January 21, 2006

Two-Mile Farm

35 snow goose
36 Savannah sparrow
37 northern bobwhite
38 song sparrow
39 white-throated sparrow
40 common grackle

JAN. 21, BRADFORD FARM, cloudy, 30—Four or five thousand grackles, zero short-eared owls. A quail covey bursting practically from under me. No sun to get good looks at the LBBs (little brown birds). Cold, wet feet. Hundreds of nervous snow geese. That's an impressionistic view of my morning at Bradford farm, the University of Missouri research farm just east of Columbia.

Bradford sits on the old Two-Mile Prairie, once a tallgrass finger reaching down into this Ozark border country. Our party of 13, most local Auduboners, were there to help Brad Jacobs with his monthly bird survey of the property. An ecologist with the state conservation department, Brad is such a good birder he can squeeze identifications out of momentary sightings or calls. He's also author of the flagship state bird book, Birds in Missouri. I stuck fairly close to him to learn how he distinguished sparrows, separated cackling (once a subspecies) from Canada geese, or picked other blackbirds out of huge clouds of flocking grackles.

I met some other excellent birders—I knew they were excellent because they carried no field guides. Oh, they had their National Geographics and Sibleys back home for occasional deep study, but they knew field marks well enough to fly blind. Janice, for example, had been to Attu in Alaska's Aleutian chain, a destination only for the Coast Guard and ultra-serious birders, who go there for Asian birds drifted off course. I'll have a couple more chances to see short-eared owls and longspurs before they return north.


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