Thursday, April 04, 2013

Spring Break on ARHS Trail

Earlier this week, before the rain arrived, we visited the nature trail at Ashley Ridge High School (ARHS) to see what birds had returned for the breeding season.  A pair of Northern Mockingbirds nesting in an oak along the parking area greeted us at the trail's head.  Through their mimicry, we had a preview of the bird life we could expect to encounter along the trail.

Northern Mockingbird - Mark Musselman
Northern Mockingbird - Mark Musselman
Here's the complete list of what we saw:

Ashley Ridge High School, Dorchester, US-SC
Apr 2, 2013 11:05 AM - 1:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.5 mile(s)
Comments:    Clear, 60Fs
28 species

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)  40
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  3
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  1
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  2
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  2
White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  4
Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  6
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  4
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  4
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  1
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  2
Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii)  1  (FIRST for trail!)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)  2
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)  5
Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  6
Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica)  3
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)  2
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  5
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)  12
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  4

As soon as we entered the swamp, we encountered a pair of bickering Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and several Swamp Sparrows foraging along the wet margins.  A rabbit, possibly a Marsh Rabbit, made a overly dramatic and noisy exit from the grasses growing in a sunny, wet area.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, the rabbit doth protest too much, methinks.  Maybe young rabbits were stashed in the grasses.

Swamp Sparrow - Mark Musselman
Immediately thereafter, we spied a large flock of White Ibis foraging, mainly for crayfish, through the narrow swamp.  Note the scarlet red of the bill, face, and legs, areas which are normally pinkish to orange in the non-breeding season.
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
White Ibis - Mark Musselman
A variety of plants signaled that spring has arrived.  The parasitic Squawroot (Conopholis americana) was flowering.  This chlorophyll-free plant gets what it needs from the roots of a neighboring tree in the red oak family.

Squawroot - Mark Musselman
Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming...

Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
 and provided a meal for a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae).

Cloudless Sulphur on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Cloudless Sulphur on Red Buckeye - Mark Musselman
Cloudless Sulphur - Mark Musselman
Finally, at the west end of the trail, Atamasco or Easter Lilies (Zephyranthes atamasco) were blooming.

Atamasco Lily - Mark Musselman

Along the way, we heard and saw a variety of birds, including the loudly singing Common Yellowthroat and the secretive Gray Catbird.

Common Yellowthroat - Mark Musselman
Gray Catbird - Mark Musselman
From out of the canebrake at the west end of the trail, we saw our first Swainson's Warbler ever along the trail!  We had expected the bird to be in there, as it prefers canebrakes and dense areas in or abutting swamps, but we had yet to spot one.  Last year, we identified the first Prothonotary Warblers using the swamp along the trail (not yet spotted in 2013) and now a Swainson's Warbler.  That is one productive little swamp!

Can you guess what was not there on the way out?  The warming day brought out the reptiles.  We walked up on an unsuspecting Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).

Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
As the snake patrolled, it did detect us and shot across the water in the ditch and, as quick as lightning, raced up the far embankment disappearing into the thick vegetation.  There is a good reason for calling these snakes racers.
Southern Black Racer - Mark Musselman
We also encountered a small Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) sunning on the far side of the ditch, but it too made a quick escape upon detecting us.  Nearby, however, a frog appeared oblivious to our presence.  It continued to call even as we continued to approach its apparent location.  All along the trail we heard peeps and chirps as frogs launched into the water to avoid our intrusion, but not this one.  As we continued to move, we began triangulate the frog's position.  Puzzled by the continued odd call and afraid that moving closer would finally caused the frog to flee, we used our binoculars to scan the frog's suspected location.  There was some slight movement on the far bank approximately 20 feet away, but the eye we saw appeared to have scales around it, though the leg was definitely amphibian.  Before we could unravel the enigma, the snake let loose its captured meal, the frog launch to the safety of the water, and the unidentified snake bolted into the thick vegetation.

We were surprised and disappointed that the snake gave up its meal so easily and at such a distance from the perceived threat (us), but the experience made for another first along the ARHS nature trail!

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