Friday, March 30, 2012

Bird Arrivals This Week

It has been a busy week at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Unfortunately, we have spent almost all of it elsewhere!  The education department conducted three days of programming (birds, food webs, and mammal tracks) with St. Matthews Elementary and Sandy Run Elementary Schools at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve outside of St. Matthews.  Wednesday was spent at the Charleston Air Force Base's Earth Day helping 5th graders from the tri-county area identify macroinvertebrates in samples we collected from the swamp.  Therefore, we have only had time for some quick, late afternoon excursions onto the boardwalk to discover what bird species have arrived back from their wintering grounds.

Here are the bird species that are new this week:
  1. Prothonotary Warbler
  2. Swallow-tailed Kite
  3. Chimney Swift
  4. Red-eyed Vireo
  5. Ovenbird
The Prothonotary Warbler numbers have not peaked and some can still be difficult to located as they continue foraging in the mid-canopy.  We were finally able to spot two singing males and discovered that they were banded during Project PROTHO.  The first male, A250, is singing regularly around the Meeting Tree at #120 and was banded nearby at #118 on April 28, 2010.

Prothonotary Warbler A250 with caterpillar - Mark Musselman
The second male, A014, is singing around #130 and was banded from the boardwalk on April 19, 2011.

Prothonotary Warbler A014 - Mark Musselman

Red-eyed Vireos are singing along the edges of the swamp and in the parking area, but the Ovenbird we spotted was silent except for a slight rustle of the leaves.

Ovenbird - Mark Musselman
Although Barred Owls are here all year, they are especially active now during the day as they have extra mouths to feed.  The pair that nests along the backside of the boardwalk between #13 and #17 are prodigious hunters and quite photogenic.  We have previously reported this pair hunting Wood Duck ducklings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and crayfish.

While running an errand on the boardwalk this morning, we caught sight of a Barred Owl wrestling with something on a log in the water.  Using the binoculars, we realized that the owl had a turtle, but we could not identify the dark, wet turtle carapace clutched in the talons of the owl.

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle (left talons) - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman
 After much effort, the Barred Owl was unable to extract the turtle from its shell.  The owl flew to a branch over the water to watch for easier prey and eventually took a moment to stretch and preen.

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman
 After the owl departed, we went into the creek to find what might be left of the turtle in order to identify the species.  We found the Eastern Mud Turtle shown below.  The Eastern Mud Turtle has a hinged forward section on its plastron (bottom portion of shell) that can be closed like a box turtle's in order to protect the head and much of the front legs.  The turtle can pull in its rear legs and tail so that they are flush with the plastron.  Unlike the musk turtle, the mud turtle's plastron covers and protects most of its underside.  The only sign of injury on the erstwhile breakfast item was a small bone protruding from the underside of the front right leg, which didn't seem to affect the turtle's ability to use the limb.

Eastern Mud Turtle - Mark Musselman
 The owl got an A for effort, but did not have time to contemplate the missed meal.  Soon after turning its attention from the resilient reptile, an owlet began its begging cry and the adult focused on catching something easier to open!

No comments: