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 http://pie.midcoat.net/dougback/North%20Cave%20Hills.htm
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!