Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Horse Sugar!"

No, "Horse Sugar!" is not something one exclaims when seeing a snake from the safety of the 1.75-mile, elevated boardwalk while touring the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Horse Sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) or Sweet Leaf is a shrub or small tree with dense clusters of fragrant flowers. The name is derived from the fact that horses (and cows and deer) readily consume the leaves.  Horse Sugar blooms between March and May and began blooming outside the office this past weekend.

Yesterday, we walked around the boardwalk in anticipation of the Prothonotary Warblers' return.  Although we did not find any Prothonotary Warblers, we did complete the Swamp Snake Slam!  Actually, one more Red-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster) and we would have completed a double slam.  There are five species of snakes that are likely to be seen in the swamp from the boardwalk.  Although spotting four of the five species is not unusual during the spring with its warm days and cool nights, seeing all five species during one trip around the boardwalk is a rarity.  The experience is rare enough that we created a certificate awarded to anyone in a guided group or anyone that can show images of all five species.

Here are our documentation photos:

Red-bellied Water Snake

Eastern Cottonmouth

Banded Water Snake

Brown Water Snake

Greenish Rat Snake

Although we did not find our primary quarry, the Prothonotary Warbler, we will continue to search each day until they return.  The office pool ranges from an early date of today to the slightly tardy date of the 29th.  Stay tuned!

Images by Mark Musselman

No comments: