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

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