Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Camp - Session 1

The first session of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is in the books!  Reptiles, amphibians and campers kept us busy last week, so we failed to make an entry on this blog.  However, we'll make a week's-worth of entries today!

The week-long camp began (schedule here) with an overview of the continuing Project PROTHO.  We discussed the purpose of the project, the banding and identification process, and this year's nest box component.  Since the camp's theme is herps, we noted that Greenish Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) take their share of Prothonotary Warbler eggs and chicks, but enough nesting attempts are successful.  Although the old-growth swamp offers plenty of natural cavities in which the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) can nest, one pair used a student-made nest box behind the sign at #17 along the boardwalk.  Denise Ecker banded two of the four chicks as their legs were adult size, but they were not yet capable of leaving the nest.

After lunch on the first day, Dennis Blejski brought a collection of herps from his collection.  Pictured are a Milk Snake, non-native Cane Toad, Siren, Diamondback Terrapin, and American Alligator.  Dennis also had a Rough-green Snake, Copperhead, Timber Rattlesnake, Scarlet Kingsnake, Corn Snake, Hognose Snake, Yellow-bellied Slider, Spotted Turtle, Fence Lizard, Bullfrog, and Southern Toads.  Dennis had no problems keeping the attention of the campers!

On Day 2, with low water levels due to a lack of rain, we had difficulty finding reptiles and amphibians during our walk along the 1.75-mile boardwalk.  However, as we walked back toward the nature center along the edge of the swamp, one sharp-eyed camper spotted a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) sunning on a log ten feet off the boardwalk.  For those animals that we did not see, campers could use the iPod Touches and the boardwalk app to see the images.

After the boardwalk tour and lunch, campers had the opportunity to inspect and identify a variety of amphibians and reptiles that we had previously captured.  The species included Southern Toad, Southern Cricket Frog, Squirrel Treefrog, Spotted Turtle, Musk Turtle, Yellow-bellied Slider, Narrowmouth Toad, Southern Dusky Salamander, Three-lined Salamander, Bullfrog tadpole, and some unidentified frog eggs and tadpoles.  Campers rotated through the eleven stations and used a variety of resources (field guides, keys, iPod Touch apps) to identify the animals.

Wednesday, we were off the boardwalk to check the 14 coverboards that were placed at the swamp's edge and in higher, drier sites.  Amphibians and reptiles will seek shelter under boards, but we found nothing beyond a few beetles and spiders.  However, campers were able to see the beaver dam and the quantity of water pooled behind the dam, which has created a habitat suitable to amphibians and reptiles and those animals that may eat them.

The afternoon was spent learning various frog and toad calls loaded to the iPod Touches with a team frog/toad call competition to end the day.

While inspecting the minnow traps on Thursday morning, we discovered that we had captured an Eastern Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia intermedia).  The siren is an amphibian that preys on a variety of aquatic animals and spends nearly its entire life in the water.  Sirens lack rear legs and have relatively-weak front legs, so travel over land is nearly impossible.  If a body of water begins to dry, sirens can bury themselves in the mud in a protective slimy "cocoon" and aestivate for up to a year or until the water returns.

A game of Jeopardy on Thursday afternoon helped campers demonstrate what they had learned during the week.  The game is played just like the famous television gameshow with one camper from each of the three teams trying to buzz in when they know the answer.  Age was not a disadvantage for campers as it appeared that younger campers paid better attention during the week and cleaned up with the 1000-point answers!

Throughout the week, campers created a variety of art/craft items, including pot frogs, minnow traps, and garden stepping stones. 

Camp ended on Friday with a herpathon along the boardwalk, lunch with families, and the presentation of diplomas and a CD of the week's images and sounds.

The next session begins on Monday and the third session will be the third week of July.  We're looking forward to all the new faces in the swamp!
Images by Mark Musselman

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