April 25, 2007

Now they're everywhere, of course

108 common grackle
109 northern parula
(total on this date in 2006: 89)

APRIL 25, ROCK BRIDGE, cloudy, 65—Amazing. Incredible. Remarkable. I'm still shaking my head. No, not the beautiful parula, a kind of warbler. It took me almost four months to see a common grackle!

April 22, 2007

100th is a lark

99 cliff swallow
100 lark sparrow
101 lesser yellowlegs
102 pectoral sandpiper
103 semi-palmated plover
104 least sandpiper
105 barn swallow
106 spotted sandpiper
107 brown-headed cowbird
(total on this date in 2006: 89)

APRIL 22, EAGLE BLUFFS, partly cloudy, 75—Along the Missouri River a strong west wind blew all morning, buffeting the least sandpiper so much it looked like he might flip over. Most waterfowl moved to windward shores for protection. You can even see waves in a channel where a map turtle basked.

Small numbers (but a nice variety) of shorebirds worked the shallow pools and mud shores. I saw two dowitchers, whether long-billed or short-billed I couldn't tell. Like many near-identical species, voice is the key. But I'm taking my notes in for high-level consultations and may issue a report later.

My 100th bird last year came on May 9, this year on April 22. So I'm ahead, but I need to be considering last year I fell way short of 300. My next goal is to have well over 150 at the end of May, compared to 131 last year.

Bad imitation

96 Carolina chickadee
97 chimney swift
98 whip-poor-will
(total on this date in 2006: 89)

This morning I ran to my window after hearing a Carolina chickadee sing like an aging rocker attempting an old hit. Instead I saw a starling.

Half a minute later I heard the starling's inspiration
nearby: a textbook (songbook?) Carolina chickadee. I knew starlings were mimics, but didn't realize the extent.

If starlings weren't mimics, they probably wouldn't be in North America. Starlings were introduced in New York's Central Park in 1890 to honor their appearance in Shakespeare.
In Henry IV Hotspur thinks he could antagonize Mortimer using a starling's ability to imitate the human voice (Shakespeareans can use "starling" as a find command here).

The whip-poor-will cranked up right before dark. I hardly hear them these days, but as a kid a whip-poor-will was a permanent summer fixture in the woods behind our house.

April 18, 2007

Flowers powerless

94 Louisiana waterthrush
95 chipping sparrow
(total on this date in 2006: 89)

APRIL 18, THREE CREEKS, sunny, 60—Flowers on our weekly spring wildflower walk are in tough shape after a rollercoaster last month of weather. Shrubs and trees also look stressed. Fruit and nut harvests (wild and domestic) will suffer this year—how much, nobody knows.

In March the woods looked like April. Now April looks like March.

April 17, 2007

Why wake up early?

90 hermit thrush
91 ruby-crowned kinglet
92 eastern towhee
93 brown thrasher
(total on this date in 2006: 89)

APRIL 16, ROCK BRIDGE, sunny, 70—I'm lucky to have a bird spotter, Donna, who from time to time reports spring arrivals to me by cell phone. Today she'd seen a kinglet on the white connector trail at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

When I showed up a few hours later it was moving through cedars near a sinkhole pond a short distance from where Donna had described it. In a nearby mini-grove of persimmon trees a hermit thrush flicked its tail. Double bingo!

Before sunset I crossed the road to my favorite part of the park, High Ridge. The last 10 minutes before dark were full of sounds.

I flushed a barred owl deeper into the trees, where it looked down on me. Near a pond below the ridge a thrasher sang distinctively (multiple phrases, all repeated twice), though spring peepers were calling so loudly I could barely hear the thrasher. A turkey gobbled from the other side of the hill. Two Canada geese descended and plunged into the pond, just yards away.

Climbing back to the ridge, bats overhead in the darkening sky, I heard a deer snort. Six watched me, ran hard for 50 yards, then stopped and watched again until I disappeared from view.

April 09, 2007

Four-mammal day

86 greater yellowlegs
87 cinnamon teal
88 double-crested cormorant
89 dunlin
(total on this date in 2006: 84)

APRIL 9, EAGLE BLUFFS, cloudy, 50—Missouri waterfowl demographics are in flux. Eagle Bluffs is almost mallardless, a reversal from the hundreds to thousands that dominate the flooded fields in February and March.

An out-of-its-range cinnamon teal, reported by local birders, swam among a group of blue-winged teal (photos here). Blue- and green-winged teal, gadwall, and coot numbers are trending up, shovelers hold steady, and ring-necked ducks and pintails have mostly moved north.

But it's migrating shorebirds I most want to see. A small pockets of dunlins probed the mud and a single yellowlegs flew over, earlycomers for the season.

Deer are common here, but a muskrat, two beavers, and raccoon made four mammal sightings for the day. To make five we looked for an otter we'd seen at its den in March, with no luck.

April 01, 2007

Purple haze

84 field sparrow
85 blue-gray gnatcatcher
(total on this date in 2006: 76)

APRIL 1, GRINDSTONE PARK, sunny, 65—Any day with a blooming redbud tree is a good day. I'd never seen one until I moved to Missouri, but now it's my favorite sign of spring.

Tent caterpillars are active again, though the ones I saw were garrisoned in their shelter.

At a stream-field edge I saw a possible least flycatcher but couldn't be sure. Flycatchers in the Empidonax genus (empids, for short) can only be distinguished by voice and other clues. If you're feeling masochistic, have a go.

In the woods I often nibble on grass stalks, and I would've believed one was hallucinogenic if not for the photographic evidence above.