Thursday, December 03, 2009

Calm After the Storm

On Wednesday, downtown Charleston flooded (not really breaking news), tornado watches were issued, lightning struck, heavy rain fell...not what you want to see the day before a field trip to the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest! No worries! Yesterday, the third graders from Orangeburg Christian Academy in the upper third of Four Holes Swamp's watershed had blue skies, mild temperatures, water in the swamp and more wildlife sightings than the last four groups combined! The weather definitely matters.

We saw an Eastern Cottomouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) before we even reached #1 on the boardwalk. The snake was in the Dwarf Palmettos (Sabal minor), which delineate the transition from the wet swamp to the dry upland. The snake was likely moving to the upland in search of a den site for the winter. One of the sharp-eyed students spotted the motionless snake while the veteran naturalist spoke of the indicative qualities of the Dwarf Palmetto. Not surprisingly, the students found the snake to be of greater interest. In the second image, the entire 3+-foot snake can be seen, but you need to look closely as the snake's yellow-brown-black patterning is perfect camouflage in the broken sunlight.

Once in the swamp, students spotted a variety of woodpeckers, an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) and a Praying Mantid, possibly a female Carolina Praying Mantis. The female praying mantis will mate with a male, if he is able to gain position on her back before being eaten. Even if the male begins the mating process, the female may turn and devour his head before he completes his task. The male's body can complete the mating duties without the previously-consumed head. Once mating has been completed, the female consumes the remainder of the male's body without so much as a thank you! As the female in the image is without a mate, she is likely looking for a suitable site to lay her eggs, which will overwinter in the case of hardened froth. After laying her eggs, the female too will die.

At Goodsen Lake, we were treated to the first alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) sighting in the last three weeks. The warm weather also lured another Cottonmouth out of its cypress-trunk den along the lake's edge. Nothing like a little December sunshine to bring out the cold-blooded reptiles.

The sharp pain in the sinus cavities was a call to check today's weather radar...looks like the swamp's in for another dose of rain.

Images by Mark Musselman

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