Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Missouri Prairie Chicken Dances

In an attempt to see the Prairie Chickens dance, I drove to Prairie State Park in Missouri after the Lake Leatherwood survey. It's a 2.5 + hr drive from Eureka Springs. I was able to get a campsite, birded around the campground, nothing special except there seemed to be a great abundance of Field Sparrows, one of my favorites, their song is one of the standards of summer. I followed the ranger's directions to the dancing site, called a lek, since some gallinaceous birds (means wild chicken species) dance in the evening as well as dawn. No luck on that.

But my devotion was repaid as I watched a Short-eared Owl for at least twenty minutes hunting a roadside ditch along the same stretch of road where I was seeking the dancers. I caught it land on a fencepost at deep dusk, then approached slowly with just the fog lights on. It got used to me. Later it perched on the edge of the road, and every two minutes or so would make a couple of passes over 40-50 feet of ditch. Later in full dark (my lights still on) it sat directly in the center of the road, still making the occasional ditch runs. I stayed until another car's lights sent it off.

Sleep had its ups and downs. The night was warmest of the year, and the stars were crystalline. So was the cursing voice of a very upset woman at the next campsite. And her dog. And her boyfriend. At 2:30 in the morning. Nice stars though, and since they couldn't reach resolution, they packed up and drove off at 3:30. Great stars, with a nice fireball meteor.

The Prairie Chickens were booming the next morning at dawn on 130th street north of Central about 100 yards. I could hear them first and then started seeing them. They were in the new wheat, close enough for good looks, but frustratingly over a slight rise. I'd see a couple of heads strut back and forth, then one or two individuals would jump full view in the air, but I couldn't see the dancing at ground level. Estimate 12 to 15 birds, plus observers, based on the action when two Harriers had some fun buzzing the crowd. I stayed for over an hour, then headed for some potential shorebird habitat.

I found a Peregrine Falcon at Four Rivers CA north of Nevada. It was stirring up ducks in the pools below the headquarters. They used to be caled Duck Hawks. A guy there who was monitoring birds said he'd seen it two or three days ago, but hadn't had time for a positive ID. I had it sitting on a tree branch for two minutes at 30 yards, best look of my life. This is the individual that was the model for the IMBD poster, simply perfect. The shorebirds were plentiful also, several varieties of Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Killdeer, both Yellowlegs. Found an American Pipit in a plowed field too. I ended up adding five new species to my Missouri list.

On the way home, I stopped at Taberville Prairie, and walked a mile back in to a fresh burn, but didn't stir up anything real interesting except a Grasshopper Sparrow. Found gasoline on the way home for 2.12, it was 2.29 in Eureka when I got in.

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