All photos except the loon were taken by Nathan Swick. Loon photo taken by Marvin DeJong. Thanks to both of you for letting me use them here.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, we set out for a half day of birding. We were greeted in the slanting rays of the morning sun at Nixon Farm with great views of Northern Harriers, Savannah Sparrows, and a Harlan's phase Red-tailed Hawk sailing across the grasslands. Its white tail and black terminal band strongly revealed its identify as it alit on a distant tree. We ended the morning with 50 species after another failed attempt to find the Northern Shrike at Fellows Lake. In the exact same area of the Northern Shrike, however, we
observed 2 Bald Eagles on their nest, and a pair of Wild Turkeys displaying within a flock of 20 or so birds. Quadruple highlights of the day included 4 Common Loons, 4 Bonaparte's Gulls, and 4 Bald Eagles, and, 2 Red-shouldered hawks. The day ended with a singing Carolina Wren directly overhead at Lake Springfield.
Another delight of the season, we spent Christmas day together with family, enjoying their company, eating too much, playing board games, laughing, and talking.
But this morning we were out birding again. This day we had a target bird in mind, a lifer for Nathan. I knew we could find LeConte's Sparrow at Bois D'Arc Conservation Area if we had enough people and enough time. But.... all I could rally were the four of us; Dean, Marvin, Nathan, and I. It proved to be enough.
In a previous post, I explained our process of finding and observing LeConte's Sparrows. We walked along the top of the ridge where we kicked up Savannah Sparrows, observed many bluebirds, a flicker or two, a Northern Harrier, and a few others. We had turned back after seeing four orange-clad upland bird hunters at the far end of the grasslands. It ended up being a fortunate move, as shortly thereafter, the LeConte's Sparrow flushed and flew its characteristically short flight. We chased the bird into the brush, where Nathan managed to get its portrait. He also flushed a Vesper Sparrow from the grasses. We were unaware at the time that the pale sparrow with white outer retrices is a casual winter resident in southern Missouri.
This all occurred within an hour, so we took advantage of the additional time bonus to head for the agricultural fields and prairies around Lockwood, Missouri. In the next couple of hours, we picked up two more lifers for my son. A nice flock of Cackling Geese posed with Mallards, and were dwarfed by the surrounding Canada Geese. We found Brewer's Blackbirds in a large mixed flock of blackbirds, and tirelessly searched the fields unsuccessfully for longspurs, Prairie Falcons, and Rough-legged Hawks.