Wednesday, June 11, 2008


At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, the low water unlocks a world seldom observed by ordinary humans. Although there is little water on the surface (Ask the crayfish, fish, and aquatic insects how they like that situation!), there is still plenty of water near the surface. Crayfish burrow down to the water and form mud chimneys as they clear the mud from their tunnels. Not only does that water allow crayfish to survive outside of the puddles turned kill zones by predators, but it keeps the soil moist for capturing tracks.

Although our mission this morning was to take images of a newly-discovered Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) nest, we did cast a few glances to the mud to see what had beaten us to the spot during the night. First, the Prothonotary Warbler couple were quite busy feeding the three chicks that apparently hatched last Saturday. At one point, the female with a mouth full of mayflies had to wait for the male to finish stuffing his mayfly catch into the bright-red-trimmed-in-yellow maws. The female gave us a look as she left, but neither parent appeared too concerned with our presence.

Nearby, the tracks of a potential Prothonotary Warbler nest predator divulged that a Raccoon (Procyon lotor) had passed by during the night. The tracks looks as if the Raccoon were practicing for what it believes is a future opportunity for stardom immortalized in a distant cement sidewalk. Not far from these tracks were the ubiquitous White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) tracks. This set of deer tracks circled an item of curiosity as it too arrived in the night. Without help of a stormy wind, a branch had fallen from a tree.

As the water continues to retreat, turtle tracks of all sizes can be seen in the mud between the remaining pools of water. With birds, reptiles, and mammals exploiting the shallow pools of water for an easy meal, our shadows were enough to cause the water to roil with retreating prey.

You want to be careful following an S-shaped track for you might find yourself looking at an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) patrolling those same pools of water for fish, amphibians and other snakes!

Images by Mark Musselman

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