Friday, June 17, 2011

Swamp Youngsters

The first week of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest has come to an end.  The second week of camp begins on Monday and the final week of camp will begin on July 25th.  Although the theme guiding campers through the week was PLANTS, we saw plenty of wildlife, including a variety of newborns.

Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) built a nest over the driveway and hatched chicks, but they disappeared before it seemed that they were ready to fledge.  A large Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) was seen in the area.  The male is red and the female is yellowish-orange.

Turtles cannot lay their eggs in the the low, wet areas of the swamp and must seek high areas, like the root end of toppled trees, or the high, dry land beyond the swamp's edge.  Several nests, like the Common Snapping Turtle's (Chelydra serpentina) high on the root end of a fallen Eastern Red Cedar, have been laid in the parking area of the nature center and many have succumb to nighttime raids by Raccoons (Procyon lotor).  Raccoons keen sense of smell allows them to detect the recently dug nests and the loose soil offers no resistance to their efforts to expose the tasty eggs.  The egg shells looking like crumpled paper can be seen at the edge of the excavated nest and no crime scene investigator is required to link the Raccoon to the the berry-filled scat left behind.

Fortunately, not all of the turtle eggs are eaten by Raccoons or fire ants.  By laying a great number of eggs, some like the Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum) hatchling, avoid detection and make their way back to the nearby swamp.

There are several spots along the boardwalk where White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawns and their attentive mothers can be seen.  Earlier in the week, campers saw a fawn partially hidden in a cypress knee near #10.  Yesterday, teachers with the South Carolina Geographic Alliance summer workshop spotted a doe and fawn near the Meeting Tree (#4), and today, campers saw another fawn near #14.

Youngsters in the swamp to learn's appropriate that the young wildlife make an appearance.

Images by Mark Musselman

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