Friday, March 26, 2010

Nest Box Installation

With the imminent arrival of the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), we have been eagerly completing preparations for Project PROTHO (Year II) at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest!
As previously written here, with a great deal of help from our volunteers, South Carolina Master Naturalists and 5th grade students at Orangeburg County's St. James Gaillard Elementary School, we have been able to assemble 250 nest boxes for the Prothonotary Warblers and Project PROTHO! Over several days earlier this month, Audubon staff and volunteers trekked out into the swamp laden with these same bird houses. We picked tracts of swamp that were previously logged of Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees.  Prothonotary Warblers love to nest cavities. Unfortunately, trees tend to only develop cavities as they become older.  Therefore, where the swamp has been logged and trees are absent or too young to have cavities, Prothonotary Warblers cannot find adequate nesting sites to raise their young. Project PROTHO is attempting to increase Prothonotary Warbler numbers in these degraded areas by putting in substitute nesting cavities.  Cue the fabulously refurbished milk/juice carton nesting boxes! 
Volunteers and staff have gone out on four occasions to place nest boxes.  Last week, we went to a site south of Hwy 453 and waded out into the thigh-deep and cold water. Jeff Mollenhauer, Audubon South Carolina's Director of Bird Conservation, directed the placement of the nest boxes. Boxes were placed every 25 meters along the creek channel and secured with strapping tape to the trunks of trees that appeared likely to have water at their bases once the water level inevitably drops in the warmer weather. Distance is necessary between boxes so pairs of nesting Prothonotary Warblers won’t be competing over the same space.

Volunteers were able to get into the ‘heart of the swamp’ and see places not seen when visiting our boardwalk or paddling on our canoe trips.  However, it was not all fun and games.  A few were unlucky enough to find out how cold the water is during the month of March. Beware folks!  When wading through thigh-deep water, cypress knees and underwater obstacles add to the challenge of staying on your feet!

With our nest boxes up and ready throughout the swamp, we eagerly await, with binoculars and camera in hand, for the return of the first Prothonotary Warbler. Let spring migration and the breeding season begin!

Images by Mark Musselman and John Fisk (he's been on every installation trip!)

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