Monday, May 26, 2008

Rebycling: From Bikes to Birds

Interspersed with episodes of birding in my life, I have jumped on the saddle and rode my bicycle for miles and miles along many of the same roads that I have birded for years. Palmetto Meadows, Valley Water Mill Road, and Fellows Lake have not only been meccas for birds and birders, but they have served as gathering places for bikes and bicyclists, too.

With retirement from full time teaching at hand, I have reevaluated my future needs and am making adjustments accordingly. I have no plans of giving up bicycling, but the pastime has taken on more of a utilitarian function, far removed from the competitive jaunts that lured me during my mid-life. Now, I simply ride leisurely to work, to the store, or on the residential streets down to the river trail. I'm leaving the 50 mile journeys on my fancy racing bike to the younger generation or to the baby boomers more determined to anaerobically respirate than I.
You don't need a Colnago Racing Bike to leisurely ride. The old Cannondale hanging in the garage will suit me fine. I'm sure if my Colnago could speak, it would cry for the peloton and beg to cruise at 35 mph in the draft of 100 riders. And so, I'm letting it go to fulfill the dream for which it was carefully constructed. For sale:
Colnago Dream Plus Team Mapei 54 cm frame
Colnago Force fork
Campagnolo Record carbon shifters
Campagnolo Chorus componentry9 speed rear derailleur
Campy Proton Wheel Set.
Deda Magic stem and bars
Chris King headsetCampagnolo Titanium seat post.
Selle San Marco Aspide saddle
Vittoria Rubino Pro tires

So, what's this have to do with birding? In my retirement, I dream of birding the 50 states and beyond, and I long to identify, with confidence, species that I have never seen. Long a believer in recycling, I have already spent the $1800 that I hope to get for my racing bicycle. My new Zeiss Conquest 8 X 40 binoculars and Kowa TSN 821 spotting scope for angled viewing with a 20-60X eyepiece will arrive here in less than a week. Can't wait to break them in!

So, my risk of an accident appears to be reduced, until you consider that I'm trading the risk of being hit while riding a bicycle 20 mph on the country roads with the risk of being hit while standing in the middle of the road transfixed on a rare bird in the distant field.

I still like the odds of surviving while spotting birds! Cycling is colorful, but not as colorful as the Painted Bunting I recently spotted. Anaerobic respiration and VO2 max; it's overrated. For me, I'm choosing a slow walk through the woods, the song of the thrush, a loon at the far reaches of a lake, and the peace that comes from appreciating the pace of our natural world.

Need a one of a kind racing bike? Let me know! I have a beauty, and a few optics to pay off!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Backyard Birding

It's been a delightful migration season in the Ozarks. In spite of living in a suburban subdivision, I was amply entertained by my yard birds. I even added two life yard birds to my list, a Tennessee Warbler and a Green Heron.

The thrills, however, were not from the drab warbler, but from the flashes of colors that arrived during the season. From Indigo Buntings to Baltimore Oriole, the range and variety of hues was simply outstanding. Beginning with our Missouri state bird,
the bathing Eastern Bluebird:
My favorite yard bird, the Baltimore Oriole.

and, of course, the elegant Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Big Day Part Four: The Mudflats and Wetlands

Links to previous Big Day posts: Prairie, Drive, and Forests.
With our species count at 102, we headed for Palmetto Meadows and Valley Water Mill to pick up some shorebirds. We were not disappointed at the gathering on FR 166. Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and one peep that is still haunting me. All photos except the Common Yellowthroat courtesy of Marvin DeJong.
I wanted to call it a Western due to its slight downturned bill, but my confidence on that species is lacking, and I searched for reinforcement from birding companions. Unfortunately, I was unable to help the others lock onto the bird in question before the entire flock took to flight. The Wilson's Phalaropes, however, were easy to identify and fun to watch.After surveying the shorebirds and warblers on FR166, we headed to Valley Water Mill, which had been drained for trail construction. Charley and I took a short trail that was hot! We picked up Lincoln's Sparrow, Palm Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and I caught this Common Yellowthroat in the brush. We saw the yellow breast and belly of a secretive warbler in thick brush, and I caught the glimpse of a black collar/necklace, or something of the sort. So, I believe that it was the Hooded or Canada that got away for lack of a better look.We watched the Great Egret feeding before heading to Springfield to observe a Cooper's Hawk on the nest, and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the nest. Stopped by Lake Springfield toward the end of the day and picked up Double-crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Cliff Swallow.

All in all, a very successful and fun day was had by all. 125 species: a new personal Big Day record. You just can't beat the month of May!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Big Day Part Three: The Glades and Forests

After our prairie visit and our drive to the forests, rains delayed our birding just long enough for us to grab lunch in Ozark before heading down to Busiek Conservation Area. Upon arrival we tried to call up a Cerulean Warbler, but we were unsuccessful. We then headed to the limestone glade to pick up the Prairie Warbler. We were greeted by this Ruby-throated Hummingbird gathering nectar from an Indian Paintbrush.
All Photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong
Soon after we heard the chief avian residence of the Missouri glade habitat, the Prairie Warbler. He paused long enough to give us all great looks, and Marvin caught a bit of his personality in the photos below:

It was then time to head for the deep woods. We followed Prairie Ridge Road over to W highway, which is the gateway to the Mark Twain National Forest. The forests were alive with small birds as our list mount toward the 100 mark. A Red-shouldered Hawk posed near its nest just before the Red Bridge Bull Creek crossing.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, we spotted the Gray-cheeked Thrush, our 100th bird for the day! Pine Warblers become our 101st, where else but on top of Pine Ridge. It was 3:30, and there was much ground to be covered.
On the way to the mudflats of Palmetto Meadows and FR 166, we stopped by Linden to observe nesting Barred Owls and to see if we could add Prothonotary Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. Unfortunately, we ended the day with neither of these warblers.

Onward we went, our mission then was to pick up shorebirds and waders. More on that later!

Big Day Part Two: The Drive

The Springfield Plateau is an ecotonal zone between the prairies of the Great Plains and the oak/hickory deciduous and short leaf pine forests in the southern Missouri Mark Twain National Forests.

Fortunately, there were several unique microcommunities to explore on the drive to the forests from the prairies on Big Day 2008. Our first stop was at a wetland area near Ash Grove. The local scouts had developed a trail around the pond. We immediately heard a Yellow Warbler, so we decided to walk the trail. As we left the parking lot, we picked up a Northern Parula. Shortly thereafter, a Green Heron flew in. Yellow-throated Warblers were everywhere, and Tennessee Warblers showed their drab plumage to keep us temporarily puzzling over the ID. But the highlight was this Blackpoll Warbler that gave us great looks. This was only the fourth one of this species I've ever seen, so it was a real treat!All photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong
We were forced off of the trails by rains, so he headed on to the Willard quarry. Along the way, we picked up Bobolinks and a Ruddy Duck. When we arrived at the quarry, the Painted Buntings were waiting for us. We observed 3 birds. Here's a few of Marvin's pictures of two of the 3 birds:
All photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong
After leaving the quarry, we bee-lined to the French's Mustard plant on Interstate 44. There, amid new construction and habitat destruction, is the nest of a Missouri bird. Swainson's Hawks successfully raise young exclusively in and around Springfield, and no where else in the state.A brief look, a few pictures, and we were off once again for the forests of southern Missouri. Next blog entry: the glades of Busiek Conservation Area and the trees of the Mark Twain National Forest. Stick around!
All photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Raise the Raftanic II

Looking across the Finley River on a cold, March day, we spotted the first raft clinging to the brush after the mighty waters subsided. March floods wreaked havoc upon riparian zones in the Ozarks, and, as a result, our friends Ted and Cathie mourned the demise of their beloved floating dock after it took an unbridled and especially destructive ride downstream. I featured this regional watercraft in blogs last autumn. I offer these entries as a memorial to the sunken ship.The spirit of the vessel lingered as life without this elixir became less than tolerable for Ted and Cathie. So, the craft was retrieved from the brush by a group of hardy, but aging outdoors men and women. They set up a Tyrolean Traverse across the river current and hauled the wreckage to Ted's boathouse for repair. Unfortunately, Ted soon found that even though some parts were salvageable, the broken and bruised deck of the watercraft would have to be rebuilt.Five weeks later, we were delighted to be invited to the launching of Raftanic II. With lawn chairs hors doevres, and 3 bottles of wine, we left the land behind and headed up the river. The pictures say it all, and we were happy that the little electric motor survived its inundation and served us quietly and efficiently for the whole evening.

Big Day Part One: The Missouri Prairie

Records are made to be broken. Long ago, I was amazed when we broke 100 species on a Big Day of Birding. I thought it would never happen again.

On that day, Mark Goodman, my son Nathan, and I set out for Schell-Osage Conservation Area and Taberville Prairie for a productive day of birding in early May of 1995. When I look back, I remember vividly the life birds for the day: Least Bittern, American Bittern, Bell's Vireo, and Henslow's Sparrow. I think we ended the day with 104 species. I'm sure Nathan with his constant attention to detail could tell you exactly how many species there were. But this I do know. My personal record stood for 13 years, occasionally being challenged as several 100 species days followed.

This year I took Big Day to a new level. I enlisted the help of GOAS and Audubon Missouri president Charley Burwick to map out a successful strategy. Charley had birded big day for years and tirelessly pursues new species in the Ozarks. He reminded me that it's all about hitting all the possible habitats in your region. The birds start stacking up each time you enter a new ecosystem, and that makes all the difference.

So, I felt really great when we ended the day with 125 species. Of the 125, I personally saw and/or heard 122 species! For Southwest Missouri, this is an outstanding total.

To top it off, Marvin DeJong, excellent photographer, joined us to capture the mood and the memorable moments from our 2008 count. I am featuring Marvin's amazing work from that single Big Day. Thank you, Marvin, for sharing.

And so, I begin this story at Niawathe Prairie at sunrise. Although cloudy, the birds were singing as we arrived. First bird of the prairie was Common Yellowthroat, followed quickly by Horned Lark. Soon we were hearing Bell's Vireo. Our successful attempt to see the vireo was characterized by quick jumps into the open and just as quick retreats into the undercover. Along with the ubiquitous Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Dickcissels, we heard Henslow's Sparrows and occasionally watched their short flights into the deep grasses. Northern Bobwhite and Yellow-breasted Chat echoed on the horizon. Near the brushy margins of the prairie we picked up a pair of surprise Harris' Sparrows.We searched the surrounding agricultural fields and grasslands unsuccessfully for Greater Prairie Chicken, but picked up Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Great Horned Owl, and Loggerhead Shrike, among others. Marvin caught this American Pipit on his camera.
Our highlights from the prairie were in a recently burned field guarded by this Charolais Bull. Comfortably foraging about at his hooves were 6 Upland Sandpipers in the damp grasses. When I first saw them at a distance with their necks retracted and plumage dampened in the rain, I hoped for prairie chicken, but the next best thing was these beautiful grassland natives.
We left the tall grass prairie around 8:30 a.m. with 40 species, headed for Willard in search of our target Painted Bunting. There were pleasant surprises along the way. Come back for Part Two.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Phound: Phemale Phalarope!

Palmetto Meadows continues to hop, and in this case, swirl round and round. This beautiful Wilson's Phalarope was spotted and photographed by Marvin DeJong at the edge of the same casual water that has hosted Willets, a Merlin, Pipits, Plovers and a variety of other shorebirds in recent days and weeks. It's truly the most colorful phalarope that I personally have ever seen. I cut and pasted this interesting information from the Audubon website:

"Wilson's Phalarope shows sexual role reversal--females are more colorful than males, perform a courtship display, and may mate with more than one male. To court males, females stretch out their colorful necks, puff out their neck feathers, and make a husky call. Once a female mates with a given male, she leaves a set of eggs with him, and then moves on to attempt to mate with other males. The female might help choose a nest site, but the male completes the construction of a nest, which is a shallow depression on the ground, near water. A typical clutch of four eggs is incubated by a male for 18-27 days. The downy chicks leave the nest within a day of hatching, and find their own food. The male does tend to the young for some time, brooding them when they are very young, and attempting to lure away potential predators with a broken-wing display."

In addition, a few more recent arrivals cooperated with us for close up views. Marvin took this great photo of the Dickcissel, and I took all the mediocre photos below.

This is the week for non-stop birding in SW Missouri. I can't wait to get out in the field as often as possible. Sunday I lead a trip to Red Bridge Road and Tabor Hollow in southern Christian County for neotropical warbers, and on Tuesday, I've taken a day off to do my annual Big Day. I'm currently find myself obsessing over my strategy. Again, Marvin will join me, so we should bring back great photos from the day!