Friday, June 12, 2009

Storm Aftermath

The storm system that blew through last evening left the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest covered with debris. When the wind blows, we expect dead branches to fall out of the trees...nature's pruning! Add soaking rains and some heavier limbs can be enticed to relinquish to the pull of gravity. This morning's debris was something in between.

The organic carpet stretching before us was a collection of small to medium limbs that were both dead and green. In the mix were leaves, sweetgum balls, cypress cones, green tupelo fruit and bunches of Spanish Moss. Fortunately, no damage was done to the boardwalk, but sweeping the debris into the swamp took over 1.5 hours!

Although much of the time was spent with our eyes fixed on the boardwalk just beyond our toes, we did detect some of the life occurring in the swamp. A plethora of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) continued to sing and flash yellow as they streaked about their territories. All but one of the Prothonotary Warblers were birds banded as part of Project PROTHO. Near #177, A034 caught a dragonfly, landed in the open near the boardwalk, removed the dragonfly's wings, repeatedly beat the dragonfly on a log, and then ate its prey.

Back near #154, bowfin were creating tremendous splashes at the water's surface. The water is not low enough that low oxygen levels would occur, so the action of the fish didn't seem to be gulping of atmospheric oxygen (something this primitive fish can do). We thought for a minute that we might get a close look at an otter on the hunt. It was not to be, but our hunt brought us before a flowering Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which had also attracted the attention of a variety of insects.

As we approached #165, we knew we were entering owl country and the adults would still be feeding their young. Immediately, we heard the begging call of a young Barred Owl (Strix varia) and spotted it flying to a low perch directly above the boardwalk! We were able to walk to within 15 feet under the watchful eye of the young bird. As it studied us, it continued to call for food. Shortly, one of the parents swooped silently from behind us and alit next to its offspring. With the sun still in the east and at our backs, the lighting was perfect. The birds turned toward each other, so both faces were visible in the soft light. The crayfish meal was passed as if in slow-motion. It was award-winning photography with a doubt!

Too bad we didn't bring the camera along on the boardwalk cleaning. As is always the case, the quality of the photographic opportunity is directly proportional to the distance the photographer is from the camera.

Images unable to be provided by Mark Musselman

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