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The Most Important Bird Count in the Blogosphere

January 3, 2008

Here’s a little odd coincidence that I doubt many bird-blog enthusiasts are aware of. If you are a regular reader of the myriad of great nature writing out in the blogosphere you are no doubt aware of David Ringer’s excellent Search and Serendipity. If not, then what are you waiting for? Click on over there immediately. David is a much better writer than I am and takes lovely photos, plus he occasionally goes to really wild places like Africa and New Guinea. Well worth checking out if you haven’t, and if you have, well, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the weird part. While David now lives in Texas and I cover North Carolina we grew up in the very same place, the very same bird club, but peaked at different times.

You see, I was a mad-keen birder at a very young age and active in the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society then, but when I hit high school I burned out a bit and wasn’t as involved as I had been. This roughly corresponds with David’s increased awareness of birds and he became the young birder du jour when I left, hanging out with the same people, learning at the same knees. David started his blog, and a couple years later, after I had returned to the birder fold, I started mine. So apparently, the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society is some sort of incubator for aspiring young bird bloggers. So all you aspiring young bird bloggers should head immediately to Springfield, Missouri, or you know, just open blogger and start one that way. Your call really.

I bring this up because while I was in Missouri for the holidays, David was too, and our paths crossed somewhat during the Taney County Christmas Bird Count last Saturday. While we were not physically in the same place at the same time, our goal was the same, to scour Taney County, which includes both the Table Rock and Taneycomo reservoirs, for great winter birds. I haven’t heard how his group in particular did, but the count on the whole was pretty successful, and my group had some high points worth mentioning.

Consisting of my dad, his friend Marvin DeJong, GOAS stalwart Dean Rising, and me, we first hit the campus of College of the Ozarks, a small christian college in Point Lookout near the elderly mecca that is Branson, Missouri. The campus has lots of undeveloped land and we found many of the regularly occurring winter birds here and several nice Buffleheads and Lesser Scaup on the ponds.

After a couple hours of only moderately successful land-birding we decided to hit the lake. On one particularly dramatic overlook nearly 200 feet over the river we spotted 20 Bufflehead specks on the water, two Bald Eagles, a couple Turkey Vultures (the count is known for its vulture roost), and this remarkably accommodating Red-tailed Hawk who allowed for brilliant digi-scoping. It was tough to move on.

But we did, to the marina on Table Rock Lake which was far more developed than I last remembered it. We stopped at a cove at the state park from which a Yellow-billed Loon was regularly spotted in the mid-90s. The same wayward bird would return year in and year out providing many with their life look at the species. No Loons besides Common this time though, and a few Pied-billed Grebes.

At another stop we hit paydirt. A fruiting persimmon tree hosted a couple hundred Cedar Waxwings, many Yellow-rumped Warblers, and many other perching birds feasting on the fruits. We found our only Purple Finch of the day here, and good numbers of other seed-eaters. The lake view was still lacking Yellow-billed Loons (we can dream can’t we?) but several Horned Grebes, the first of what turned out to be a ridiculous number, were bobbing just off shore.


It was time for us to head to the dam, which not only provides hydroelectric power to the citizens of Southwest Missouri, but also produces the tri-county area with all the trout they could possibly want. Those structures in the foreground on the photo are nets that cover the trout hatchery ponds. You see, this is where the vulture roost used to be. It was suspected that the hatchery workers would dump the dead fish somewhere near the facility so as not to bother the visitors. But what visitors can’t see, you better bet that vultures can smell, so just downstream the trees would be filled with Turkey and Black Vultures. In recent years the dumping has apparently stopped, so while we got both of the vulture species on this count, they weren’t present in the high numbers we used to see. The weedy fields below the dam were great for sparrows though. My dad and I took opposite sides of a dry marsh and turned up Song, Swamp, White-throated and crowned, Fox, and a great little Lincoln’s.

I was leaving for Carolina the next day so we had to make it short, after one more stop on a different arm of the lake where we found more Common Loons, more Horned Grebes (including a raft of nearly 100), several Common Goldeneyes, and some Bonaparte’s Gulls. Sadly a Roadrunner did not make an appearance (yes, they have Roadrunners regularly on this count), but it was a nice way to wrap up my mid-western trip. We were back in North Carolina the next day to start the new year and my probable unsuccessful attempt on the North Carolina Big Year record. More on that tomorrow…

  1. Patrick Belardo permalink
    January 3, 2008 11:31 am

    Oh wow, that explains the bolts of lightning seen over Missouri last Saturday. You defied the laws of great bird blogger physics by trying to occupy the same space with David.

    And who knew they had roadrunners in Missouri??? I need to study my maps better!

  2. david permalink
    January 3, 2008 2:21 pm

    Yeah, GOAS is pretty cool! I was disappointed not to see you Saturday, but I’m glad you had a good day. My group is the one that found the roadrunner this year. I’m way behind on blog posts (as usual), but pictures and info coming soon. I just got back from birding KS, OK, CO, and NM with Lisa and Charley.

  3. January 3, 2008 3:35 pm

    Hey David-

    You guys got the Roadrunner, I’m glad someone did. We tried to kick one up on some glady roads without luck.

    I read Charley’s round-up of your trip west on the GOAS boards, sounded great. The western plains in winter are still uncharted territory for me, I need to get out there.

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