Friday, May 21, 2010

Bison & Civil War (plus a life bird)

AGGGHHH! Another day trailing into the hotel completely exhausted. I think that Greenturtle and I have made this trip a bit too action packed for my advanced years! Plus, no trip to southern parts would be complete without my collection of insect and arachnid bites: ticks, mosquitoes and my all time favorite, the chigger! With chigger bites, I can actually feel the lump squirming a little as the chigger is ready to exit, and then with one scratch, the whole thing breaks open in a painful/itchy mound of oozing pus. SO GROSS! Ah yes, the joys of nature.

First thing this morning, we went to Prairie State Park by Liberal, MO, very close to the Kansas state line, in search of free-roaming bison and grassland birds. It's true, there are plenty of grasslands right in my backyard so to speak, but what can I say, I like them. And Greenturtle has some thing going with bison, so I knew he would love the fact that this park has a herd roaming freely.

We saw some bison right away, which was a good start to the day, as well as the usual mix of prairie birds: meadowlark, dickcissel, brown thrasher, barn swallow, etc. In the visitor center, I learned that they have had greater prairie chickens at the park, but in the last few years, their numbers dwindled until there were only one or two on the booming grounds, and this year they didn't see any. I also learned that in nearby Kansas they still HUNT THEM! Seriously, that should be a crime. If they have prairie chickens to spare in Kansas, they should send them to states in need instead of blowing them to kingdom come. Really!

Despite this bummer, we set out on the prairie, surrounded by the calls of dickcissels and bobwhites. Before very long I heard a call that was VAGUELY familiar, though I knew I hadn't heard it in person. And it was a life bird...not only a life bird, but a nemesis bird. Last year, every time I set out for a grassland, I announced I was in pursuit of three birds: the sedge wren, the Henslow's sparrow, and the Bell's vireo. These three eluded me for so long that I began to call them the Triumvirate of Evil. Finally, I got the wren and the sparrow last July at Goose Lake Prairie, but Bell's vireo continued to elude me. UNTIL TODAY!!!! Gotcha, Bell's vireo! Ha ha ha ha ha!! Also got a couple more Henslow's sparrows. Greenturtle wondered how on earth anyone could tell sparrows apart, and I said in my case, memorizing their songs. Henslow's goes "tsi-lick." Apparently Le Conte's sparrows had recently been seen on the prairie, and that would have been another life bird, but these sparrows persistently proclaimed "tsi-lick." Despite not being life birds, they were really cute.

Then we traveled on to Wilson's Creek, a Cival War battlefield and the site of a Confederate victory. Greenturtle, being a southerner, was starting to gloat a little, so I had to remind him: Pea Ridge, baby. PEA RIDGE!! The battlefield was well worth seeing, as I found two pileated woodpeckers and a common nighthawk, among others. I think I shall nominate the tufted titmouse as the official Cival War battlefield bird, as I think I have seen them at every one so far.

After leaving the battlefield, alas, we got sucked up into the maw of the greater Springfield, MO suburban sprawl, and I don't know when I've seen anything that ghastly. It's true that Russelville, AR is probably UGLIER, street by street and building by building, but Springfield goes on for much longer!

We finally escaped and have retired for the night at Lebanon, having been checked in to our hotel by a very stoned desk clerk. And tomorrow... on to Shaw Nature Preserve!

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