Warbler Quest: III

After spending a weekend trying to photograph all eighteen species of warblers that breed in the Ozarks, I found myself four species short of my goal. I had missed two “easy” birds—Common Yellowthroat and Prairie Warbler—along with the two I would consider the most difficult: Yellow and Swainson’s Warblers. Swainson’s are limited to a narrow habitat zone and I’m pretty sure they hadn’t returned to the area yet. Yellow Warblers seem to be common enough, but I never know when I’m going to run into one. They are where you find them.

The following weekend, I left out early headed for Blue Spring on the Current River. A Swainson’s usually holds a territory here and I had good spots for the other three close by. There was no sign of the Swainson’s but the Missouri Department of Conservation has done a lot of cutting and burning in the area (to create elk habitat, I think) and I found a Prairie Warbler in one of these brushy stretches along the road.

After leaving Blue Spring, I crossed the river at Powder Mill and followed Hwy 106 to Shawnee Creek campground. I had gotten Yellow Warblers here a couple of times before and there are almost always Common Yellowthroats in the edge of the field, so it felt like it was worth a shot. I walked into the field, the herd of “wild” horses milling about close by, and immediately picked up a Common Yellowthroat.

Once I was sure I had a usable photograph of the Yellowthroat, I used my phone to play the Yellow Warbler’s song. I was about to give up when I noticed something moving way off on the river side of where I was looking. Damned if it wasn’t my Yellow Warbler.

He was cagey, but I finally managed to snap a couple of decent shots, though the light isn’t the best.

I was batting .750 for the day and my total was up to 17. Only the Swainson’s was still missing and again, I’m pretty sure they simply hadn’t returned to the area yet.

Before I headed home, I stopped on Rocky Creek where I had planned to look for Prairie Warblers. I had gotten one earlier, so I didn’t need to make the stop but I did anyway, just for shits and giggles.

I crossed the creek, parked beside the highway and walked a couple hundred yards north on the Ozark Trail, listening to a Prairie Warbler sing the entire time. He was rather tame, basically ignoring me and I got a couple of nice shots before I returned to the truck.

I checked eBird the next evening and the area along the Eleven Point River was lit up like a Christmas tree with Swainson’s sightings. They were being reported from the Narrows all the way up to Cane Bluff. One person reported twelve birds. Game on!

I had to wait for another day off and that wouldn’t be until the next weekend, but I grew impatient and took leave on Thursday. It wasn’t hard to convince Dayna to come with me and Thursday morning we set off for the Eleven Point. Greer Crossing was our first stop because it’s the easiest area to access and multiple birds had been reported there. If it didn’t pan out, we would keep trying—Cane Bluff, Turner Mill, McDowell Access, Boze Mill, Riverton and the Narrows—until we found a bird.

Our fall-back areas weren’t necessary. We pulled off Hwy 19 at the Ozark Trail crossing and two minutes later I had photos of species #18.

The bird stayed close to cover and in the shadows, but I managed several photos even if they were a bit noisy. We drove into the day-use area to use the restroom and I could hear another bird singing in the direction of the campground. Unable to resist, we retrieved the cameras from the car and slipped down the trail to the camping area.

This one came out and sang for us, though he was reluctant to leave the shadows as well.

We had found our target bird on the first stop, so we were free agents for the rest of the day. We drove down to Thayer, stopping at Warm Fork Park and Mammoth Spring, just across the Arkansas line, and ate lunch at Fred’s Fish House (they have excellent fish). Then we hit Grand Gulf and Cover Prairie. Those stops finished up a full day and we were ready to go home. Warbler Quest complete.

Warbler Quest: II

To recap my last post, I had managed in the course of a day to inadvertently photograph 9 of the 18 warblers that breed in the Ozarks. Halfway home, I decided to make a concerted effort to find and photograph the remaining nine and quickly formulated a plan.

The first stop was easy: my yard. I have at least three Black-and-white Warblers that have established territories on my 17 acres of woodland. They sing their heads off every morning and this morning was no exception. I managed to photograph not one, but two of the three along with an unexpected Worm-eating Warbler.

My plan now led me to Blue Ridge Road, a Forest Service road that runs the three miles from C Highway to Skyline drive, following a ridge heavily forested with oak, hickory and pine. I drove slowly, with my windows down, listening for birdsong.

Less than a half-mile in, I heard the song of a Yellow-throated Warbler, one of the two I was listening for and potentially, the more difficult to locate. I pulled over and parked, walked back into the woods where this bird was singing repeatedly. I used playback and managed to bring him down from the upper reaches of the canopy, though this species does not typically respond aggressively.

He never did come down to my level, staying too high for a really good shot. But after following him for a while as he searched the foliage for insects, I managed a few shots, this being the best of the lot.

Another ½ mile down the ridge, right where the Ozark Trail crosses, is a good stand of Short-leaf Pine. Just what I was looking for. I walked fifty yards from the truck, hung my speaker on a limb, turned on playback and thirty seconds later I had a lovely photo of a Pine Warbler.

OK, I was running three for three so far and feeling confident. So naturally, the wheels came off my grand plan at this point.

I had hoped to pick up a Yellow Warbler at the Carter County Court House in Van Buren. The large, old maple trees there usually harbor one or two, but not this day. All I could find were Starlings, House Finches, House Sparrows and a Robin.

My backup spot was Watercress Recreation Area, also in Van Buren. Again, no luck, either for a Yellow Warbler or the Prothonotary that should have been hanging out along the spring branch/slough. There were American Redstarts all over the place, but I had photographed one of those the day before and didn’t improve over the shot I already had.

Most of my ill-placed confidence now gone, I headed to my next stop: the Cotton Farm/Sweezie Hollow in the Big Spring area of the Park. There’s a good-sized glade here where I hoped to find a Prairie Warbler, there are always Yellow-breasted Chat in the old overgrown field near the spray fields and I can usually find a Common Yellowthroat in the wet area near the creek.

The glade was overgrown, much more so than I had expected and much of the vegetation was sporting pointy things. I was wearing shorts, so I declined to climb up to the glade proper, but I tried calling a Prairie Warbler out to the road. Another strike out.

The good news was that I could hear a Yellow-breasted Chat making their goofy call from the back of the Park’s Fire Cache building. I headed in that direction, but got distracted by a Blue-winged Warbler that posed nicely for me. I know that I already had a Blue-winged, but this is a much better photo, so I have to include it.

Once I was through with the Blue-winged (and the Towhee and Brown Thrasher), I concentrated on the Chat. I used playback to pull him out of the locust, blackberry and buckbrush snarl he was hiding in and he posed repeatedly for me. Now we’re back on track, even though I didn’t get the Yellowthroat I had hoped for.

Moving on, I stopped at the slough that lays along the front side of the Big Spring boat landing. I walked a short distance into the bottom and parked my arse on a log. A Northern Parula showed up almost immediately and I got a much better shot that the one I posted earlier. A “repeat” bird, but it still made me feel better.

I also didn’t have to wait long before a Prothonotary was singing from a drift pile, 30 feet from where I was sitting. The light wasn’t fantastic, but that contributed to a nice background in most of the images. This was my favorite of several images I shot.

Alas, that was to be the last warbler of the day. I was out of places to look for Yellow Warblers and I couldn’t find either a Prairie Warbler or Common Yellowthroat at any of the three additional locations I visited.

I did hear a Yellowthroat at Big Tree where I looked unsuccessfully for a Swainson’s Warbler, but he unsurprisingly stayed in the grass and I never even saw him, much less got an opportunity for a photograph.

In my defense, I don’t think the Swainson’s had made it back to the area just yet. I checked eBird later and no one had reported a Swainson’s north of Arkansas, so I just don’t think they were here.

Still, I did manage to photograph another five species, bringing me to fourteen of the eighteen. I’d hoped to get all 18 in that one weekend, but it wasn’t to be. Not that I was giving up. It was simply time to regroup.

Warbler Quest: I

There are eighteen species of wood warblers that breed in the Ozarks. Most are common and widespread, but the Swainson’s is both few in number and restricted to a very particular habitat. A couple of the others aren’t necessarily easy to find either. After photographing half of those species in the course of a Saturday back in April, I decided to make a concerted effort to get the remaining nine. But I’m getting ahead of myself—let’s go back and start at the beginning.

Grubb Hollow is about two miles upstream of the southern boundary of Ozark Riverways. It’s also about 20 minutes from my house, so I tend to visit the area on a regular basis. Once you cross into the park, there’s about a mile of road before it dead ends at Cedar Spring. This fine morning, I pulled off the road just before the turn to the landing, about 8:00 a.m.

Before I could even get out of the truck, I noticed a small bird working the foliage low in the trees next to me. It was a Cerulean Warbler and he was kind enough to stay close by for a few minutes, allowing me to photograph him without getting out of the truck.

I thought that was a damned nice way to start the day and it quickly got even better. I finally got out of the truck and realized that along with an Ovenbird and an American Redstart, I was also hearing a Hooded Warbler singing close by. I tried using my phone to play his song back to him, but he didn’t respond. He kept singing though and I finally crept close enough to see him, but managed only a couple of really poor photos.

Once I’d lost the Hooded, I turned my attention to the Ovenbird, which was already right on top of me.  I only had to play his song once before he came to see who the intruder was. Unfortunately, the cover was so thick and the light so poor, I only got a few marginal photos.

There were Ovenbirds everywhere, with males singing every 200-300 yards along the road and I must have heard at least 7 or 8 birds. But I mostly left them alone and the photo above is the best I managed for the day.

I headed back to the road and quickly got on a Louisiana Waterthrush, singing loudly on the river side of the road. There’s a slough just off the road here, the waterthrush was working the edge of the water and I was on top a steep, twenty-foot bank above him. There was no way I was going down that bank, so I played his song back to him. I wasn’t expecting much because waterthrushes don’t typically respond well to playback, but this one came in like an enraged rhino.

I only used the playback for a couple of repetitions, but he was already stirred up, ignoring me as he looked for the intruder with the nerve to invade his territory. He posed nicely for me and I got several nice shots, then slipped back to the road, leaving him to his own devices.

I spent the next half hour distracted by some butterflies, a couple of dragonflies and a Snowberry Clearwing, which was working a patch of Dwarf Larkspur. Eventually, I made it back to the truck and drove on to Cedar Spring.

Cedar Spring is situated in a narrow band of forest bordered by the river on the east and a hayfield on the west. It’s open right around the camp area, but just upstream becomes quite tangled and brushy. There was an American Redstart showing off right next to where I’d parked and I finally managed to get a couple of useable shots.

Moving into the brush, I thought I might find another Hooded Warbler and I did see a yellow warbler with black on his head, but it was a Kentucky instead.

It was approaching noon by this point, so I drove home for lunch. I really wanted to find that Hooded Warbler again, so I talked Dayna into going back with me. The plan was to drive in to Cedar Spring and work our way back out, but as usual, I managed to get distracted. I stopped to photograph a Dwarf Iris but our attention quickly turned to a Wood Thrush (I love their song), a pair of Ovenbirds and 4 or 5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feeding on the blooms of a cottonwood.

We were about to get back in the truck, but I heard the buzz of a Worm-eating Warbler coming from down the road and somewhere above us on the hill. I really didn’t want to climb up to him (it was steep), so I called him down to us.

As soon as I had a couple of photos, we moved on along, this time making it all the way to Cedar Spring. There’s a canebrake upstream from the landing, in the edge of the field and I tried calling to see if there might be a Swainson’s hanging around, but nothing responded. We did find several Indigo Buntings and I spent some time working them, getting a few photos. I have a lot of photos of buntings, but I still can’t pass up the opportunity for more.

On the way out, we stopped and walked back into the woods where I’d seen the Hooded Warbler earlier. I figured I had nothing to lose by trying playback again and this time he responded. Once he was close, I turned the playback off and shot a few photos. Lighting conditions were less than ideal, but I got a couple of photos and Dayna got a life bird.

We decided to bop on over to Panther Spring before going home, looking to see if the Red Buckeyes were blooming and hoping to find a Northern Parula along Bear Camp Creek.

The buckeyes were indeed blooming and we quickly found a Parula, along with a bonus Blue-winged Warbler.

The creek crossing was impassable, a victim of the floods a couple of weeks back, so we couldn’t go on down to the river. We also couldn’t turn around because the road is three feet lower than the bank on either side and only wide enough for one vehicle. So it looked like we were going to have to back the truck a quarter-mile to the main road. But a section of bank that was sloped just enough presented itself and, with the benefit of 4-wheel drive, Dayna got the truck turned around and pointed in the right direction. We were both done by now, so we headed for the house.

It was later in the evening, as I was processing photos, that I realized I’d photographed nine species of warbler and decided to take a run at the other nine the next day. Now all I needed was a plan…

Dragons of Spring Dawning

The books of the Chronicles Trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were released between November 1984 and November 1985. They were the first of many, many Dragonlance novels and were readily available, even in this very rural area, at a time when it wasn’t necessarily easy to find novels that weren’t romances or westerns. Needless to say, I ate them up, reading them over and over again.

I used Dragons of Autumn Twilight as a post title last fall, I didn’t get to use Dragons of Winter Twilight—I didn’t find any dragonflies this past “winter” though it was so mild I wouldn’t have been surprised to have done so—and now I’m finally getting around to using the title from the last book of the series.

And we’ll start with the aptly named Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata). I found him alongside the road in Grubb Hollow in the extreme southern part of the Park back in April. A lifer for me, this dragon along with a Gomphus that I saw nearby but didn’t manage to photograph, were the first dragonflies I encountered this spring.

Next is a Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) that I found in the yard here at home. These are fairly common and I find them here almost every year.

Now we’re back to another Gompus, one that I think is G. exilis or Lancet Clubtail. I don’t think I’m ever really sure with the clubtails. Anyway, I photographed this one along the dam of Big Tree Slough a week ago.

I took these last few photos at my pond today. I know I’m barely coming in under the deadline for spring, but I do still have a couple of days left. And Astronomical spring doesn’t end until June 21, though I consider that well into summer. But I digress.

We have a Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea),

male and female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis), both shiny and new looking,

and a male Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).

I found several of these exuvia along the shallow part of the pond. They were large, all of them more than 2” long and I’m pretty sure they were Common Green Darners (Anax junius). I do have Comet Darners (A. longipes) too, but in much smaller numbers, so I’m going with A. junius.

Lord of the Woods

Wood Kate. Indian Hen. Logcock. Or if you prefer, the drier, academic and more commonly used Pileated Woodpecker.

I realized as I was writing this that after using the word for at least 35 years—my Grandpa called them Indian Hens and I’m not sure I heard them called anything else until I was a teenager—I didn’t know what “pileated” means. Honestly, I not sure I’d ever even thought about it, but according to Merriam-Webster the definition of pileated is “having a crest covering the pileum,” which in turn is just a fancy way of referring to the top of a bird’s head. “Pileated,” by the way, can be pronounced either “PIE-leated” or “PILL-eated”—either is acceptable.

I ran into this pair on the back side of our property while looking for migrating warblers. The red moustache marks the one in front as the male. I believe he has a larger crest too, but they’re holding their heads at different angles making it hard to compare accurately. They were quite upset and I imagine I had to be close to their nest, though I wasn’t able to locate it.

They were so agitated that I only stayed a few minutes before leaving them to their business. I’d really like some “feeding the nestling” photos, so I may have to go back and take another look. Maybe they won’t be so irate next time.