Monday, April 09, 2012

Prothonotary Warblers at Ashley Ridge High School

The Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in the old-growth swamp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest began defending territories last week.  Before that, males could be heard singing, but they remained in the mid-story of the swamp, possibly for better foraging while competition territory remained low as birds were still migrating.  However, today's report involve Prothonotary Warblers in far different setting.

Today while scouting the Ashley Ridge High School campus for a Global Positioning System (GPS) activity on Thursday, we spotted a wide variety of wildlife, including the first reported sighting of Prothonotary Warblers.  During her first trip to the site last summer, Denise Ecker noted that the swamp at the south end of the campus and adjoining the nature trail constructed by students was suitable Prothonotary Warbler habitat.  Indeed it is.  Using a Prothonotary Warbler song on our iPod, we were able to entice four male Prothonotary Warblers to fly in for a closer look.  Based on that density and the size of the swamp on the campus, it does not appear likely that students need do anything to improve the nesting capacity within the habitat.
Male Prothonotary Warbler - Mark Musselman
Swamp (east end) - Mark Musselman
Swamp (west end) - Mark Musselman
 In addition to the Prothonotary Warblers, we saw and heard plenty of wildlife along the trail.  The swamp image above was taken at the west end of the trail just as a Wood Stork took flight from the shallow water.  That is another first species for the trail!

Great Egret - Mark Musselman
A Great Egret also stalked prey in the shallow water.  We saw small fish swimming and heard frogs chirp as our presence caused them to launch from the banks of the trail and into the water.

Northern Parula - Mark Musselman
There was a constant chorus of Northern Parula songs and one came close when we played the Prothonotary Warbler track.  Parulas will often nest in Spanish Moss that hangs from many a Lowcountry branch.

On the trail itself, we saw the following:

Little Wood Satyr - Mark Musselman
Question Mark Butterfly - Mark Musselman
Question Mark Butterfly - Mark Musselman
Monarch on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
Otter scat - Mark Musselman
The racer was peacefully basking in one of the few sunlight patches on the trail.  Although it is not venomous and most likely to flee than to fight, we tried to give the snake a wide berth in hopes of not disturbing its rest.  No such luck.  True to its name, the racer shot down the trail like greased lightning and disappeared.  A few steps farther along the trail we could not help but notice the freshly deposited and still pungent otter scat.  The otter marks its territory with its scat, which in this case appears to consist mainly of crayfish.  The Wood Stork and the White Ibis we saw are also hunters of crayfish.

Finally, we spotted Squaw-root making an appearance.  This flowering plant lacks chlorophyll.  How then does it nourish itself?  The flowers appear five years after the plant has attached itself to the roots of a host tree.  Squaw-root specializes in trees of the red oak family.  As a parasite, Squaw-root does not require chlorophyll as the oak tree does that work for both plants.

Squaw-root - Mark Musselman
Below is the complete list of bird species observed:

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