Missouri and Arkansas May 07—16, 2012

Posted by Steve Hilty

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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 past winter and spring seasons were unusually dry and warm. Prairie areas of western Missouri received considerable rainfall in late April, although the Ozarks highlands remained dry. The unusually warm weather, in particular, resulted in an early spring migration and an early spring flowering bloom. In a normal year our trip dates would have been perfect, but this year we missed the peak of flowering on the prairie, as well as much of the spring migration. Nevertheless, with hard work, we turned up a good list of plants and enjoyed great success with resident breeding warblers and other species.

We saw 17 of the 18 species of breeding warblers in the Ozarks (where was that Prothonotary Warbler when we needed it?), as well as Henslow's Sparrow, Bell's Vireo, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a pair of Swainson's Flycatchers on the prairies, and three species of egrets flying over the Prairie State Park. Ozark highlights included Scarlet Tanagers, several Cerulean Warblers, two Worm-eating Warblers, a pair of Swainson's Warblers, a remarkable migration of Catharus thrushes that included a Veery and large numbers of Swainson’s Thrushes in Lost Valley, and a beautiful morning at the Drury-Mincy Glade with Prairie Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, a Magnolia Warbler, and delicate little calamints along the roadside—and this was just the first three days.

Perhaps because of the early blooming season, we turned up several late spring-blooming plants that I would normally not see on this trip, although early spring blooms had passed. The weather was perfect for the canoe trip—cool and overcast with a splendid symphony of bird song along the Buffalo River. Wild Bill's fiberglass canoes were perfect as we glided smoothly over deep bass pools (albeit with a lot of paddling because of low and slow water) and quick-running riffles. Map turtles and sliders basked on logs, herons flushed ahead of the canoes, and Blanchard's cricket frogs provided soprano chorus. But, the crowning moment was provided by two stunning adult Bald Eagles perched on separate rocky outcrops, the birds barely 50 yards from us as our canoes glided silently past. It was an unforgettable moment.

The Blanchard and Mountain View areas offer something for everyone–caves, springs, warblers, a great diversity of plants, music, crafts, and lots of food. We finished the trip with a stop on the Missouri-Arkansas border at Mammoth Springs, a dinner at Fred's Fish House, and a day visiting three different kinds of springs—Greer, which boils up with great force; Falling Spring, which issues from a cliff; and Blue Spring, which is stunning for its clarity, color, and peaceful setting. And the warblers were terrific on this final day with great studies of Worm-eating, Cerulean, Swainson's, and many others before we turned westward toward Springfield.