February 13, 2006

Mob scene

51 green-winged teal
52 greater white-fronted goose
53 ring-necked duck
54 lesser scaup
55 redhead
56 canvasback
57 great blue heron
58 killdeer

FEB. 13, EAGLE BLUFFS, sunny, 45—My first bird encounter at Eagle Bluffs was none other than a meadowlark (see last post). I administered the flight test, and it looked more hyped from caffeine than mellow with Jack Daniels. I'm passing on an ID until I'm good and sure, as central Missouri is also in the eastern-western overlap zone.

Eagle Bluffs is a state conservation area with artificially flooded pools, and I wanted to see waterfowl new since my Jan. 15 visit. The jackpot payoff started with a white-fronted goose resting with seven Canada geese. With a spotting scope and strong sunlight at my back, I could observe bird features and colors clearly for 200 yards across the pool.

Among the thousand or so mallards—most keeping out of the wind in grasses bordering the water—I found 75 shovelers, 50 ring-necked ducks, six lesser scaup, and one redhead (three more later). In other pools I found 6-8 green-winged teal and a solo canvasback diving in deeper water. The white-fronted goose and redhead represent my first out-of-the-ordinary species of the year.

Other birds of note: five great blue herons loosely grouped (drawn by a good food source), several killdeer (a favorite of mine), and about 400 red-winged blackbirds mobbing a northern harrier hunting beside them. Mobbing is not completely understood. Here it caused—as it usually does—the annoyed harrier to move to another field. Mobbing also alerts nearby birds to a raptor's presence, and may teach young birds who their enemies are. You might think mobbing puts a bird in harm's way, but the danger is diluted with each new mobber, and raptors probably prefer to surprise their prey.


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