Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Cardinal Trick

I have been BUSY with festivals over the last couple weeks and haven't had the energy to devote to blogging.  I am dragging a bit still, but I had to churn this one out.

Dee and I do a Pish-free birding trip (third trip on page) every year at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.  We meet at the Hammock Trails and bird by ear, not using recorded calls or "pishing" to attract the birds.  Lighting was absolutely awful for this trip as the skies were completely overcast, giving a bright white background to the crowns of the trees as we gazed up at the few songbirds we could find.  Despite this, we managed to eek out a few birds and the group got to experience first hand how frustrating it can be to try to pick out individual birds in quickly moving flocks.

We were heading back to the parking lot when I decided to show people, "The Cardinal Trick."  Northern cardinals are resident in Florida and maintain territories year round.  Many of our other resident songbirds will form mixed species groups, when they are not breeding, and meander about the woods.  In fall and winter they are joined by many more songbirds that winter or migrate through our fair state.  These flocks are not territorial and many flocks may move through a given point during the course of a day.  The cardinals are not amused.  When a flock moves into their territory, they will give agitated chip notes to let the flock know of their displeasure.  The flock pays no mind and the cardinals are not very effective at dissuading them, but they are a big help to birders.  The mixed flocks usually give themselves away with contact calls or flitting movements.  However, sometimes the flocks are quite silent and difficult to see.  That's when the Cardinal Trick comes in handy.  So anyway, we were heading back to the parking lot when I noticed a happy pair of cardinals on the side of the trail.  I stopped the group and was about to point out that these cardinals indicated that there was not a flock in the area, when the male cardinal began to chip in an unhappy way.  Soon after, a Blue-gray gnatcatcher called and flew across the trail.  Then another, then another, then a Tufted titmouse, and many others.  The Cardinal Trick right there in front of us!  Nice way to end the trip.

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