Missouri & Arkansas May 01—10, 2016
Posted by Steve Hilty
Despite strong weather systems to the north and south of the area we visited, we enjoyed good weather almost throughout the trip except for unseasonably cold temperatures the first day and a few brief, light rain showers the last day. We were able to find 17 of 18 species of breeding warblers, with most of them seen repeatedly.
Temperatures at Prairie State Park, on our first morning, were surprisingly cold, but we still saw a surprising number of migrant and resident species. Tops on the prairie was a fantastically close and lengthy study of a Henslow’s Sparrow, a species now much in decline over most of its range. Much of the prairie had not burned for several years, and this always delays spring flowering, so we did not witness the spectacular flower displays that accompany a burn on the tallgrass prairies. Nevertheless, Yellow Star Grass, Rose Verbena (Vervain), False Garlic, Paintbrush, Cream Wild Indigo, and various species dotted the prairie with color in many areas.
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. What surely comes to mind are memories of wonderful hikes through beautiful valleys such as Lost Valley and Hide-out-Hollow; the beauty and peacefulness of canoeing the Buffalo River; old-time folk music at Mountain View (especially Jayme Stone and the Lomax Project); beautiful places such as Blue Spring and Greer Springs; and opportunities to see beautiful birds such as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Summer Tanagers, and Hooded Warblers, and unusual plants such as Ozark Chinkapin, Smoke Tree, Umbrella Magnolia, Wild Quinine, and Venus’ Hair Fern. Indeed, for those living in heavily populated coastal areas, the extensive forest and the small number of people living here also came as a surprise.
Seated comfortably in Wild Bill’s canoes, we drifted lazily down the Buffalo River one morning, listened to a serenade of warblers, vireos, and thrushes, and looked up at splashes of yellow coreopsis and blue spiderworts decorating little shelf-like openings above cliff faces. A couple of days later, near Mountain View, our group entered Blanchard Cave and descended twenty stories down 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 are mere seeps on hillsides, while others, ranking among the largest in the world, are 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 the trip with a pleasant visit to historic Mammoth Springs and, on the last day, a visit to three dramatically different springs—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, this is a full-packed trip, and we think it will leave you with fond memories of one of North America’s loveliest and gentlest regions.