Sunday, June 15, 2008

Palmetto Meadows Meanderings

Perhaps, it was only fitting on Father's Day, with both grown kids out of town, that I wandered out to the agricultural fields of Palmetto Meadows. The landscape of Palmetto Meadows reminds me of my childhood days in central Kansas more than any other place in the Ozarks. It was in this type of habitat, with hedgerows, grasslands, and farm fields, that my dad introduced me to the great outdoors. Immediately upon entering the grasslands environment, I heard the songs of the Dickcissel and Eastern Meadowlark ring out in space. Soon, the Grasshopper Sparrows were joining in. The Great Blue Heron surveyed the surrounding from his lofty perch.On this day, however, I was searching for a Western Kingbird. Recent reports of the species in Columbia, Missouri, begged the question. Why don't we see them down here? There is at least one record of a nesting pair near Fellow's Lake, but the species has not been relocated in our area in recent years. My last Missouri sighting was in the mid '90's..... where? ....... Palmetto..

Back to Father's Day. My dad was an upland game hunter, and the love of the outdoors that we shared surely began for me as coveys of Northern Bobwhite exploded near the noses of our English Pointer Duke and Brittany Spaniel Stubby. So, you can imagine my surprise when a pair of Bobwhite, uncommon in our area, crossed the road in front of me.Bobwhite were once common in the Ozarks. The native grasses and agricultural fields provided excellent habitat for the birds. But then there was fescue. Although I didn't live here at the time, apparently in the 60's and 70's the non-native invader was planted everywhere because of its ability to thrive in both winter and summer in the Ozarks. This served the growing cattle ranches well.So Bobwhite are uncommon in the Ozarks these days, but you wouldn't have known that at Palmetto today. I heard 4 males singing and saw two pairs. The regulars of the area, Scissor-tails and the eastern version of my sought after bird, sat on the barbed wire, wary of the slowly approaching vehicle.Farmers on my favorite Farm Road 166 have planted wheat this year so the area really resembles central Kansas. The flooded fields that attracted Willets, Phalaropes, Plovers, Sandpipers, Pipits, Merlins, and Peregrine Falcons this spring again stand inundated as a result of recent rains. We are now 18 inches above the yearly average, and storm clouds again approach from the northwest.

And so it goes in the Ozarks. June birding is slower and more pastoral. On this balmy summer afternoon, memories of my father swirl around in my head, and Palmetto Meadows, with its robust and abundant Bobwhite, fit the bill perfectly.

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