Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Almost Perfect Day

Saturday, July 28th, John and I left our Springfield MO motel about 5 AM. The Henslow's Sparrow was our first target bird. Diamond Grove Prairie Conservation Area is in several parcels south of Joplin. We went to two of them and got LOTS of Dickcissals and Purple Martins. No sparrow.

John decided we should try for our other targets, the Swainson's Warbler and the Acadian Flycatcher. Both had been seen at Roaring River State Park, our favorite MO park. The Acadian had been seen up a road past the big spring and fish hatchery. After sorting through the Eastern Wood Pewees, John finally identified the Acadian feeding young. The two species are similar in size and the Acadian's yellow was probably a little worn off, but John got some clear pictures with color showing. One target ticked off.

There is a small conservation area within the state park that had a pin for the Swainson's Warbler, a notoriously difficult bird for us. We turned down hill to park near the stream, clambered upstream aways to a deserted spot and John got pictures of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I played its song and the Swainson's song. They are quite similar. In fact, we got a rise out of the waterthrush with the warbler's song. Then I spotted the Swainson's Warbler and John even saw it! A family of Red-Eyed Vireos came in to muddy the waters, but we managed to spot the warbler twice more. It's brownish cast was our best field mark to tell it from the vireos, with their gray caps and greenish backs. Number two target bird ticked off.

John decided to try for the Henslow's Sparrow one more time. Wha-sha-she Prairie is north of Joplin so we drove through a little of the tornado devastation. Lots of rebuilding but the tornado's path will be treeless for many years. This little patch of prairie was different from those south of I44. It had mostly knee high shrubby stuff, very little grass or taller bushes. There were no dickcissals to distract us. Then I read the text in Birdseye. The sparrow was difficult to see, liked to skulk, BUT if you flushed it up three or four times it would finally sit up on a perch. Off we trudged, through the field, about five feet apart. It reminded me of January first when we trudged around a field near Houston TX trying to flush longspurs. I thought I heard a chip. I signalled to John that we were changing angles in our trudge. We flushed up a little brown bird! Trudged to the spot it landed and we flushed it again, and again, and again. Just as advertised, it perched up! Poor little thing was panting in the afternoon heat. We got great views and some pictures. We were three for three on our targets.

John is now at 605.

Heading back to Springfield on I44 we saw a plume of black smoke. Turns out it was a semi on fire and the freeway was closed just before we were going to pass. We were about 20 vehicles back from the fire and several miles past the last offramp with a freeway barrier boxing us in. It was interesting to watch the many fire trucks arrive and battle the flames that were spreading into the woods next to the freeway. I used John's big camera to take pictures and watched the activity with my binoculars. Two hours later, we were told we could turn around and go on the verge back past all the semis that would not be able to turn around, go across the 'official vehicles only' gap in the center median and drive west on the freeway to the exit behind us. I don't know when they finally got the freeway open for those poor truck drivers, but we were free! Our daughter guided us through the farm roads back to her house by phone. Thus ended our almost perfect day.

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