Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lure of the Winter Sun

How many people took their lunch outside during today's record-setting heat? At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, some of us work in an extension, which is unheated for all intents and purposes, to the original building. We definitely took advantage of the slow traffic (2 visitors) day and grabbed our camera for a lap around the boardwalk.

We were not the only animals enjoying the warm weather. Birds seen or heard included Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, American Crows, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Pine Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Hermit Thrush eating a millipede, a Black-and-white Warbler, Tufted Titmice, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Barred Owls, Northern Cardinals, a flock of Common Grackles (125+), Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flickers, and a very-vocal Red-shouldered Hawk.

However, the animals truly taking advantage of the warm weather were the reptiles. Yellow-bellied Sliders were out of the water and abasking on logs all the way around the boardwalk. Carolina Anoles were creeping out from their shelter under the bark of trees and soaking up the sun's rays...and then there were the snakes. We thought the first snake spotting was going to be a Brown Water Snake as it appeared to be peeking its head out as usual from its den in a cypress knee. However, on closer inspection we saw that it was a Dark Fishing Spider that had taken over the crevice. These spiders do not build webs, but dive into the water for their insect or fish prey.

The first snake we spotted was a Banded Water Snake sunning near the hollow trunk it uses for a winter den. Next, was a large Eastern Cottonmouth coiled near its den in the buttress of a large Bald Cypress tree. A few feet away, a Greenish Rat Snake began its ascent of another Bald Cypress tree. While cottonmouths are lousy climbers, Greenish Rat Snakes are tremendous climbers. They can scale the tallest cypress, raid any nest that may be located there, and return to the ground by climbing straight down the trunk. Actually, there is no "straight" in their climbing as you can see in the most distant image. Finally, there were two more Eastern Cottonmouths sunning along the edge of the swamp on the backside of the boardwalk loop.

Today's reptilian sampling affirms our descision yesterday to wear our snake boots while visiting the Bald Eagle nest!

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