February 10, 2006

Little king

42 belted kingfisher
43 hermit thrush
44 Carolina wren
45 red-shouldered hawk
46 golden-crowned kinglet
47 brown creeper

FEB. 5, ROCK BRIDGE, partly sunny, 35—It's a chickadee-dee-dee day for the first hour or so on the High Ridge trail in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, a few miles from Columbia on the north edge of Missouri's karst region (think caves, sinkholes, springs). I'm layered against the cold, the sun is out, and for a while I don't care much that I'm seeing little else.

Once I start caring I decide to head for water and drop down from the ridge to Clear Creek, immediately hearing the rattle of a kingfisher. Sitting against a willow sapling on a gravel bar, I eat and wait for action along the thinly frozen creek. (Walnuts, pear, and carrot are the snack foods of Little Big Year champions.) For a while I watch a downy woodpecker and several yellow-rumped warblers, then a hermit thrush shows up, even perching within 30 feet. A Carolina wren, second consecutive new bird of the year, moves along the streambank in and out of brush.

Returning through an open oak-hickory-cedar woods, I see several waves of bluebirds moving down the slope (the airy eastern bluebird is our Missouri state bird). Later, it's a small group of mobbing bluebirds that reveals a blocky hawk high up a tree, barred red on its breast with checkerboard wings. Distracted for a moment by another bird, I suddenly look up to see the hawk flap away, then I pivot back to the original tree with the hawk still there: two red-shouldered hawks.

I hit a small hotspot along Gans Creek within yards of the parking lot. Alerted by high-pitched buzzing, I soon find the tiny (4 inches) golden-crowned kinglet, perfectly named and one of my favorite winter birds. Next, a brown creeper moves up one tree, then to the base of another, and again, gleaning bark insects with a long, thin, curved bill. I may have seen a kinglet cousin, the ruby-crowned, but I'll save a sure sighting for another winter outing.

Though it's early in the year, I'd like a bigger number of species at this point. By the end of February I need to have around 75 permanent and winter residents. I'll make 60-65 easily, but the last dozen will be work. After that, 75 migrants (spring and fall) and 75 summer visitors—both optimistic totals—will take me to 225, leaving 75 more for out of state trips if I'm to reach 300.


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