Thursday, February 28, 2008

Storming the Castle

Conservation Lobby Day 2008 was a huge success! Between 100 and 150 conservation minded lobbyists "stormed the castle" at the State Capitol Building in Jefferson City. Key legislators were inundated by our groups. We focused on Streams, Green Building, Renewable Energy, and CAFO's, and other environmental issues as well. Our voices were, indeed, heard loudly and in force.

I was assigned to the Green Building group, where we advocated for high performing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification on all new state and local government and public buildings in Missouri. O ur best option in regard to this seemed to be SB100, LEED for Public Building, sponsored by Sen. Joan Bray of St. Louis. The bill reads:

"LEED for Public Buildings requires a state or local government guilding that is constructed or substantially renovated to be U.S. Green Building council LEED certified. Allows exclusions from standards when the cost of compliance exceeds the expected energy savings."

I spoke to several legislators, including Sen. Tim Green, Rep. Mott Oxford, and Rep. Sara Lampe. All of these Democrats were eager to join our forces and to relish in our support for their legislative efforts in environmental reform.

My favorite was Sara Lampe, who was a great professor and friend when I was working on my Master's degree at Drury University. Her uncompromised support for education, the elderly, the uninsured, and the environment are unmatched by her Southwest Missouri colleagues. My own Rep. Ray Weter mentioned that she comes on a little too strong in her advocacies, but that's just the way I like it. She legislates with the same passion with which she teaches, and remains a steadfast supporter and trailblazer in the field of Gifted Education. As a legislator, her positive impact upon Southwest Missouri continues to grow and the ripples are changing the landscape in the entire state of Missouri. We need more Sara Lampes!

In stark contrast is my State Senator, Dan Clemens. I've written him a number of times on issues of education, the environment, and conceal and carry legislation. I have never received a personal reply. It was no surprise then that he was not available when I reached his office. It's frustrating to have a Senator in Jefferson City that does little to improve the quality of life in our portion of the state. He is simply a rubber stamp Republican, with little work ethic and no regard for the welfare of the common Missourians that he serves.

Clemens' fellow Republican Ray Weter is my State Representative. Ray is a kind man and a strong supporter of public education. In this area, he finds himself at odds with the powers that be in his own party. He is a good listener, and votes his conscience. Even though we differ on way more political issues than we agree upon, I always feel appreciated as a concerned citizen after I talk to him. He is concerned about wars caused by fossil fuel addiction. To him, this justifies the subsidized ethanol industry in America and probably drilling in ANWR. To me, it justifies increased funding for R & D in sustainable alternative energy.

Why is it that the Republicans spout ideology that "the free market forces should dictate the viability of the product" , yet they subsidize ethanol plant developers Archer, Daniels, Midland and agribusiness oriented corn growers to the tune of billions of dollars? How obvious can it be that Republican policies are protecting the greedy, squandering our future, and continuously relying upon fear to coerce people, who mindlessly embrace their flawed ideology?

But, I sense that the ripples of change are spreading throughout this great country. That is the feeling that I strongly detected while walking the halls of that building in Jefferson City. Last year the state legislature began to turn, and we successfully defended our state against CAFOs gone wild. This year there is reason to believe that our proactive, progressive, legislative efforts may begin to take hold in both our state and nation. Yes, the smog that has engulfed our country for the past eight years is lifting, and I am beginning to breathe clean air again.

Join us in taking back our country in 2008!

Fellow lobbyists Marvin and Charley pause in front of our State Capitol Building.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Show Me Clean.....Show Me Green.......

"Retirement? What are you going to do?" Seems I hear that question daily now.

"Have any political ambitions?" No, but certainly a strong belief in the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world".

I do believe that our collective actions can have a great deal of positive impact upon our communities and far beyond.

I recently resigned, effective at the completion of this school year, from the full time teaching of science and gifted studies in the public schools of Missouri for the past 31 years. With plans to work 1/2 time with gifted high school students next school year, my mind has turned to how I'll be spending those extra hours each week.

Of course, birding comes to mind immediately! But, lately I've been thinking of that banner quote over at The Feather and the Flower. Mike must run that quote through his mind often, and since I've become a regular visitor to his blog, it has struck a chord with me, too.

"I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day." - E.B. White

Is there any chance that our shared passion for birds can offer a path upon which we can do both at the same time? Over at The Drinking Bird, N8 recalls the day he took a frolicking young boy under his wing. It is proof positive that we can save and savor at the same time.

On Tuesday, February 26, I will be trying to combine "saving" with "savoring" the world as my friends and I take advantage of the February lull in birding to enter the political arena. The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Missouri Votes Conservation, and the Sierra Club are co-sponsoring the Show Me Clean..... Show Me Green..... 2008 Conservation Lobby Day at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Missouri.Common interests bring people together, and my three traveling companions share many. I'll be joined by Charley, president of Audubon Missouri and our local Greater Ozarks Audubon Society, Marvin, professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, and Bob , local Master Naturalist and political/environmental activist.

No doubt the conversations will flow freely from a bipartisan energy policy that subsidizes the irresponsible ethanol industry to stinking CAFOs to water quality issues to the beauty of evolution to the stinking war to the elections and, of course, to the birds. No doubt, we will pick out Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels on wires, branches, and fence posts......, Gulls and Eagles as we cross the Lake of the Ozarks....., and many more gems of nature as we make our way along the winding roads through the woodlands and fields of the Ozarks.

I must apologize for piggybacking off of an idea that N8 threw out there a few days ago, that birding is as much about people as it is about birds. And herein lies the key to the E.B. White quote.

Occasionally, we can spend time together not birding per se, but doing our part for the health of the ecosystems that support the birds.

"Lobbying or Warblering, which would you rather do?"

Now that's one silly question, but I'll still take a day, especially in the dead of winter, to talk to elephants and donkeys, especially if it means that our beloved birds will fly into the future.

My complete report on next week's blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Surf"ing for the "Least" of These

Greetings from the Semipalmated Plover. Marvin gave me a CD of his Birds of Alaska. Yesterday I posted a few shorebirds, and got some great comments. So, I took a quick look at the CD again tonight. I found these three that I really like. Check out the detail in this beautiful Least Sandpiper! And here's the Surfbird that Marvin mentioned in his comment yesterday. All photos copyright by Marvin DeJong.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Marvin's Photos: Shorebirds of Alaska

It's a flood day in the Ozarks, and my mind has turned to shorebirds. The rain swollen fields of Palmetto would be crawling with plovers, peeps, and plenty more if this much rain would fall in a few short weeks. We await the American Golden Plovers that arrive at the end of March, and the many other shorebirds that follow throughout April and May.

So, if it rains, and only if it rains, they will come! So far, the precipitation is above normal. If this trend continues, it should be a great spring for shorebirds in our neck of the wo...... uh, fields.

So, to get you and me in the mood, here are a few photographs that Marvin DeJong took last spring in Alaska. All photos are used with his permission.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Casual" Chipping Sparrow Near Bull Creek

Prairie Falcons, Lapland Longspurs, Cackling Geese, Harris's Sparrows, Canvasbacks, Rusty Blackbirds, Pine Siskins, Merlins...... the list of uncommon, rare, and casual birds coming out of the Springfield area in February of 2008 continues. And, today, another one appeared..........

Claudia DeJong, Marvin's wife, spotted and identified this Chipping Sparrow under the DeJong's feeder this morning. This is a significant winter sighting for Missouri. It is listed on the Annotated Checklist of Missouri Birds as a "casual" winter resident in southern Missouri (5-15 documented winter records). The DeJongs live in southern Christian County along Bull Creek.
photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong
Congratulations, Claudia! Thanks for sharing!
Hope the SW Missouri trend continues!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ice Storm Digiscoping

The icy grip has lessened in the Ozarks and we now face a windy, warm Thursday, following by a return to the deep freeze on Friday. For the past three days, I've spent hours watching the persistent birds with ice-covered tail feathers scratching in hopes of dislodging a morsel of food from the one inch thick layer of ice that covered everything. I managed to keep a few of these these high metabolism creatures stocked with high calorie food for the duration of this storm. It was not uncommon to count 75-100 birds in my subdivision yard.

This weather event gave me a chance to work with my new camera, a Panasonic DMC-TZ3. I have been pretty impressed with some of my son's photos with the same type of point and shoot camera over at The Drinking Bird, so I'm hoping to figure out what I'm doing wrong and what he's doing right. Of course, the fact that I'm using a Bausch and Lomb Discoverer and he is using his new Kowa scope could account for some of the difference, but not all of it. By the way, the siskin and woodpecker below were close enough to take without the scope, and the ducks were taken through my binoculars.

I've already posted my Rusty Blackbird and Harris's Sparrow photos, but here's a few of my other feeder visitors during this week's icestorm.

Northern Cardinal: Check out that ice!A real treat! Our only Pine Siskin during the stormOur favorite, the Downy WoodpeckerFox SparrowMale Purple Finch and Female House Finch Canvasback, Ring-billed Duck and Mallards
at Southern Hills Lake when I finally ventured out on Wednesday

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yard Bird: The "Vulnerable" Rusty Blackbird

We awakened to more ice and downed trees in our yard and throughout the Ozarks. Another day off of work and an excellent day to watch the feeders. After Marvin e-mailed me three great photos of a Rusty Blackbird yesterday, I must confess that I started taking a second look at the unwelcomed European Starlings in my backyard. Most people may not be aware that Rusty Blackbirds are facing a dramatic decline in numbers due to a number of issues. More about that later in the post.
This morning Marvin's e-mail stated "I have 3 Rusty Blackbirds slipping and sliding on the ice this morning". High number is 6 today.

Yesterday, Lisa commented on my Harris's Sparrow post, "Hey, why are we consuming all these fossil fuels heading out to the prairie, when our target birds end up in our back yards?"
"Good point, Lisa. I think I'll invite another uncommon bird to my icy retreat!" I said to myself.

Well, it happened again. Today, a lone Rusty Blackbird, a new life yard bird, arrived with a Brown-headed Cowbird! Marvin said that he "asked them to fly over to Ozark to show up at my feeder. No charge for that service."
Speaking of the increasingly vulnerable Rusty Blackbirds, this is the fifth time this winter that I've seen them in a 15 mile radius of here. Ten years ago there were few, if any, reports of Rusties in the Springfield area, with most winter sightings coming from the Duck Creek and Mingo areas in SE Missouri. This is good news, considering the dramatic decline in the numbers of this species elsewhere.

I'm hopeful that perhaps this "apparent", albeit modest, range expansion in its wintering grounds will help Rusty Blackbirds. Range expansion will not solve the species' image problem, however. It will have to be accompanied by the busting of "the only good blackbird is a dead blackbird" myth. Whenever possible, educate yourself and increase others' awareness of the plight of this threatened species. Be sure to report your sightings to the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Harris's Sparrow - Yard Bird

Although fairly easy to find out in the prairie near Golden City and Lockwood, the sighting of a Harris's Sparrow in or around Springfield is certainly uncommon. How convenient then that one showed up at my feeder this morning when the roads are ice-covered and treacherous!

Couldn't resist adding this icy tailed beauty.

Blue (Ice) Monday

It's a great early Feeder Watch day here in Missouri, especially since there's nothing better to do. An early morning ice storm has cancelled school and prohibited sane driving for at least a few hours. Seems to be inhibiting the flight of one of my goldfinches this morning, too.
The rest of the photos on this posting are courtesy of Marvin DeJong.
In area birding news, another Prairie Falcon was spotted on Golden Prairie by Charley and Dean on Friday! This is the third Prairie Falcon sighting in 2 weeks for Charley. Even though I've been out to the prairie twice in the same time period. I have yet to spot one........this year or ever....

So, it was tempting to return to the Golden City/Lockwood area Sunday to falcon search one more time before spring, but we opted for a close to home 1/2 day trip to the old standbys, Fellows Lake, Lake Springfield, and the surrounding ponds and lakes of our area.

Our first noteable sighting was this Red-tailed Hawk on Valley Water Mill Road at the Highway 65 interchange. It's finely streaked belly band defined it as an individual among the countless variations of Red-tailed Hawks that we have seen in the past month. The I-44 corridor between Springfield and Tulsa is the winter home for hundreds of Red-tails. On recent trips we have observed variations ranging from Harlan's to dark morph red-tails to very light morph hawks, and everything in between. However, I've yet to see a true Krider's or leucistic red-tail this winter.

At Valley Water Mill we were happy to see 50 or so Green-winged Teal, as they have been scarce this winter. They were joined by Mallards, Gadwalls, and a single Northern Shovelor. Our trip north toward Fellows Lake netted Lesser Scaup on a farm pond. At the horse ranch, a group of courting Eastern Meadowlarks entertained us for a while, while 500+ Red-wings, cowbirds, and grackles twisted and turned in the distance. Orange and white flashes accented the black masses. Six Northern Shovelors sat on the distance pond while Horned Larks scratched dirt near the horses.

We descended into the Sac River valley, where once a Northern Shrike perched and Bald Eagles gathered branches to reinforce their nest. Unfortunately, recent avian work on the eagle nest met with another weather disaster. Part of the nest, hit hard by the ice storm one year ago, has collapsed, most likely in recent strong winds that dropped temperatures 30+ degrees in an hour a week ago. And so, the pair of eagles that has worked on nesting in this area for 5 years, is facing another setback.

Adrenaline surged as we spotted a shrike atop a Honey Locust tree in the same field where the December 8 Northern Shrike perched. As hard as we tried to make it into the former record worthy shrike, we left the area with a single Loggerhead. A comparison of our two Fellows Lake Spillway shrikes reveals the obvious differences in the two species.

North winds forced waterfowl into the coves on the accessible side of Fellows Lake, so we had close up views of about 10 Common Goldeneye. A flock of Lesser Scaup, a single Horned Grebe, 3 Pied-billed Grebes, and a Ring-billed Gull were also seen. A light-morph Red-tail got us excited with the possibility of a Krider's, but in the end we decided that it was just another Red-tail, yet another beautiful variation.We then headed over to McDaniel's Lake, where we scoped about 30 Ring-billed Gulls. We searched unsuccessfully for something different among them. Later a flock of ring bills on Lake Springfield confirmed some movement of gulls into our area.

The trip home was largely uneventful. A single Turkey Vulture certainly cannot be deemed a harbinger of spring, but we in Missouri surely need the elixir. On the Mo-Bird listserv, birders are arguing about the use of three exclamation marks in postings. Yes, we need spring to burst out all over, but the Ground Hog did bask in warm temperatures and sunshine....... The grip of winter is still upon us.

Today, I wish I was in Northern Carolina looking for birds at Mattamuskeet and Alligator River NWR with my son, serving as a second pair of eyes, spotting rarities.

Instead, I sit watching my feeders for something different as surrounding tree limbs sag and break with the weight of accumulated ice.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Southern Hills Lakes

It's been a slow year for ducks in the Springfield area. It seems like the days of Lake Springfield hosting a healthy population of wintering waterfowl have gone. I remember clearly the day many years ago when we spotted Cinnamon Teal and American Black Duck among the large flock of dabblers.
Back then the lake was choked with dense lotus vegetation in the warmer months. I certainly understand the negative effects of eutrophication, but it did seem that the aquatic vegetation increased the carrying capacity for waterfowl and waders. Just before the lake was treated with an aquatic herbicide, clearing the vegetation completely, we had sightings of White Ibis and Tri-colored Heron there. Of course chemical treatment did nothing to reduce the levels of nitrates and phosphates that caused the vegetation growth in the first place.

But, so much for Lake Springfield. Throughout my years of urban birding, one location has always hosted a healthy wintering population of ducks. Located in a 1950's era subdivision in east Springfield, the Southern Hills development features 3 small lakes. It is in these lakes that one can be sure to view Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, and Mallards on any winter day.
Recently we checked the ponds out. The highlight for the day was this Canvasback. Here's Marvin taking its picture. The winter status of Canvasback, although common on the Mississippi River, is rare elsewhere in Missouri. So, for me, this single bird was the highlight of our time at Southern Hills Lakes.
In the third small lake, we watched a mixed flock of Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallards, Canada Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks gently glide across the water.
A pair of Mute Swans was nearby, not associating with the "flock". For many years, the past residents of this location's population of swans were believed to originals of what some Springfield birders believe is a nearly sustainable population. Mute Swans have been spotted as far away as Palmetto to the east and Fellows Lake to the north. They continue to be seen in the area, but I'm thinking that the numbers are down this year, as only two birds remain at Southern Hills this winter. The influx of Canada Goose as a nuisance bird has most certainly limited the easy winter food formerly available in the Southern Hills neighborhood. I'm thinking that this population is at a critical impasse. Only time will tell what will come of it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Long Live Longspurs!

I didn't get enough of my lifer Lapland Longspurs last week, so Charley, Lisa, Marvin, and I set out once more for the Missouri prairies and agricultural areas around Golden City and Lockwood. Of course, the fact that Charley and Lisa had one Prairie Falcon at John Deere Farm and another one at Providence Prairie last Sunday mandated my return to the area ASAP. With today's temperatures in the 70's, it won't be long before the birds return to the north.
Unfortunately, we were unable to relocate the falcons, but we did have a Merlin, many Lapland Longspurs at close range, Harlan's Hawk, Harris's Sparrows, Cackling Geese, Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and 4 Loggerhead Shrikes. Total species count was 46 for the day.

Again, Marvin DeJong took many great photos on the trip. Here are a couple of our target longspurs posing for the camera.