Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Bird Count

It was December 18, 1993, when my son and I ventured out on our first Greater Ozarks Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. At the time, we had no idea of the luck that spread over us on that day and in the years following. The "piece of the pie" that we were assigned to was then, and is still today, the finest chunk of habitat in the Springfield circle. It includes the beautiful and spacious water supply for the city, Fellows Lake.

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Fellows Lake is not so big that it cannot be fully covered, a scope view from the north shoreline can reach the main body of the lake. Only a southeast extending arm in out of sight in the early morning of the CBC count but we make sure that we pick that up in the slanting rays of the late afternoon sunlight on CBC day.
On that day in 1993, all the birds were magical. I remember vividly my son Nathan saying that, on this day every single bird counts........., even the single Starling on the line was added to the 20, 000 others, blowing away my scientific concept of "significant digits"! I will never forget our views of an immature Cooper's Hawk on a fence post. It is a species that is regularly encountered in modern southwest Missouri CBCs, but in 1993 it required documentation. On top of that, it was a lifer for both my son and me. We carefully described to each other every detail of the reasonably cooperative accipiter. Ultimately, our documentation was accepted, a beginning birder triumph.

We learned quickly that our leader, former Springfield Conservation Nature Center director and current Director of Field Support or the National Audubon Society, Dave Catlin, was all about the number of species that we accumulated for the day. At lunch we would carefully identify the gaps in our list, and we would target specific habitats to fill them in.

When I think back, I am amazed that we were invited to be part of his "elite" birder team. I guess Dave probably saw the potential and precocious birding ability of my son, and thought that he was an excellent bet! I just happened to be his driver!

Speaking of that team of elite birders..... Although my son is now unable to join us since his move to Tarheels land in North Carolina, we still will be putting together a formidable group. The most noteable to bloggers is world traveler, founder of Birdstack, author of Search and Serendipidity, and birder phenom David Ringer. See the current Birds of the Solistice count day link on the sidebar.

Second is Bo Brown, long time musician, bohemian, and birder extraordinaire, whose work, along with Dave Catlin's is sited here and here. Bo has birded around the world, participating as a professional bird researcher at various locales from Point Reyes to Northwest Arkansas and far beyond.

Third is Charley Burwick, retired from the FAA; he joined Nathan and I on that "first for him, too" CBC count in 1993. Charley has risen through the ranks to become an excellent birder. He is currently the president of both Audubon Missouri and the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society.

And so, we set out to our Fellows Lake sector again this Saturday. It is my 16th year in a row to participate in southwest Missouri CBCs. The excitement is palpable, and I just can't wait to see what turns up this year.............. on that very special day when "every single bird counts".

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Least of These

The 2 Least Sandpipers that I reported 2 weeks ago still remain at Bois D'Arc CA this afternoon, December 14. Forty + degree drop this evening will surely test their resolve.Also saw 2 Loggerhead Shrikes out by Fellows Lake. No luck so far in the search for Northern Shrike out in the Fellows Lake area this year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lockwood Luxuries

In hot pursuit of a Northern Shrike spotted by Charley Burwick, Lisa Berger, and David Ringer last weekend, I bee lined to a largely agricultural area north of Lockwood on both Monday and Friday this week. Although the Monday trip did not result in the NSHR, I was not disappointed.

A light dusting of snow in the area made Monday a day for Longspurs. I ran into 3 mixed flocks of Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs. With snow these little guys are a little easier to find, but locating them in a picture is still very difficult. I shot at least 20 photos and came out with only one that clearly identifies the species.
On the way home from Lockwood on Monday, I decided to stop by a mudflat area in the Bois D'Arc Conservation Area to check for late shorebirds. I found these two Least Sandpipers hanging out with the regular Killdeer and occasional Wilson's Snipe found during Ozark winters. After running a few errands on Friday, I realized that I had a window of opportunity to dash out to Lockwood once again. I called Charley and he was up for another search of the Lockwood area. Not long after leaving the main highway to the region, we saw a flock of 80 Lapland Longspurs scattered across a field. Shortly thereafter, 40 Brewer's Blackbirds were spotted sharing a tree with a Red-tailed Hawk. I was surprised when I entered my observation of these Brewer's Blackbird on e-bird, the sighting required confirmation by a reviewer. I saw flocks of them on both days, and they are truly winter regulars in the Lockwood area. I was intriqued by a MoBird post this week by Larry Herbert of Joplin. He said that of the 10 or so Northern Shrikes that he has seen in his lifetime, 8 have been associated with brush piles, and that is true of this Lockwood shrike. The second brush pile from the left that this particular shrike inhabited is clearly visible on Google maps. It must be a fairly recent picture.
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And, On this day, the Northern Shrike was right where he was supposed to be, on the second brush pile. One year ago, on December 8, I saw my first Northern Shrike, but it was not in a brush pile nor was it as cooperative as this one was. All the key field marks are visible in the photos. Take a look!
It would have been a wonderful 2 hours of birding if it had ended there. But one mile south of the Northern Shrike, we were delighted to spot a Prairie Falcon zipping low down the road in front of the car. We were lucky enough to observe the restless bird briefly as it sat on a fence post, and then we flushed it to another fence row and I got a great swing by look at it as it darted for cover. Although this isn't my photo, it certainly is a picture etched in my memory. Although I believe I had a very brief glance at the bird on Monday, this look would go down as my first Missouri Prairie Falcon. Just after a look like the one below, the bird hung a sharp left and I clearly saw the dark wingpits. Check! Got it!
Photo by Doug Backlund at

Since I had another committment at 4:00, we headed for home. The drive home was largely uneventful except for a nice look at a Black Vulture soaring over the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. Some days, like this Friday, the great birding boils down to a couple hours in the field. Guess that is proof that anything can happen the instant you slip out that front door!