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Little Bird on the Prairie

December 28, 2007

New I and the Bird over at Amy Hooper’s Wildbird on the Fly.

And so on the day after Christmas we traveled westward, to the place where the last hills and hollows of the Ozarks are shrugged off in favor of the wide sweeping vistas of the prairie. It’s not a place I traveled to regularly when I was a young birder, it’s only recently been realized as a great birding locale, so here was the possibility for several new birds merely an hour from the place I grew up. One in particular was our quarry for the day, and for us to get a shot on it we needed to travel to Bois D’Arc (pronouced Bo Dark) Conservation Area west of Springfield.

It’s a tricksy bird, preferring to sneak around in the grasses and flush underfoot only to hide again. My dad had recruited a couple friends from the local Audubon Society and we had a very specific plan to get a look at it. The four of us spread out and walked into the field, several birds flushed on approach. They were mostly Savannah Sparrows and one surprising Vesper Sparrow flashed its white outer tail feathers as it flew away but not much else. When we reached the end of a row we spotted a pair of hunters across the field. We turned back, a move that proved to be the best of the day. As we walked back towards the car a small pale sparrow flushed ahead of me. We quickly surrounded it and it flew once more into a stand of sumacs where it sat for us.

There it was, my lifer Le Conte’s Sparrow, small orange and impressively still for a record photo. It’s a really sharp little bird, and it quickly rose in my estimation of the most colorful sparrows I’d seen. Ater a while it flew off, we chased it again to try and get another look, but it never cooperated as well as the first time and four people just aren’t enough to adequately prevent it from taking off time and time again. We left the bird to its own and decided that our rapid success provided us with enough time to try for some other prairie birds farther west.

The land around Lockwood in Dade County, Missouri, undoubtedly turns to plains. We were in search of the prairie birds that had been reported recently in the area. Stuff like longspurs, Prairie Falcon, and Rough-legged Hawk. On our way there though, we came upon a large farm pond that looked at first glance to contain lots of Canada Geese. On closer inspection, several Cackling Geese could be seen amongst the Canadas and several Mallards. It was great to see the miniature geese, closer in size to the Mallards than their larger lookalikes. It was a lifer for me as I hadn’t run into any since the recent split from Canada Goose. Soon after we got out of the car to scope them the birds flushed and hundreds of geese were in the air. They’re flighty buggers. No Cacklers left then, and no photo sadly.

From there we cruised down the farm roads around Lockwood, checking the spent wheat fields for longspurs with little luck. We could have used an inch of snow or so to make them more obvious. Looking for small brown birds in vast brown fields is an imposing proposition. We did find many Northern Harriers and some new-for-the-year American Tree Sparrows (#300 for the year!) in a fencerow. More exciting were several large flocks of blackbirds, and from one I was able to pick out a nice Brewer’s Blackbird. Another lifer! These prairie birds are great!

The day was getting on and we were only out due to the kindness of our non-birding family members. With them in mind we made the trip homeward with a quick stop at the Northern Shrike spot. No luck. Is that enough misses to count it as a genuine nemesis bird? Oh well, I had to be happy with my three Missouri lifers in the hand and save the fourth for another day.

  1. Sky Girl permalink
    December 29, 2007 11:42 am

    Great day. My parents are out on a Christmas bird count in Taney County this a.m. I’m home with the kiddos.

    My folks are pretty active in the Springfield Audubon society.

    Glad you got some lifers. Happy New Year!

  2. December 29, 2007 5:32 pm

    Small world Sky Girl.

    I spent this morning on that very count. I probably saw your parents when everybody met at McDonald’s this morning.

    I’ll have something on it next week…

  3. Sky Girl permalink
    December 31, 2007 7:00 pm

    Wish I could have been there. I did add the the count by doing their backyard while they were out and about. Got several species in about 30 minutes, including the bald eagles that are nesting on the lake right across from their house.

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