March 21, 2006


69 American woodcock

During a two-day display of savvy—or lazy, I'm not sure which—birding, I made quick-hitting visits to three spots in search of a woodcock, winter wren, and sparrows of any kind. Not that I would have ignored an ivory-billed woodpecker cruising past, but my brain was pre-wired for woodcocks, wrens, sparrows. In pickup basketball, when you lag behind at the offensive end hoping for a quick change of possession and easy basket, we called it cherrypicking. This was the birding version—I wasn't even keeping a day list.

At Tucker prairie (complete with re-graffitied field station; now it's the university's turn), I was sure I'd see woodcocks, very high on my list of favorites. By the time I arrived the day's breeze was a small gale, so I headed for a thickety drainage. At thicket's edge I flushed three woodcocks, whose wings whistled as the birds burst from the ground and landed 100 feet away. Though I saw roughly where they landed, I couldn't find them again. Seeing a woodcock on the ground makes spotting a walking stick on a tree seem like finding a cardinal at a feeder.

On the way home I stopped at Little Dixie Lake. The name celebrates southern heritage, as this part of Missouri was known as Little Dixie. Near the lakeshore I searched brush and grasses for sparrows, finding only song sparrows.

Another day I went to winter wren-less Grindstone Creek, hearing a kingfisher and red-bellied woodpecker. In the nearby sparrow-less savanna area were bluebirds and juncos, with the usual pack of 10-20 turkey vultures overhead waiting for unsuspecting hikers to sprain an ankle.


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