Monday, September 29, 2008

My Phavorite Phalarope, until I see Red!

American Avocet on point!

Recently, so many great birding and nature moments have passed without me reflecting upon them here. I'd really like to catch up, but find myself suspended in time on the mudflats at Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands near Great Bend, Kansas.

I'll write later, but today simply want to celebrate my 401st lifer on my way to 500!
Here they are: Two Red-necked Phalaropes!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

RAVEing about GOAS

Valley Water Mill Pond

My son and I became involved with the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (GOAS) in the early to mid 1990's. We have come to know the individuals involved in our Audubon chapter as a group of movers and shakers unlike any other in the Springfield environmental scene. These people are leaders in the community, and coalition formation has always been at the top of the club's priorities, second only to the birds of our region.The history of GOAS is relayed to current members through oral traditions. Names like Nathan Fay, Leonard Confer, Rebecca Matthews, Betty Dyer, Kay Johnson, Betty Johnson, Jan Horton, Dorothy Thurman, Sue Schuble, Charley Burwick, Dave Catlin, and Lisa Berger echo from the past and shout into the future.

A new page has turned in the tradition of "moving and shaking" for GOAS, and this page emcompasses a much wider radius of influence, and thus, leads us into new frontiers of discovery. Things started moving fast when the Toyota Corporation donated $20 million over the next 5 years to the National Audubon Society for use on "green" ventures. The win-win collaboration has resulted in the TogetherGreen project. This project is now awarding grant money to innovative groups and chapters that organize green partnerships to educate and shape the public's view of conservation and bird ecology.

Thanks to the lightning quick reactions of Charley Burwick, Lisa Berger, and Dr. Janice Greene, our local chapter has received two grants, one for Green Volunteer Days and the other for Green Innovation Projects. Today, I'll address our $7000 Volunteer Days grant. More later on the cool innovation grant!

The volunteer grant requires that GOAS organize and coordinate six volunteer work days in the coming year. We have partnered with Springfield Parks and Recreation to carry out our projects.The first Volunteer Day will occur this Saturday, September 20, at the Valley Water Mill Park, the home of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks and the future LEED certified Watershed Education Center.Our green partners include the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, who will host the many groups and the Springfield Plateau Master Naturalists, who, along with GOAS, will coordinate the volunteers. The local Sierra Club will work in the Rain Garden, while the Ozarks Greenways Project will work on linear parks and trails in the area. All participants will receive a free T-shirt, will be assigned to one of the many groups of workers for the morning, and will join with others for a combined lunch.To me, GOAS, has the most fun project for the day. Of course, as a child and adult, I've always been thrilled when I ran into a snake, frog, toad, lizard, or other animal along the way. So, for all of those volunteers so inclined, we are conducting a R.A.V.E., Rapid Assessment Visual Exploration, which will provide us with a four hour plant and animal inventory, a mini-BioBlitz. Teams formed will inventory all birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, aquatic species, herbaceous plants, and trees/shrubs at Valley Water Mill Park in that four hour window. Many university and MDC experts are acting as team leaders for each group.

Videographers will be brought in to make a 3-4 minute video of our day, and our event will serve as an example to others with TogetherGreen projects awaiting completion.Here's me, looking forward to a grand Volunteer Day. Hope this weather holds!

Of course, I'll have a follow up entry soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Table Rock Temptations

It all started with unbelievable reports coming out of Arkansas and Oklahoma of Gustav birds falling out over regional reservoirs. It hastened a trip to Table Rock Reservoir on Friday morning, so Marvin and I set out in search of hurricane birds.

After viewing flocks of Black and Caspian Terns from the dam viewing area, we wound our way around to Old Highway 86 State Park. We scanned the area fruitlessly, but found a new friend in Joe Eades, St. Louis birder phenom, who in 2007, challenged the state year record with 313 species, one short of Tim Barksdale's long held Missouri year list of 314 species.

Joe suggested we head over to the Cow Creek Road look out, where we watched 8 Caspian Terns sail gracefully over head.
photo courtesy of Marvin DeJong
Time was getting away from us by this time, as Marvin and I had mid afternoon schedule conflicts, so we left without our hurricane birds. Joe continued the quest.

At 8:45 that evening, the call came. "I think you should come down here in the morning",. he cautiously said. Being careful not to reveal the species, I suspected a new state record possibility. Thinking Royal Tern was the most likely bird, I began to study the field guide. Shortly, thereafter, Josh Uffman posted on the GOAS message board:

I'm reporting for Joe Eades, who has just observed a ROYAL TERN at Table Rock Lake (Taney/Stone Co's) this evening (September 5) for about 45 minutes. Directions follow, and Joe states that he will be at the spot first thing in the morning to try to relocate the bird. This is a potential first state record and therefore needs to be documented with special care. There are two ways in which it can achieve acceptance: (1) Someone gets diagnostic photographs. These do not have to be great pictures, but they must show the diagnostic features of the bird. It may be hard to get such photos if the bird is far out on the lake, but let's hope someone gets lucky. (2) Two or more observers INDEPENDENTLY watch the bird, take careful field notes on the spot, and write up their documentations soon thereafter. The meaning of "independently" is that the observers should not be talking to each other, discussing field marks, and thereby possibly convincing one another of what they are seeing. The two (or more) documentations also need to be "independently acceptable," i.e., either one alone contains sufficient detail to make the record acceptable under normal circumstances (other than first state record).
Joe will of course provide one documentation, so other observers are needed to locate the bird and then do their own observing and note-taking and documentation (which neither Joe nor anyone else can help with). This policy may seem a bit arbitrary, but it is designed to avoid the situation where observers talk each other into agreement on certain field marks—a scenario that has actually occurred many times. With properly independent documentations, the MBRC will accept a record without the necessity of physical evidence (photo, specimen, etc.). I excitedly arrived at the point at 7:00 am without my photographer friend Marvin, who had gone on a family camping trip. At 7:10, I observed a large tern near the Branson cap...... Caspian.Shortly after 8:00, Joe arrived. He felt that he could not discuss the bird, other than the fact that he had observed it for 45 minutes in good light the previous evening. This morning, however, the lighting in the same direction was blinding, as the sun rose over the Ozark hills. Even so, he spotted and began to follow a possibility. The bird skirted the shoreline in horrible light before it turned toward us!

During that quick flyby, I was having trouble getting my new angled scope on the bird, and I became frustrated. By the time I gave up and grabbed the bins, I couldn't get anything on the head. The bird vocalized. My first thought was that a heron was nearby, but Joe confirmed that it was the tern. The sycamore trees obscured my view, and by the time I got my bins on the bird, I was unable to get any features on the head. As the bird flew away and into the distance, I did see a profile of a slim build and long wings, but I did not see a forked tail, white forehead, or any other head features.

"Do you think this was the bird that you saw yesterday, I asked. "I think it was", he replied.

As the bird flew along the far shoreline, at least 2 miles in the distance, Joe shouted, "Sabine's Gull! Does that do anything for you?" Indeed it did, a life bird, but the vast distance to the bird prevented me from initially and independently identifying the bird. Luckily, the bird veered right at the Branson Belle showboat, and entered the cove across from our vantage point. As the triangular shapes on the wings came into clear view, I began to understand why Joe was able to make the call at such a long distance. This is a striking and unmistakable gull, beautiful in flight, suggesting balance, as in a yin-yang by Gerrit Vyn, off of Cornell website

I returned home ready to provide sketchy gizz related, albeit not conclusive in any way, documentation of a Royal Tern, thinking Joe had a slam dunk the previous day. Then, I remembered that vocalization! I checked various Internet sites, and the truth was obvious. This was a Caspian Tern. I called Joe to tell him the conclusion that I had reached. Caspian Tern. I was relieved to find that, in the end, Joe, too, backed off his call for the Saturday bird, and had decided to hold off on documenting the Friday evening sighting, too.

It was a reminder that anticipation is a powerful intoxicant for all birders, no matter what skill level, and that we all can make errors in the field.

I've learned much from the experience. If I ever get a chance at a Missouri Royal Tern, I will definitely be more prepared, and, as a result, probably would not give a second thought to a bird like I saw Saturday, a beautiful, yet common, Caspian Tern........

But, then, I would have missed all this excitement!

Bring those hurricane birds inland, Ike! Joe, Marvin, and I have already made plans for Sunday and Monday at Table Rock Reservoir!