Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bird Calling

Between leading the kindergarteners from Ridge Christian Academy around the boardwalk and during their bird calling activity and leading an afternoon canoe trip, we were not in the office long enough to make a blog entry. Truth be known, we like it that way!

Eighteen highly-excited kindergarteners arrived on another unseasonably cool morning eager to see lots of critters, especially reptiles! Unfortunately, the cool weather kept all but the alligator out-of-sight, but there were plenty of upclose Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) viewing opportunities. The loud "Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!" call of the male birds could be clearly heard even if the birds themselves could not be seen. This led perfectly into the after-lunch activity.

Each kindergartener was given a toy bird hidden in a small paper bag. Nine species of birds each had a pair represented. Without being able to see the bird, each student needed to find its species partner by listening to the call the toy bird made when the sound was activated by squeezing. As one can imagine, 18 birds calling at once is sensory overload. However, a few minutes of attentive listening allowed the pairs to find each other just as actual birds of the same species find themselves in the thickest of habitats and over substantial distances.

In the afternoon, our small canoe flotilla heard a variety of birds from Barred Owls (Strix varia) to the ubiquitous Prothonotary Warblers. We even came upon a female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) far from dry land. When we used a paddle to point out a basking small Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota), she flew out of a large crop of poison ivy that was growing atop a high cypress knee. On closer inspection, we found a nest with three eggs. This snake posed no threat as it eats fish, but a Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) that we saw farther down the trail would gladly eat the eggs or the chicks. Mama cardinal kept her distance and repeated called (loosely translated), "Hey, over here! I'm over here! Come over here!"

Images by Mark Musselman (not of actual snake or nest as guiding canoes and keeping a camera dry are not compatible)

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