Sunday, January 6, 2008

Two "Fellows" Warm Up Near "Palmetto"

Our day began early as Marvin and I arrived at Nixon Farm in the pre-dawn hour. It had been two weeks since we had seen the three Short-eared Owls, and we were curious if they were still around. The balmy 48 degree start to the morning made jackets unnecessary, but the strong southerly winds still added a slight chill to the air in the early morning. I briefly thought that the winds might have sent the owls to the ground sometime in the middle of the night. My worries were unfounded, however, as the owls made their entrance 20 minutes before dawn, fluttering like butterflies and fighting winds over the field that serves as the diurnal siesta site. We watched as the three crisscrossed the field in search of prey. When they landed quite close to us, we decided to walk out into the field in hopes of getting some photos. The wary owls rose immediately, again searching the field for movement. This time they landed across the field as the sun rose over hill. The day worker, a Northern Harrier, harried the sitting owl, appearing to alight on it for an instant. It was less than a minute later that we realized that the Harrier was eating a small mammal. We put two plus two together. The harrier had stolen the morsel from the owl it appeared to sit on.
It occurred to me that in winter GOAS birders tend to underbird the Palmetto region along the Greene/Webster County line east of Springfield. On the way there, we counted 7 Rusty Blackbirds in the short grasses in front of a ranch at McCraw's Ford near the James River.
However, it is in this "Palmetto region", that extremely fertile fields, remnants of natural grasslands that once topped the Springfield Plateau, give way to agriculture. Interspersed in the area are natural wetlands where shorebirds thrive during spring migration. The birds that occasionally make their way to Palmetto are many and varied, genetically linked to an earlier time when bluestem, Indian, and switch grasses thrived and natural playas supplied plentiful moisture to the area. These species continue to pass through, hoping to meet their survival needs in the current soybean, alfalfa, and fescue fields that dominate the area now.
Records of species from this area in the last 15 years are amazing. Most amazing; A Swallow-tailed Kite by the late Betty Dyer. My personal list from the areas includes Sandhill Cranes, Western Kingbirds, Peregrine Falcons, shorebirds galore, Black-bellied Plovers, American Golden Plovers, Baird's, Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated, Western, Solitary, Spotted, White-rumped, and Upland Sandpipers, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Dowitchers, Phalaropes, Willet, Sora, Snipe, Black Terns, Forster's Terns, Caspian Terns, Franklin's Gulls, Rough-legged Hawks, Swainson's Hawks, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Marsh Wrens, Bobolinks, and countless others I cannot currently recall.
On this day, the Northern Harriers glided and the Horned Lark sang, entertaining us on the productive FR 166 through the region.
We headed up the road to the French's Mustard plant on I-44 just NE of Springfield. In the ponds near the plant, we added Gadwalls, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards and Ring-necked Ducks to our list. I was lucky enough to catch the splash as the duck on the left eagerly dove.

Valley Water Mill added 2 female Northern Shovelors, and a cooperative mockingbird enjoyed the warm temperatures on the road to Fellows Lake.

Fellows Lake was choppy but yielded 12 Common Goldeneye, 4 Horned Grebes, 25+ Pied-billed Grebes, and 2 Common Loons. Passerines were almost totally absent on the windblown north side of the lake. Stopping at a popular feeding station on the road near Fellows yielded this handsome immature White-crowned Sparrow.

Last surprise of the day was over Ozark on the way home. A single Turkey Vulture drifted north on the warm winds. With a harbinger like that, can spring be far behind?

1 comment:

marvin d said...

Nice blog. You captured the morning perfectly and your pictures added several thousand words.