Friday, March 30, 2012

Bird Arrivals This Week

It has been a busy week at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  Unfortunately, we have spent almost all of it elsewhere!  The education department conducted three days of programming (birds, food webs, and mammal tracks) with St. Matthews Elementary and Sandy Run Elementary Schools at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve outside of St. Matthews.  Wednesday was spent at the Charleston Air Force Base's Earth Day helping 5th graders from the tri-county area identify macroinvertebrates in samples we collected from the swamp.  Therefore, we have only had time for some quick, late afternoon excursions onto the boardwalk to discover what bird species have arrived back from their wintering grounds.

Here are the bird species that are new this week:
  1. Prothonotary Warbler
  2. Swallow-tailed Kite
  3. Chimney Swift
  4. Red-eyed Vireo
  5. Ovenbird
The Prothonotary Warbler numbers have not peaked and some can still be difficult to located as they continue foraging in the mid-canopy.  We were finally able to spot two singing males and discovered that they were banded during Project PROTHO.  The first male, A250, is singing regularly around the Meeting Tree at #120 and was banded nearby at #118 on April 28, 2010.

Prothonotary Warbler A250 with caterpillar - Mark Musselman
The second male, A014, is singing around #130 and was banded from the boardwalk on April 19, 2011.

Prothonotary Warbler A014 - Mark Musselman

Red-eyed Vireos are singing along the edges of the swamp and in the parking area, but the Ovenbird we spotted was silent except for a slight rustle of the leaves.

Ovenbird - Mark Musselman
Although Barred Owls are here all year, they are especially active now during the day as they have extra mouths to feed.  The pair that nests along the backside of the boardwalk between #13 and #17 are prodigious hunters and quite photogenic.  We have previously reported this pair hunting Wood Duck ducklings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and crayfish.

While running an errand on the boardwalk this morning, we caught sight of a Barred Owl wrestling with something on a log in the water.  Using the binoculars, we realized that the owl had a turtle, but we could not identify the dark, wet turtle carapace clutched in the talons of the owl.

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle (left talons) - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl with turtle - Mark Musselman
 After much effort, the Barred Owl was unable to extract the turtle from its shell.  The owl flew to a branch over the water to watch for easier prey and eventually took a moment to stretch and preen.

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman

Barred Owl - Mark Musselman
 After the owl departed, we went into the creek to find what might be left of the turtle in order to identify the species.  We found the Eastern Mud Turtle shown below.  The Eastern Mud Turtle has a hinged forward section on its plastron (bottom portion of shell) that can be closed like a box turtle's in order to protect the head and much of the front legs.  The turtle can pull in its rear legs and tail so that they are flush with the plastron.  Unlike the musk turtle, the mud turtle's plastron covers and protects most of its underside.  The only sign of injury on the erstwhile breakfast item was a small bone protruding from the underside of the front right leg, which didn't seem to affect the turtle's ability to use the limb.

Eastern Mud Turtle - Mark Musselman
 The owl got an A for effort, but did not have time to contemplate the missed meal.  Soon after turning its attention from the resilient reptile, an owlet began its begging cry and the adult focused on catching something easier to open!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Migration and Radar

We continue to check around the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest to see what new bird species may have arrived overnight.  eBird offers a BirdCast based on birding observations and radar images showing migration activity.  They predict that between March 16-22, the Southeast should expect to see the following birds species:  Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  We heard a Yellow-throated Vireo today, so all that we're missing is the Prothonotary Warbler!

Understanding Radar and Birds: Part 1

March 16, 2012
Understanding Radar and Birds: Part 1 Nexrad radar mosaic, 8 May 2009
Since the first units were placed along the Gulf Coast in the 1950s, ornithologists and birders have become increasingly aware of the power of using radar as a tool for understanding bird migration. In addition to detecting and depicting meteorological phenomena, this radar network can be used to watch and to track the movements of birds. In this feature we will provide some basics for how to interpret radar data, in particular how to understand the movements of birds on Weather Surveillance Radar – 1988D (WSR-88D). A second installment will discuss challenges in identifying biological targets and some locally interesting patterns visible on radar.  Read more...

To help visualize and better understand how you can use radar to examine migration, watch the animation below of Nexrad Radar of a flight on 8 - 9 May 2009. Watching this animation will allow you to see differences between precipitation and migrating birds.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Great Backyard Bird Count Results

It was a record-breaking year for the Great Backyard Bird Count!  Thank you to all who participated.  If you didn't participate in the citizen-science project this year, mark your calendars for Feb. 15-18, 2013.

Great Backyard Bird Count Highlights

By Marshall Iliff, Christopher Wood, Brian Sullivan, Dick Cannings, and Pat Leonard
March 19, 2012
  Bird watcher by Brenda Chmiel, New Jersey,
  2012 GBBC


The 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was one of stark contrasts. Arctic-dwelling Snowy Owls and redpolls irrupted into the Great Plains and the West in the largest numbers ever recorded in the 15-year history of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Participants reported Eurasian Collared-Doves and Great-tailed Grackles in northerly locations, a sign of the species' continuing range expansion. And spring migration was already underway for several species including Red-winged Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, and Snow Geese. Even the Blue Jay, a species often thought to be resident, showed unusual patterns with low numbers recorded in much of the East.

By the Numbers

First, let’s look at the raw numbers. GBBC participants submitted a record-smashing 104,151 checklists with 17.4 million individual bird observations! Participants set new checklist records in 22 states and in 6 Canadian provinces. Across the continent and in Hawaii, participants identified 623 species. Read more...


You can see the results from the United States and Canada here.  South Carolina ranked seventh in species reported for all the states, provinces and the District of Columbia.  You can check here to see how your community ranked within South Carolina.  Note that the coastal communities had the advantage with regard to number of species, but Spartanburg had far and away the greatest number of checklists submitted!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Latest 2012 Arrivals

For those of you keeping score at home, we have a few more arrivals to report at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

A flock of White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) were observed wading in the water behind the beaver dam north of the boardwalk at #3.  They are mainly feeding on crayfish and the water behind the beaver dam appears to be a rich hunting area.

White Ibis - Mark Musselman
We previously reported one Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) near the boardwalk, but additional individuals have arrived in the swamp.  Yellow-crowned Night Herons are searching exclusively for crayfish.  Watch carefully.  When one of these birds has a crayfish in the crosshairs the bird's tail end begins to wiggle back and forth.  A quick jab with its sturdy bill usually results in a crayfish meal.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
The native azaleas (Rhododendron canescens) are now blooming in the swamp.  There is a fine specimen directly behind the nature center.
Swamp Azalea - Mark Musselman
Finally, we thought we heard a short song from a Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra).  If that bird has indeed arrived, it would be several weeks early.  We'll keep our ears open!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

White-eyed Vireo Has Returned

On Friday, White-eyed Vireos (Vireo griseus) were heard singing in the parking area at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest and along the canoe trail.

White-eyed Vireo - Mark Musselman

We cannot wait to see what might have arrived over the weekend!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Northern Parula Has Returned

Northern Parula Warblers (Setophaga americana) returned overnight and are now adding their songs to the swamp chorus in the Francis Beidler Forest!

Male Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
During our walk yesterday, we did not hear anything resembling a Northern Parula.  The normal arrival time at Beidler Forest for this species is mid-March, so this year's group is about a week early.  This bird winters in the Caribbean and central Mexico to Central America.  Once they have claimed a breeding territory here, they will build a nest in the ubiquitous Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hanging from the trees.  The same nest site will often be used, though the high winds the other week may have blown down some of those sites.

Will the Prothonotary Warblers be early too?  We'll keep checking!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Yellow-crowned Night Herons Are Back

Visitors to the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest spotted the first Yellow-crowned Night Heron of the season.  They snapped a picture of the bird wading in the creek channel near #15, which looked just like the one we took years ago.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Mark Musselman
Yellow-throated Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers continue to fill the swamp with their vocalizations.  There are other signs in the swamp that spring is rapidly approaching!  Dwarf (Least) Trillium (Trillium pusillum) is above ground, but not yet blooming.

Dwarf Trillium - Mark Musselman
Reptiles are basking in the sun.

Eastern Mud Turtle - Mark Musselman
Pileated Woodpeckers and other woodpecker species maintain a high volume of chatter and activity in search of insects.

Pileated Woodpecker - Mark Musselman
At least one bird was already setting up housekeeping by excavating a nest cavity.  We heard what appeared to be the gentle tapping of a Downy Woodpecker, but could not locate the bird. We finally zeroed in on the sound and identified the small tree from which the sound emanated.  However, we still could not see the bird and the trunk did not seem sufficiently wide to conceal a bird hiding on the other side.  Finally, we realized that the woodpecker was working inside the cavity.  Therefore, we were surprised when a Carolina Chickadee appeared at the entrance to eject the excavated material.

Carolina Chickadee - Mark Musselman
We do not know if the chickadee created the cavity or merely enlarged an existing cavity, but we were impressed nonetheless.

If spring cleaning has begun, can spring be far behind?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Prothonotary Warbler Check

The folks at Brosnan Forest reported seeing a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) on their property during the weekend.  Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea if we took a quick stroll around the boardwalk at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest to see if the cold front had pushed in any early birds.  The range of normal arrival dates for Prothonotary Warblers at Beidler Forest is from March 26-31, so an arrival this early would be special.

Spoiler Alert:  We did not see any Prothonotary Warblers.

However, we did see a variety of other birds.  We saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Black-and-White Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Hermit Thrush, American Goldfinches, Yellow-throated Warblers, a Pine Warbler, and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring and tacking in the high wind...all before we were 50 meters from the nature center!

Blue-headed Vireo - Mark Musselman

Black-and-white Warbler - Mark Musselman

Hermit Thrush - Mark Musselman

The complete bird list for the walk is below:

Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary, Dorchester, US-SC
Mar 5, 2012 11:20 AM - 1:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.75 mile(s)
Comments:    Clear, breezy, 60Fs
25 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  2
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)  2
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  1
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)  1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  3
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  3
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  9
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)  1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  5
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  4
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  5
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  1
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)  1
Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  5
Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica)  8
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  3

We also caught a few reptiles out enjoying the warm sun.  Spotted Turtles were out in several places along the boardwalk.

Spotted Turtles - Mark Musselman
On our way to the lake, we saw this small Eastern Cottonmouth basking on a stump near #145.  It appears to be ready to shed and nervously departed while we were taking its photograph.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
There was only on Yellow-bellied Slider out at the lake, but the resident American Alligator had its chin up on a log.

American Alligator - Mark Musselman
On our way back from the lake, a much larger Eastern Cottonmouth had taken up position on the stump.  In hindsight, the small snake's departure likely had more to do with the arrival of the larger snake, which we hadn't detected, than with our photography activity.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Mark Musselman
Finally, a Banded Water Snake stretched out along a branch above the creek channel at #15.

Banded Water Snake - Mark Musselman
We'll keep looking for Prothonotary Warblers and see if the mild winter will cause them to return earlier than normal.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Yellow-throated Warbler

The first Yellow-throated Warblers (Setophaga dominica) began singing this week at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.

Yellow-throated Warbler - Mark Musselman

Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) are scheduled to arrive by the end of the month.

Male Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman

Clean the glass on the binoculars and the camera and be ready!  Spring is coming! (Not applicable in the Northeast, Northwest, and most of Canada)