Missouri and Arkansas May 08—17, 2009

Posted by Steve Hilty


Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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This was one of the wettest spring seasons on record in Missouri and Arkansas. During our trip strong weather systems developed all around us, but, miraculously, we managed to completely avoid these thunderstorms and floods, and suffered no delays and no lost field time. We were able to find all 18 species of breeding warblers, including the usually difficult to locate Swainson's Warbler. Many warblers were seen repeatedly. However, we did not see large numbers of migrant warblers this year, a result perhaps of our slightly later tour dates this year and possibly some species having already moved northward.

We enjoyed a pleasant morning at Prairie State Park with migrant and resident species much in evidence. Tops on the prairie were two Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, one of which was studied at close range in the scope in a section of unburned prairie. We also registered a surprising migrant Red-breasted Nuthatch at a small woodlot, and a Northern Waterthrush, as well as such resident species as Bell's Vireo and Henslow's Sparrow, several male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding at Castelleja (paint brush) on the prairie, and a Prothonotary Warbler at a wooded strip pit. Spring flowers were abundant with yellow star grass, spring beauty, rose verbena, wild hyacinth, and others dotting the prairie in abundance.

Because of the broad natural history focus of this trip and the varied activities each day, a review of trip highlights reveals much more than birds. Indeed, the rarest birds of the trip were not the first items to be mentioned by participants at the end of the trip. Instead, what came to mind most frequently were beautiful places such as Blue Springs; the authentic folk music at Mountain View, Arkansas; the beauty and peacefulness of floating the Buffalo River; unusually good opportunities to see beautiful birds, among them numerous Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and Blue-winged and Hooded warblers; a gray fox racing across the road at dawn; unusual plants such as wild quinine, climbing milkweeds, and Venus' hair ferns; and the overall beauty of this region. Indeed, for those living in heavily populated coastal areas, the extensive forest and the small number of people living here come as a surprise.

Seated comfortably in Wild Bill's canoes, we drifted lazily down the Buffalo River one morning, listening to a serenade of warblers, vireos, and thrushes, and looking up at splashes of yellow coreopsis and blue spiderworts decorating little shelf-like openings above cliff faces. A day later, near Mountain View, our group entered Blanchard Cave and descended 20 stories underground into the marvelous and largely unseen world of darkness beneath the Ozark plateau. Caves honeycomb the Ozarks, and their architects are the tens of thousands of springs that dot the region—some mere seeps on hillsides, and others (ranking among the largest in the world) big enough to supply populations of our largest metropolitan areas. Everywhere there were warblers and a great many new plants and, in Mountain View, traditional crafts and music were on display. We concluded our trip with a pleasant visit to historic Mammoth Springs, then visited three dramatically different springs the last day—one that boils up with great force, one that issues from a cliff, and one that flows silky-smooth and blue as sky.
Our lists reflect the wide range of activities on this trip—birds, plants, butterflies, mammals, and reptiles, as well as traditional Ozark crafts and music, even a little geology, but they hardly do justice to the beauty and charm of this region. With all of the natural history, it's a full-packed trip, and we think it will leave you with fond memories of one of North America's loveliest and gentlest regions.