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.

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