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Termite Surprise

January 28, 2011

One by one they left the branches and surrounded me. The fact that I was there was incidental. Termites were swarming……..and the blue- gray gnatcatchers were gobbling them up. The click, click, click sounds of snapping beaks surrounded me as I realized that a small mixed flock, pine warblers among them had joined in. I stood still and just witnessed the birds hovering and snapping around and through the swarm. If I wanted to and my reflexes were fast enough I’m sure I could of nabbed a bird or two. But I just wanted to soak it up. At first the insects were hard to see but the filtered light coming down through the branches highlighted the tiny wings and made it easy for me to catch. For the termites that thought they had escaped the beaks of those small birds destiny called. They were soon gobbled up by the army of swallows just above, another resource partitioning event right before my eyes.
How did I luck out to witness such a food fest? These small song birds normally glean their prey off branches and buds, keeping themselves camouflaged from larger predators. The swarm was coming from the saw palmettos that were under scrub oaks edged by wax myrtle, rusty lyonia and beauty berry shrubs. They left the comfort of the leaf cover to grab their prey and then fly back to their perch. I was walking on a path that ran right through the saw palmettos so, essentially, I was in the right place at the right time. I walk that path often, so the birds may have been used to my presence. Or, they may just have been hungry enough to navigate around me. I think this is a key to any good nature observation. Know your local seasons and the ebb and flow of the food web. I pay attention to the larvae in the shrubs and trees as well as the mosquitoes and deer flies that emerge when it gets a little drier and hotter. But I had forgotten about the termites…bonus!

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