November 13, 2006

Strip mining for birds

NOV. 12, CEDAR CREEK, mostly sunny, 40—Good thing birding is fun. Four hours wandering around woods and ponds next to the Boone-Callaway county-line creek produced a nice selection of 25 or so resident birds, but nothing new for the year.

The property my birding friend Donna took me to is reclaimed strip-mine land; Missouri was once a leading coal producer. Even years later, barren soil marks the heaped-up mine spoils.

On this second day of deer-hunting season, we wore blaze orange to affirm our humanness. Partway through the morning we started hearing shots nearby, which soon became an unending fusillade. For a while we couldn't understand what was happening. Hunters gone mad? Since it was doubtful the deer had spent the summer stockpiling their own firearms to fight back, we decided there must be a neighboring gun range.

For me the day's highlight—besides our decision not to row across a deep, frigid pond in a rowboat of unknown seaworthiness—was a dozen or more sleek cedar waxwings flocking around a cedar tree.

Donna also told me news I'd missed on my bicycle trip: ivory-billed woodpeckers may have made a second astonishing reappearance, this time in Florida.

November 05, 2006

Uncommon merganser

NOV. 5, EAGLE BLUFFS, cloudy, 55—For over an hour I worked my spotting scope back and forth over ducks in two ponds at Eagle Bluffs. For a little while, at a distance and in dull light, I thought I had a common merganser, and came dangerously close to a wrong ID because I wanted no. 180.

During my duck scan I saw an osprey, just two weeks after seeing my first of the year. It flew to a high perch in trees between the duck ponds and Missouri River. Before the osprey could settle in, a red-tailed hawk banked in hard and forced it to another tree. Yet the osprey is the bigger bird. Maybe its fish diet is no match for the red meat of the redtail.

... by bird

179 ruddy duck

On a quick-stop bird outing to a pond near the university's research farm I spotted a few ruddy ducks among a modest but diverse waterfowl group of mallards, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, shovelers, pintails, lesser scaup, green-winged teal, and coots. Thirty minutes for a new species is an excellent cost-benefit ratio this time of year.


178 trumpeter swan

During a working day near the Missouri-Mississippi river confluence, we drove past Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and saw a small group of swans. Bill shape and color are all-important in swan I.D. Luckily the birds were close enough that even without binoculars I could memorize the bill particulars and confirm the trumpeter at home.