Kentucky Warblers, Pine Warblers & Swainson’s Warblers can also be heard merrily singing along. We’ve also had some great migrant sightings – a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing over the building this morning and a Scarlet Tanager sighted around the boardwalk last week by the staff.

Project PROTHO is fully underway. We have 23 banded Prothonotary Warblers that have returned to Beidler Forest so far this year. Of those 23 Prothonotary Warblers, 12 are visible from the boardwalk. We are sure there are still more banded birds that have returned and are waiting to be rediscovered during an off-boardwalk trek. There are several tracts of land, where we've put up nest boxes, left to investigate for more banded returns. On an interesting note, every banded bird that has returned has been male. It is curious that no banded females have yet been observed. The females are more subdued in color, sound and behavior, so we'll keep our hopes high for seeing one when we check nest boxes later in the season.

We have been very fortunate to secure the assistance of Dr. Chris Snook, a licensed bird bander from the Charleston area. He is doing the Prothonotary Warbler banding this season and working on training Denise Ecker to be an independent bander as well. We have banded six new Prothonotary Warblers this season, all of which are visible from the boardwalk.

We have been receiving a tremendous amount of data sheets from visitors participating in this citizen-science project. Combining those data sheets with staff observations, we have had early success on identifying Prothonotary Warbler nest sites around the boardwalk. As of last night, we have three active nests, each with five eggs. There are also three other nest sites that will most likely have eggs in them within the week. All nests have (at least) the male Prothonotary Warbler banded, so it is easier to keep an eye on the action.

On a very interesting note, we (along with the Master Naturalist group from the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island)  watched a Greenish Rat Snake check out a possible Prothonotary Warbler cavity on the way to the lake. Later in the afternoon – we saw a pair of Prothonotary Warblers continuing to build in that same nest site! Apparently, the fact that a snake had stopped by was not enough to deter their nest construction.

Coming up, we will begin checking some of the sites away from the center for nest box activity. Stay tuned for more great Prothonotary Warbler action!

Images by Mark Musselman

Monday, April 25, 2011

Southern Living

The Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is featured in next month's Southern Living.

For additional information regarding canoe/kayak trips, nightwalks or special events, please visit our webpage.

Admission rates and hours of operation can be found here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hope For The Gulf

It has been one year since the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  If you are wondering what you can do to help, even if you don't live along the Gulf Coast, check out the National Audubon Society's Hope for the Gulf page.

While you have out your checkbook, don't forget about supporting the Francis Beidler Forest and its continuing efforts to preserve the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp and conserve the entire Four Holes Swamp ecosystem.  The best way to see the old-growth swamp is our 1.75-mile boardwalk, which has reached the end of its expected lifespan.

We are currently raising funds to replace the entire boardwalk with sustainably-grown tropical hardwoods, which will allow the new boardwalk to stand for many decades longer than the present boardwalk's thirty-four years.  You can support our boardwalk replacement campaign by visiting our donation page.

Image by Mark Musselman

Thursday, April 07, 2011

First Female Prothonotary

At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we are seeing a influx of returning Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea). So far, nine banded birds that have returned to the boardwalk. Seven of those birds were banded during April and May of 2009, while the other two were banded during April of 2010. We expect  more returns around the boardwalk, along the canoe trail, and other sites in Four Holes Swamp where birds were banded last season. 

Most of the Prothonotary Warblers are holding to their previous modus operandi and have returned to their same territories from the 2010 breeding season.  A054 (red over yellow) seems to be the exception to the rule. He was sighted on his old breeding territory and 30 minutes later, he was along the trail to the lake. We're not sure if he was following the singing of other birds or the surveying staff, or if he is genuinely interested in some new habitat. He had a nest last year that failed and was not able to have a successful second nest.  It is possible that his mate met her demise as she was never again observed. Additionally, his territory from 2010 was not the fabulous, so he may have felt it was time for a change! Only time will tell.  

Near #6 along the boardwalk, we saw A023 (pink over light green) with an unbanded female Prothonotary Warbler. This is the first female Prothonotary Warbler we have seen return this year. This is exciting as her presence signals the official beginning to the breeding season. The two birds were eagerly checking out nest cavities around the boardwalk. The most interesting thing is A023 seem to be showing her the sites that he and his mate from 2010 used for their nests.

Stay tuned for more drama from As The Swamp Turns!

Images by Mark Musselman