Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Birds of Project PROTHO

The old-growth, bald cypress-tupelo swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest contains some of the highest densities of breeding Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in South Carolina.

Project PROTHO was an effort to learn more about the breeding biology of these warblers within our unique ecosystem and to support our conservation efforts, we captured and banded a number of birds.  You can read more in previous blog entries.  Each Prothonotary Warbler has a unique color-band combination that allows the identification of individual birds.

A257 with prey - Mark Musselman

Banding Color Scheme

Light Green
Light Blue
Dark Blue

Bands are read from lower left to upper left to upper right to lower right.

Although we no longer have a permitted bird bander at the center, sightings of color-banded birds continue to provide valuable data on site fidelity, territory size, daily and seasonal movements, and nest success rates. Your recorded data (ask for a data sheet) will add to the scientific knowledge about these birds.

If you have seen or photographed banded Prothonotary Warblers and are interested in the details we have obtained regarding their bandings, territories and nesting attempts, you can use the links on the Project PROTHO page to navigate to each bird's page.

We are in the process of building the pages, so let us know if your bird is not yet shown and we will give that bird priority treatment!.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wine & Warblers 2013

Wine and Warblers at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest begins today at 5:00 p.m.  There are still spaces available on the later walks.  After a refreshing rain last night and this morning, the precipitation has moved off shore leaving pleasantly cool conditions for this evening's festivities!
There are plenty of warblers around the boardwalk...
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) - Mark Musselman
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) - Mark Musselman
Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina) - Mark Musselman
Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) - Mark Musselman
 ...as well as wading birds, like White Ibis and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) with crayfish - Mark Musselman
Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) made their presence known this week, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) have returned and Barred Owls (Strix varia) never fail to make an appearance.

If you cannot make it this year, mark your calendars for April 2014!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recent Arrivals

In the last week, quality boardwalk time has been limited.  If we were not accomplishing other tasks (tractor maintenance, driveway repair, paperwork, etc.) and were on the boardwalk leading a group, the weather often did not cooperate.  Like many of us, animals are not as active during rainy or unseasonably cool weather.  Today, however, was a different story.

Prothonotary Warblers are singing and battling for territories.  Just in time for Wine & Warblers happening on Sat.

Prothonotary Warbler inspecting cavity - Mark Musselman
A014 singing - Mark Musselman
 The warmer weather has also brought out the reptiles.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
Common Musk Turtle - Mark Musselman
Red-bellied Water Snake - Mark Musselman
 Even some of the normally-nocturnal creatures were out to sample the bounty of the swamp.
Raccoon - Mark Musselman
There were plenty of other sights and sounds, including an American Crow flying back to its nestlings with the chick of another species secured in its bill.  Everything has to eat!  We will be doing just that at Wine and Warblers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Birds on the Boardwalk

The winter chill appears to have finally departed the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and the flora and fauna are responding!  We were out on the boardwalk looking for banded Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) and found several, including A048 pictured below.  Prothonotary Warblers are still not back in great numbers and, as in previous years, most are beginning the season higher in the canopy than can be expected once territories are established.  Additionally, Prothonotary Warblers have yet to push out from the edge of the swamp, so they are only seen between #3 and #7 (tags #114 to #133).

Prothonotary Warbler (A048) - Mark Musselman
Near #131, a large bird flew through our peripheral vision and caught our attention.  Upon inspection, an American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) had landed on a nest (circled in the image below).

Nest high in a cypress - Mark Musselman
Initially, it appeared that the crow, known to raid other birds' nests, was pecking at the chicks in the nest.  While pondering what species may have a nest like we were observing, a Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) soared overhead and a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) called as they circled above the canopy.  We have been trying to locate the Swallow-tailed Kite nest that we are sure is nearby and the thought of the kites' chicks becoming a crow meal was unsettling.  Fortunately, after twenty minutes of observation, a murder of crows came calling, all flew off, and the heads of the two American Crow chicks popped up over the nest edge.

American Crow on nest - Mark Musselman
American Crow chicks - Mark Musselman
American Crow chicks - Mark Musselman
Just before #7 on the boardwalk and unusually low in the canopy, we encountered a Northern Parula picking meals from a spider web.

Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
The reptiles were also out.  Spotted Turtles, Eastern Mud Turtles, Yellow-bellied Sliders, Five-lined Skinks, Banded Water Snakes, and the attractive Eastern Cottonmouth shown below.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
As the sun lowered in the sky, a shadow crossed our path and we caught a glimpse of a soaring Swallow-tailed Kite.
Swallow-tailed Kite - Mark Musselman
Obviously, the many branches and leaves between us and the kite made getting a quality image nearly impossible.  Possibly sensing this, the kite accommodated us by landing on a snag and preening.  Initially, the bird was between us and the setting sun, which allowed us to produce nothing but silhouettes.  Fortunately, the bird waited patiently as we moved around the boardwalk in order to put the sun at our back.
Swallow-tailed Kite - Mark Musselman
Swallow-tailed Kite - Mark Musselman
At long last, the kite decided to move on, but not before giving us a clear shot of it in flight.

Swallow-tailed Kite - Mark Musselman
No matter how many times we have walked the boardwalk, we always see something new, or see it some place new, or doing something new, or simply allowing us a better photographic opportunity.  Although every season has its strengths, spring definitely provides a target-rich environment!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Spring Break on ARHS Trail

Earlier this week, before the rain arrived, we visited the nature trail at Ashley Ridge High School (ARHS) to see what birds had returned for the breeding season.  A pair of Northern Mockingbirds nesting in an oak along the parking area greeted us at the trail's head.  Through their mimicry, we had a preview of the bird life we could expect to encounter along the trail.

Northern Mockingbird - Mark Musselman
Northern Mockingbird - Mark Musselman
Here's the complete list of what we saw:

Ashley Ridge High School, Dorchester, US-SC
Apr 2, 2013 11:05 AM - 1:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.5 mile(s)
Comments:    Clear, 60Fs
28 species

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)  40
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  3
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  1
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  2
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  2
White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  4
Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  6
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  4
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  4
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  1
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  2
Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii)  1  (FIRST for trail!)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)  2
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)  5
Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  6
Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica)  3
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)  2
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  5
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)  12
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  4

As soon as we entered the swamp, we encountered a pair of bickering Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and several Swamp Sparrows foraging along the wet margins.  A rabbit, possibly a Marsh Rabbit, made a overly dramatic and noisy exit from the grasses growing in a sunny, wet area.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, the rabbit doth protest too much, methinks.  Maybe young rabbits were stashed in the grasses.

Swamp Sparrow - Mark Musselman
Immediately thereafter, we spied a large flock of White Ibis foraging, mainly for crayfish, through the narrow swamp.  Note the scarlet red of the bill, face, and legs, areas which are normally pinkish to orange in the non-breeding season.
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
A variety of plants signaled that spring has arrived.  The parasitic Squawroot (Conopholis americana) was flowering.  This chlorophyll-free plant gets what it needs from the roots of a neighboring tree in the red oak family.

Squawroot - Mark Musselman
Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming...

Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
 and provided a meal for a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae).

Cloudless Sulphur on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Cloudless Sulphur on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Cloudless Sulphur - Mark Musselman
Finally, at the west end of the trail, Atamasco or Easter Lilies (Zephyranthes atamasco) were blooming.

Atamasco Lily - Mark Musselman

Along the way, we heard and saw a variety of birds, including the loudly singing Common Yellowthroat and the secretive Gray Catbird.

Common Yellowthroat - Mark Musselman
Gray Catbird - Mark Musselman
From out of the canebrake at the west end of the trail, we saw our first Swainson's Warbler ever along the trail!  We had expected the bird to be in there, as it prefers canebrakes and dense areas in or abutting swamps, but we had yet to spot one.  Last year, we identified the first Prothonotary Warblers using the swamp along the trail (not yet spotted in 2013) and now a Swainson's Warbler.  That is one productive little swamp!

Can you guess what was not there on the way out?  The warming day brought out the reptiles.  We walked up on an unsuspecting Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).

Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
As the snake patrolled, it did detect us and shot across the water in the ditch and, as quick as lightning, raced up the far embankment disappearing into the thick vegetation.  There is a good reason for calling these snakes racers.
Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
We also encountered a small Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) sunning on the far side of the ditch, but it too made a quick escape upon detecting us.  Nearby, however, a frog appeared oblivious to our presence.  It continued to call even as we continued to approach its apparent location.  All along the trail we heard peeps and chirps as frogs launched into the water to avoid our intrusion, but not this one.  As we continued to move, we began triangulate the frog's position.  Puzzled by the continued odd call and afraid that moving closer would finally caused the frog to flee, we used our binoculars to scan the frog's suspected location.  There was some slight movement on the far bank approximately 20 feet away, but the eye we saw appeared to have scales around it, though the leg was definitely amphibian.  Before we could unravel the enigma, the snake let loose its captured meal, the frog launch to the safety of the water, and the unidentified snake bolted into the thick vegetation.

We were surprised and disappointed that the snake gave up its meal so easily and at such a distance from the perceived threat (us), but the experience made for another first along the ARHS nature trail!