Missouri and Arkansas May 03—12, 2013

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 trip is a complete immersion into the Ozarks and adjacent tallgrass prairie regions, including natural history, geology, hydrology, and human history. I think that it is not possible to fully understand this region without understanding something about its geologic history and hydrology as well. This trip is much about birds in the early mornings, but there is plenty of botanizing and time devoted to other natural history aspects as well. Visits to two tallgrass prairie sites, a spectacular cave trip, a canoe float trip, some time devoted to visiting several types of large springs (these are world-class springs), an evening of old-time folk music, and an afternoon of crafts complete our immersion in this interesting region. All in all, we think this trip is one of the best-kept secrets in the country, and our list of 27 species of warblers and over 230 species of plants identified during the trip is only a part of what makes this trip so interesting.

Our field lists reflect this wide range of activities—birds, plants, mammals, butterflies, and herps. This was an unusually cold spring, as well as a fairly wet one, and spring in all aspects was delayed. This was quite apparent during the first two-and-a-half-days when it remained cold and windy at Prairie State Park, at Roaring River State Park, and even at Drury-Mincy Conservation Area. Consequently, spring flowers were far behind normal, and many trees were still without leaves. This also may have held up spring warblers some because, although we tallied a surprisingly high number of warblers (27 species), several species I might normally have expected were not seen. We did see all 18 species of warblers that regularly breed in the Ozarks and many of them were seen and heard repeatedly—even daily—which provided an opportunity to learn their songs and habits.

Some highlights included gorgeous Scarlet Tanagers on several occasions, three male Cerulean Warblers seen well (others heard), two Worm-eating Warblers, a Swainson’s Warbler and, yes, even a pair of Trumpeter Swans; we saw an introduced pair that are free-flying, but have decided not to migrate (as is the case now with the widespread Canada Goose). Other highlights included a pair of Peregrine Falcons, Fish Crows, and Eurasian Collared-Doves now just about everywhere; a group of Clay-colored Sparrows; close studies of Henslow’s Sparrows; and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers scattered throughout the trip.

The weather was perfect for the canoe trip—partly sunny 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 and quick-running riffles. Large numbers of Map Turtles and some Cooters basked on logs, herons flushed ahead of the canoes, and we had the entire river to ourselves.

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, 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 (but not so blue this year because of so much rain). And the warblers were terrific on this final day with a total of 20 species tallied.