Monday, March 24, 2008

Palmetto Meadows: An Overview

In the heart of my local birding circle lie Palmetto Meadows, an odd juxtaposition of habitat east of where we normally think that the prairies give way to the Ozark hills. This collection of privately owned and rich agricultural fields holds great promise for birders now and in the coming weeks.

We who live in the Springfield area know that "our" portion of these Ozark "hills" are really deep "valleys" (locals call them hollers) , where water through the ages slowly, but powerfully carved into the uplift that we now call the Springfield Plateau. On the sides of the plateau, the valleys drop off, heading to the Nianqua and Gasconade River on the north and to the Finley, James, and White River on the south. So the highest elevations in our area are found in these relatively flat, formerly grassland habitats.
The map above shows the entire region that we refer to as Palmetto in the lower right hand corner. Also labeled outside of the area is Nixon Farm, another frequent site of good birds in our area.

On any given day in the summer, you can enjoy the large numbers of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (the GOAS symbol), Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, Savannah Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows that nest in the area, but the most exciting times come during spring migration. After spring torrential rains, many unusual and varied species of birds pass through the meadows. During these times, Palmetto is by far my favorite local birding hotspot. In a previous post, I listed some of the many unusual species seen there since I started birding in the mid 1990's.

Here's an excerpt:

"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."

In light of our recent floods, I predict that Palmetto Meadows will be "the official Southwest Missouri birding hotspot for the rest of March and the entire month of April. Here are a few of the most recent sightings taken Saturday.

Lesser or Greater Yellowlegs? Great-tailed Grackle for size comparison. Males are 18".
So, I'm inclined to say Greater. Beak length is hard to tell. What do you think?

I say Baird's Sandpiper, but I have little experience with the species. What do you think?
Rusty Blackbirds

As the casual water slowly drains through the sinkholes and into our karst features, rotting vegetation will give way to mud, and with mud comes the shorebirds! So, GOASers, join me in making it part of your regular outings, at least until the warblers hit Red Bridge Road, a topic for another day.

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