October 29, 2006

Make that 200?

OCT. 29, GRINDSTONE PARK, sunny, 75—On an afternoon visit to Grindstone, my home park, I gradually realized that just about the only birds left in Missouri's woods are core year-round residents and—even more frightening—winter visitors like the yellow-rumped warbler and white-crowned sparrow. Summering birds and migrants are gone.

I saw enough dominance on my list by old familiars to make me think I was back at the beginning of the year: juncos, goldfinches and chickadees, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals and bluejays.

Fortunately the weather was so warm and perfect I didn't mind all the critical analysis churning in my birder superego. Namely: I didn't work hard enough to see spring migrants; bicycle trip preparations burned up summer weekends and kept my songbird numbers down; and not quite making it to the Rio Grande meant no subtropical birds on my list.

Now I see three possibilities for reaching 300: a lottery victory enabling me to crisscross the country for the next two months (I could even reach 400!), a job offer from the Gulf coast of Texas, or closer to home, convincing one of our local superbirders to adopt me.

October 23, 2006

Steve Nash goes birding

171 sharp-shinned hawk
172 swamp sparrow
173 Le Conte's sparrow
174 marsh wren
175 pectoral sandpiper
176 long-billed dowitcher
177 osprey

OCT. 22, BRADFORD FARM, sunny, 35—Birding needs to borrow from basketball the statistic of assists. Thanks to teamwork from our group of eight at Bradford's monthly bird survey, I scored well above my season average, mainly easy layups off pinpoint passes. All the birds I identified were either seen or identified first by others.

After broiling in the Texas sun just two weeks ago, it's hard for me to get used to crisp fall weather. At our 8 am start-time, temperatures were in the low 30s, but luckily sunshine held off the wind and made things manageable. And all the trees! They're strange after two months on the Great Plains, especially in their changing colors.

We spent a big part of the morning walking through research plots planted in sunflowers or millet or soybeans. (Bradford is the University of Missouri's research farm.) I'd studied the lapland and Smith's longspurs beforehand, but it turned out to be early for these. Mainly we looked for sparrows, finding scores of Savannah sparrows. A sharp-shinned hawk showed great interest in the same activity, once flapping in hot pursuit of a sparrow but unable to catch up.

The osprey was an unexpected bonus. We saw it (assisted by Sandy) on top of a utility pole not far from a pond on the way back to Columbia. Fish-eating ospreys have been a threatened species ever since DDT. They're making a comeback, though a slow one in Missouri.