February 01, 2007

Mighty father of old man river waters

48 bald eagle
49 American white pelican
50 ring-billed gull
51 herring gull
52 hooded merganser
53 tundra swan
54 greater white-fronted goose
55 trumpeter swan
56 belted kingfisher
(total on this date in 2006: 41)

JAN. 29, RIVERLANDS, sunny, 40—After a shortened workday in the St. Louis area, I happen to find myself supplied with binoculars and a spotting scope and enough time to drive to America's greatest river confluence. I cross the Missouri River twice, then a low, leveed agricultural floodplain (background of this confluence view) to the Mississippi and Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

The Mississippi River doesn't mess around with its birds. In a bay next to the river across from Alton, Ill., you didn't need any vision aids to notice lots of large birds: blocky eagles hanging out on the ice or in trees, geese and swans cruising open channels, gulls below Melvin Price dam plunging for fish in the churning water. I'm looking forward to spring migration here. My estimates:
60 bald eagles
50 pelicans
42 trumpeter swans (plus 1 tundra swan)
300 ring-billed gulls
30 herring gulls
200 Canada geese (plus 3 white-fronted geese)
75 crows

The Missouri-Mississippi is also a confluence of river controversies. For the Mississippi, it's whether to spend $2.5 billion upgrading locks and dams. Whatever the merits of this proposal (under pressure, ecological restoration has been beefed up), the Army Corps of Engineers has often failed to produce good-faith cost-benefit analyses in the past. A National Academies report found flaws in the Mississippi lock project, and the advocacy group PEER put the matter in blunter language, here.

Meanwhile, debate over how to manage competing interests on the Missouri River—barges, crops, recreation, wildlife—is the status quo. An upper-basin idea to buy out the barge industry has gotten the usual response in Missouri.


Post a Comment

<< Home