Monday, February 06, 2012

Is it Still Winter?

Is it still winter or has spring already begun?  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spring begins this year at 14 minutes past midnight on March 20th (EST).  However, at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest there are signs that spring is getting a jump on itself.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is adding color to the nearly leafless swamp, but it can bloom as early as January, so we will give it a pass. Butterweed (Packera glabella), however, is not supposed to start blooming until March at the earliest.  Currently, butterweed is blooming in the sunny area near #15 created when the snow storm of '10 tipped over a Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) and opened a space in the canopy.

Butterweed- Mark Musselman
Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) have been observed along the edge of the swamp where the boardwalk makes its return loop.  Some individuals are simply basking on logs and catching the sun's rays, while some males are busy chasing after females.  For the record, although the warming weather has the male turtles feeling like spring, the speed at which the females were fleeing seemed to indicate that they still had winter on their minds.

Spotted Turtle - Mark Musselman
We too are not immune to the pull of spring-like weather.  Last week, we headed out to Middleton Place for a Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) practice run.  We spied a variety of birds, but the highlights were a Tri-colored Heron (Egretta tricolor) fishing in the water-depleted rice field and an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) eating a fish high in a snag.  We wonder how the mild winter will affect the number and variety of bird species we will see during this year's GBBC.  Check here to see where we will be birding.

Tri-colored Heron with fish - Mark Musselman

Tri-colored Heron - Mark Musselman

Osprey with fish - Mark Musselman

It is highly unlikely (let's say close to impossible) that we will see any Prothonotary Warblers during the GBBC, but will they return to Beidler Forest before their normal arrival in the last few days of March?

Male Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman

Stay tuned!

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