Thursday, May 07, 2009

Raccoons, Crayfish, and Birds! Oh, my!

Project PROTHO continues at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! While off the boardwalk, we were able to locate a territory AND an active nest just south of the powerline that crosses the swamp. We were able to take a picture of the Prothonotary Warbler chicks in the nest and band the male. The female returned several times with food, but she flew in too high as the nest is 10 feet up in a broken off Laurel Oak.

As we walked around in the drying swamp, the shallow water that remained roiled at our approach. The crayfish concentrated in the shrinking pools of water are on edge. Yellow-crowned Night Herons, River Otters, Barred Owls, and Raccoons are all looking for a crayfish meal. Shallow, shrinking water makes for easy hunting. The various crayfish body parts lying by the thousands across the mud and on top of logs are evidence that the Raccoons have been feasting. While the other predators eat the entire crayfish, the Raccoons simply eat the tail and reach into the water for another crayfish. It appears that one Raccoon actually dug one crayfish out of its below-ground burrow.

Images by Mark Musselman

Although the crayfish cannot fight back against the Raccoons, it appears they may have enlisted the help of the bird community. John Havlicek of Hardeeville, SC sent us these images of a Tufted Titmouse riding the back of a Raccoon. Note the Raccoon fur in the bird's bill. As has been noted on other animals, the bird is likely simply gathering nesting material by removing loose fur from the Raccoon.

Raccoon images by John Havlicek

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