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My Life’s Birds: #365-368

January 13, 2010

May 13, 1995 – Schell-Osage Conservation Area & Taberville Prairie, Mo – One of the nice things about being considered something of a hotshot young birder, regardless of whether or not you actually are a hotshot young birder (young often seems to be the crucial element here), is that established folks within your local birding community want to get out in the field with you.  So when Mark Goodman,  long-time member of the Audubon Society of Missouri and top notch area birder, asked my dad and I to join him out at Schell-Osage Conservation Area, a vast wetland managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation for waterfowl and upland bird management, we jumped at the chance.  There’s scarcely a better way to improve your own birding skills that to bird with those far more advanced that you.  Impressionable youngsters are always keen to do so, and sop up knowledge like a sponge with an enthusiasm that’s appealing to older birders.  Now that I find myself in Mark’s position every so often, I certainly see the appeal. And since I had to cut school to do it, well, I was all for that.

The water was drawn down on several of the ponds when we arrived, opening up spots of mudflats for late migrating shorebirds like Dunlin and Sanderling, not bad birds for this landbound birder.  We spent a good deal of time wading into the tall grass that surrounded the impoundments, working Indigo Buntings, Yellow-breasted Chats and Warbling Vireo out of the shrubby trees.   All of them good birds, but it was when we hit the marsh that things really started to pick up.  We found an American Bittern slowly creeping through the cattails, and not long after a Least Bittern slowly picked it’s way through a dead tree on the bank.  Both experiences still the best I’ve ever had with either species, and the Least, in particular, remains vivid in my memory.  I may well have considered both appropriately “soul-satisfying views” of these often difficult to find birds.  But although the Bitterns stole the show, the lifer in the reeds was the little Marsh Wren chattering away, scolding us for wasting our time on flashy herons and not a brash, if bland, bird such as him.

After Schell-Osage, we decided to pad our day list with a trip to Taberville Prairie, one of the last vestiges of native tallgrass prairie left in western Missouri.  It’s an ecosystem that has been nearly extirpated in the state, and home to the few Greater Prairie-Chickens that can still be found on this side of the Kansas border.  But in the spring the fields are busting, and the wet grass makes for perfect habitat for a little greenish sparrow of a highly desirable genus.  We walked out into the field until we flushed a Henslow’s Sparrow, and watched it was it sat on a grass stem for a few seconds before disappearing once again into the tall grass.

It was about this time that we also picked up a Blue Grosbeak, the 100th species of bird for what was a great day, the first for which I have an actual record of crossing the century mark.  The byproduct of a day’s birding with an experienced birder, and the kind of experience I hope I can give to any number of young birders I happen across.

MAWR from wikipedia

HESP from MaxHenschell via Flickr (CC BY-NC-MD 2.0)

  1. January 13, 2010 7:46 am

    Sigh, Henslow’s.

    “May 13th, 1995, the day Nate had reached the climax, the Olymp of birding, and started to wonder if he should now choose another hobby as things were bound to be down-hill from then on.”

  2. Nate permalink*
    January 13, 2010 10:16 am

    @Jochen- It is a good bird. I’ve been looking for another one ever since.

  3. January 13, 2010 10:29 am

    Oh Nate, how often do I have to tell you to visit Michigan (and Germany) until you’ll start packing?

  4. January 13, 2010 4:40 pm

    Great experience, Nate. I really like that you found both of the hard-to-see bitterns in one place. And a Henslow’s! That’s a mighty fine day indeed. It’s very cool, too, that you take the role and reverse it for others now. I’m sure many a new birder will appreciate the tutelage.

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