Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Hour on the Boardwalk

Part of what makes the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest a wonderful place to work is the fact that no two days are alike.  Even though we've walk the 1.75-mile boardwalk through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at least one thousand times, we always see something new or something in a new place or something behaving in a new manner.  It is never a question of "if" something will be different, it is always a question of "what" will be different.  Yesterday was no exception.

We went out to check the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) nest in the creek channel next to the Meeting Tree.  The eggs were on schedule to hatch and we wanted to verify the event for our records.  Unfortunately, when Denise checked the cypress knee nest site, she found it had been tossed by an intruder and all eggs (or possibly chicks) were gone.  What would the soap opera in the swamp be if not for some death or tragedy?

As this was Denise's only mission this time on the boardwalk, she headed back to the nature center to annotate the loss on the nest card.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) called out midway up the canopy.  We do not have any good Yellow-billed Cuckoo images, since they are an elusive bird, so we opted to remain on the boardwalk in hopes of capturing one good image.  It turned out that there was a pair of cuckoos and they offered plenty of clear shots.  However, they offered those clear views for but microseconds.  In the end, we did get a shot or two to go with the crick in our neck.

We also capturing images of the "Pizza!"-calling Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens).  The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) and the Barred Owl (Strix varia) hunting crayfish in the water behind the beaver dam were too deep into the swamp from the boardwalk to take any quality images.

While scanning for another cuckoo shot, a olive-green-and-yellow blur zipped by at eye level.  One more step forward and we may well have caught a female Prothonotary Warbler in the left ear!  She landed on the remnants of a small tree's trunk that has nearly rotted through at the base.  The overpowering pink bands on her legs identified her as A022, the recent victim from the Meeting Tree nest.  She was already building a nest in the new site!  Apparently, she high-stepped through the stages of grief.

On the way out to the original nest, we stopped to take a picture of a Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that was not concerned with our proximity to its dining area.  Obviously, we need to work on our intimidating predator image.  Only the youngest of kids visiting the swamp get excited about seeing squirrels, but we could not pass on a clear image for our stock photo files.  Looking more closely today, we noticed that the squirrel had company...on its head!

All of this took place during one hour on the boardwalk.  Imagine what we could see if they let us out of the office ALL day!

Images by Mark Musselman

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