Friday, April 27, 2012

A Spin Around the Boardwalk

It has been a busy week, but mostly indoors at the computer working on the new Audubon South Carolina web site and the separate soon-to-be-released Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest web site (  However, over the last three days, other tasks have allowed us to make quick spins around the boardwalk.  Here is some of what has been happening:

Plenty of Pileated Woodpeckers working on fallen trees or inside tree cavities.
Pileated Woodpecker - Mark Musselman
There is a pair of Summer Tanagers around the nature center, but the female in the image is with her mate near the tower at Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk.  She had just completed a dragonfly meal and later inspected a wasp nest before being chased away by a Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Female Summer Tanager - Mark Musselman
Near #3 along the boardwalk, we spotted a pair of adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons along with a sub-adult hunting crayfish in the shallow water.  All were deadly efficient!
Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
Just before entering the nature center, we heard the call of a Mississippi Kite and saw it land high in a lightning-killed pine.  It did not stay perched for long and we caught its image as it took off to patrol for flying insects.  This was the first Mississippi Kite we have seen this year.  Yesterday, a visitor reported watching 15 Mississippi Kites and three Swallow-tailed Kites hunting insects over the field at the intersection of Mims and Cantley, which is located north of our driveway.
Mississippi Kite - Mark Musselman
Crayfish have more to worry about than Barred Owls, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, River Otters, Raccoons, etc., they also need to avoid the flocks of White Ibis moving amass through the shallow water.  The ibis are in the swamp because their young back in the nests along the coast cannot tolerate the salt that a marine crustacean diet would provide.  Therefore, the adults fly to the freshwater of the swamp, load up on crayfish and then fly back to disgorge the meal for the chicks.  Eventually, the adults will bring the fledglings along to catch their own meals.
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman

Climbing Hydrangea (Decumaria barbara) is in bloom and a variety of insects were observed visiting the flowers.
Climbing Hydrangea - Mark Musselman
We have tentatively identified this butterfly as a Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus), but the species is variable.
Banded Hairstreak - Mark Musselman
Banded Hairstreak - Mark Musselman
Out by Goodson Lake and the beginning of the return portion of the loop, we observed the following two male Prothonotary Warblers singing and battling each other at their territorial boundaries.  A037 has claimed the area around the tower back toward #10 and over toward the return portion of the loop where he encountered A058.  A058 appears to claim the small area between #152 and #155, which is the start of the return loop.  No females were spotted, but they are quieter, more subdued in color, and possibly sitting on a nest out of sight.
Prothonotary Warbler A058 - Mark Musselman
Prothonotary Warbler A037 - Mark Musselman
Although we did not get images for the other wildlife activity, we heard plenty of bird species calling and singing, including a ten-minute Barred Owl caterwauling fest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cerulean Warbler Survey

 Maybe you can help with this one-day survey:

Credit: USFW

Job Description:
BIRD WATCHERS NEEDED to help survey for the presence of Cerulean Warblers on Military and Army Corps of Engineers lands. The site we have to survey in South Carolina is the Clarks Hill Training Site located near Eastover just southeast of Columbia.  I hope to find someone that lives no more than 120 miles from this site, but can be flexible.  The survey will take place in one day from May 15th to June 15th, and will be for no longer than 8 hours.  There will be a Stipend of $200.00 plus reimbursement for mileage. 

To apply:
Please send a resume or a letter with your birding accomplishments or credentials with your current address to JOHN BRENNEMAN (Jbrenneman at

Knowledge of Eastern bird songs and especially Cerulean Warbler is a must.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Prothonotary Warblers Up High, Crayfish Down Low

Prothonotary Warblers remain higher than expected in the forest canopy at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, but the crayfish down low in the shallow water are attracting a host of predators.  Hopefully, the wildlife will put on a show for the guests at tonight's Wine & Warblers (space still available)!

Female Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman
The first female we have spotted this season was taking a bath under the rain shelter at #9 along the boardwalk.  In the image, she was preening on a low perch.

Male Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman
The male Prothonotary Warbler shown in the image appears to have claimed a territory that includes the parking area, the nature center, and the low, wet area north of #1 along the boardwalk.

Barred Owl eating crayfish - Mark Musselman
Barred Owl eating crayfish - Mark Musselman
Barred Owl eating crayfish - Mark Musselman

We watched this pair of Barred Owls hunt and eat crayfish in the area around #14 along the boardwalk.  In less than 10 minutes, one adult caught and ate five crayfish!  Don't blink...the owl grabs the crayfish in its talon, moves it to its beak and then swallows it whole.  If you see a pile of crayfish parts on the boardwalk, that is likely the pellet of undigested pieces the owl coughs up some time after its meal.  If the owls are dining on small mammals, the pellet will be a combination of hair and bones.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating crayfish - Mark Musselman
Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating crayfish - Mark Musselman
Yellow-crowned Night Herons were also stalking crayfish.  Moving slowly, the heron uses its large, forward-facing eyes to spot the crayfish moving in the shallow water.  A rapid stab with its sturdy bill and the crayfish is caught in an inescapable vice.  Once again, don't blink as the crayfish goes straight down the gullet.

Common Snapping Turtle - Mark Musselman
Finally, we spotted this large snapper high above the water.  We're not sure what it was doing on the high perch, but it may have been ridding itself of leeches.  The leeches are the black blobs at 5 and 11 o'clock as you look at the turtle's carapace (shell).

Monday, April 09, 2012

Prothonotary Warblers at Ashley Ridge High School

The Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest began defending territories last week.  Before that, males could be heard singing, but they remained in the mid-story of the swamp, possibly for better foraging while competition territory remained low as birds were still migrating.  However, today's report involve Prothonotary Warblers in far different setting.

Today while scouting the Ashley Ridge High School campus for a Global Positioning System (GPS) activity on Thursday, we spotted a wide variety of wildlife, including the first reported sighting of Prothonotary Warblers.  During her first trip to the site last summer, Denise Ecker noted that the swamp at the south end of the campus and adjoining the nature trail constructed by students was suitable Prothonotary Warbler habitat.  Indeed it is.  Using a Prothonotary Warbler song on our iPod, we were able to entice four male Prothonotary Warblers to fly in for a closer look.  Based on that density and the size of the swamp on the campus, it does not appear likely that students need do anything to improve the nesting capacity within the habitat.
Male Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman
Swamp (east end) - Mark Musselman
Swamp (west end) - Mark Musselman
 In addition to the Prothonotary Warblers, we saw and heard plenty of wildlife along the trail.  The swamp image above was taken at the west end of the trail just as a Wood Stork took flight from the shallow water.  That is another first species for the trail!

Great Egret - Mark Musselman
A Great Egret also stalked prey in the shallow water.  We saw small fish swimming and heard frogs chirp as our presence caused them to launch from the banks of the trail and into the water.

Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
There was a constant chorus of Northern Parula songs and one came close when we played the Prothonotary Warbler track.  Parulas will often nest in Spanish Moss that hangs from many a Lowcountry branch.

On the trail itself, we saw the following:

Little Wood Satyr - Mark Musselman
Question Mark Butterfly - Mark Musselman
Question Mark Butterfly - Mark Musselman
Monarch on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
Otter scat - Mark Musselman
The racer was peacefully basking in one of the few sunlight patches on the trail.  Although it is not venomous and most likely to flee than to fight, we tried to give the snake a wide berth in hopes of not disturbing its rest.  No such luck.  True to its name, the racer shot down the trail like greased lightning and disappeared.  A few steps farther along the trail we could not help but notice the freshly deposited and still pungent otter scat.  The otter marks its territory with its scat, which in this case appears to consist mainly of crayfish.  The Wood Stork and the White Ibis we saw are also hunters of crayfish.

Finally, we spotted Squaw-root making an appearance.  This flowering plant lacks chlorophyll.  How then does it nourish itself?  The flowers appear five years after the plant has attached itself to the roots of a host tree.  Squaw-root specializes in trees of the red oak family.  As a parasite, Squaw-root does not require chlorophyll as the oak tree does that work for both plants.

Squaw-root - Mark Musselman
Below is the complete list of bird species observed:

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bird Cams

As bird species continue to return (today, Hooded Warbler and Great-crested Flycatcher) to the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, here are some bird cams to explore.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has two choices from the campus property:

Red-tailed Hawk nest on a light pole here.

Great Blue Heron nest within Sapsucker Pond here.

Bald Eagle nest in a cottonwood tree on private property near the Decorah Fish Hatchery (operated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources), on the banks of the babbling waters of Trout Run in extreme northeast Iowa.   Video here.

Another Bald Eagle nest at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia can be seen here.

There are plenty more out there.  Use the comment section to put a link to your favorite bird cam!