Monday, January 5, 2009

Top Ten Nature Moments of 2008

Once again it is with gratitude and a desire to share the joy of the great outdoors that I post my top ten nature moments of 2008.

As a retired biology teacher, I know that natural awareness and environmental responsibility is taught in the classroom, but the teachings simply do not take hold without awe inspiring, first hand encounters with the natural world and all of its beauty. We who long for our next day out of doors have developed a heartfelt gratitude for the gift of Nature. It is from the core of this "gratitude within" that we are called into action to educate others, and to protect, defend, and preserve our biosphere.
So yes, this is a self-indulgent episode in blogging, but I still prefer to think of it as a testimony to the power of Nature to transform lives and to instill, as Rachel Carson coined, "a sense of wonder" in all of us.

My Top Ten Nature Moments of 2008

10. Fellows Lake Feathers! In November, I was forced to study the subtle difference between Western Grebes and Clark's Grebes as a tempting intergrade bird appeared on Fellows Lake. I ultimately decided it was a Western Grebe, but only after 2-3 days of mulling it over in my mind. This place is always special. It is the location of my life Clay-colored Sparrow, Northern Shrike, and Pacific Loon discoveries in past years. Last, but surely not least, it is the main piece of the pie in my section of the Springfield Christmas Bird Count circle, where I learned that "every bird counts."

9. Environmental Education Excellence!: Receiving a $26,000 grant from the Together Green project to set up the first annual Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE). Our plan is to select 16 of the finest young environmental leaders in Southwest Missouri high schools, to have them converge in a week long residential adventure and to put them to work near the Arkansas border in an effort to restore habitat for Swainson's Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow and other endangered species of Missouri. Check it our plans at

8 Bodacious Bois D'Arc Boids! I have underbirded Bois D'Arc Conservation Area. I vow not to do it again this year! In 2008 the area produced stunning views of LeConte's Sparrow, Wilson's Snipes, and American Pipits. A single Dunlin appeared in November. In December, I spotted 2 late Least Sandpipers that stayed for at least 2 weeks.7. Aldrich Avian Adventures! On a comfortable August morning, Marvin and I headed up to the Aldrich arm of Stockton Reservoir in search of Buff-bellied Sandpipers. Although our target species eluded us, we enjoy large numbers of terns and shorebirds, getting soul satisfying views of Western Sandpipers and Least Terns.

6. Lockwood Luxuries! Although I had discovered a Northern Shrike at Fellows Lake last winter, I was again thrilled when birder friends Charley, Lisa, and David found another Northern Shrike in the Lockwood area. I convinced Charley to join me a few days later. We quickly found the cooperative Northern Shrike and added a stealthy Prairie Falcon to my Missouri list. The speedy bird was hard to keep up with, but as I look back, I realize that we were very fortunate to get three looks before it disappeared into the distant prairie.

5. Gustav Gulling! When Hurricane Gustav's landfall path reached into Southwest Missouri, I beelined down to Table Rock Reservoir in seach of Royal, Sooty, or Bridled Terns. Although unsuccessful in my tern quest, I was fortunate to be with one of Missouri's top birders, Joe Eades. He spotted my life Sabine's Gull along a distant shore, and we marveled in its distinctive yin-yang triangular wing pattern.

4. Wetlands Wonders! In September, I journeyed out to Kansas, where I birded Cheyenne Bottoms for a single afternoon. Not only did I add Red-necked Phalarope to my life list, but I photographed grace in action in wading American Avocets and swarming Monarch butterflies. Quite a sight!

3. Big Day Bonanza! An unbelievable 125 species on our May Big Day! Marvin, Charley and I arrived on the Missouri Prairie at sunrise, covered the roads down to the Busiek State Forest glade and Mark Twain National Forest, on to the Palmetto Meadows and urban waters, and finished some 14 hours later at Lake Springfield! This awesome day broke my previous big day record by 20 species!

2. Outer Banks Odyssey! The holidays provided a wonderful opportunity to visit my NC son and daughter-in-law and we all ventured to the the Outer Banks. Besides spending 4 days on the beach and visiting three light houses, I managed to pick up 4 life birds as my son struggled to pick up his 300th NC bird for 2008. Birds that I added to my list were Red-throated Loan, Mute Swan, Surf Scoter, and my favorite, the Purple Sandpipers of Oregon Inlet near Pea Island NWR.

1. Wyoming Wonders! An incredible family trip to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. It all started when my brother-in-law planned a family reunion there. Fourteen of us converged in Moran Junction, Wyoming, sightseeing our way up to Cooke City, Montana, and back to Moran Junction. The valley of the Lamar provided an amazing wildlife viewing experience that I will never forget. We arrived early in the morning in the valley of the Lamar, shortly after the Slough pack of wolves had taken down a young bull elk. Lying on the banks of the river, the carcass became the hub of biological activity for at least two days. The wolves gorged themselves, magpies and coyotes waiting on the sideline for a clearing in the mob. As the wolves dispersed, a Grizzly Bear barreled down the hill at an incredible speed. At one point, it confronted a member of the wolf pack. There was no doubting who the boss was in that valley as the bear chased the wolf out of sight. In the distance, huge herds of American Bison grazed in valley. At one point the distance between us and a bull buffalo became too close for comfort, however. We barely got into the car as the behemoth passed within inches of our vehicle. Amazing mammals were joined by Amazing birds on the trips, as Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Trumpeter Swans, Red-bellied Sapsuckers, and Western Grebes rise up in my memory, but there were more..... many more. It was truly a "once in a lifetime" experience!

So that's another year passed. Wishing you many life birds and many life birding relationships in 2009! Cheers to all!

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