Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Finally Warm!

After a stretch of cold days and freezing nights, the swamp is experiencing a warm spell. Look what came out to enjoy the sunshine at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!

Just outside the nature center (near #102) an Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) has a den below a tree stump. Although reptiles become less active as the temperatures drop, they will only sustain damage to their cold-blooded bodies if they are exposed to below-freezing temperatures. Therefore, finding a cavity below ground, within a tree, or within a log is sufficient protection from the elements and all but the most industrious predators.

With the rain this weekend, the area around #1 is once again under water. In the spring, this is the best place to see Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) as they like isolated wetlands out of the main flow of the swamp. These turtles are seldom seen, especially during the cooler months, after they aggregate for breeding purposes in the spring. However, the warm weather lured out three basking Spotted Turtles and an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum).

Just beyond #5 on the boardwalk, a cavity in a large Bald Cypress tree is once again the winter den for a Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata). Moving on to #7, we spied a Barred Owl (Strix varia) snoozing in the full sunshine. It did not look like anything moving around below had anything to worry about from the sleepy predator.

Finally, at Goodsen Lake there were a dozen or so Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) basking on exposed logs. Although ice had formed around the edges of the swamp and the bases of some trees, the water never froze completely across its surface of to any significant depth. Therefore, turtles resting at the bottom of the lake (or hole) were in no danger of freezing.

The forecast is for a warm rain tomorrow, but there are certainly colder days ahead. Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts!

Images by Mark Musselman

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