Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and home

Wisconsin, short and sweet

I made just one stop just north of the Wisconsin border at Governor Dodge State Park. I got there really early since Wisconsin has a really punitive policy for out-of-state visitors, where you have to buy first a yearly permit, for something like $12, and then pay admission, and then camping if you want to do that. Camping ends up being around $20 the first night. But if you drive in and out before the toll booth opens, well... I needed six species in WI to make a hundred, and ended up with eleven new ones, mostly at one very productive roadside stop, almost random, where a little drainage crossed the road with scattered small trees in a sort of riparian belt through a meadow. Some migrant warblers, and misc flycatchers and vireos. Ended with a Cooper's Hawk. 29 species at one stop, 11 new. Perfect. Then I drove out of Wisconsin, with just a stop at the Cabella's in Prairie du Chien.

Good and bad luck in Iowa

Crossing into Iowa at that point brought me close to Effigy Mounds National Monument, the place with the ridge overlooking the Mississippi lined with bear and other shape mounds. My interest was in the wetlands along the river where a large creek joined it. Nothing great there, but as I followed the Great River Birding Trail north, I had some nice luck, with a Black Vulture, Pelicans, and a Sora included. Rather than go into Minnesota at that point (sorta wish I had) I headed due west in Iowa making for Union Slough NWR. The day was getting late and I found a State Park almost there on the map, so I stayed there. Found some good birds before dark, and a Great Horned Owl later. It was an example of a terribly underfunded place, the restrooms just barely usable, hot water gone, everything just falling apart, no tables or fire-rings. I crashed in the truck, and that was good enough.

It put me in great position for the Slough the next morning right in the heart of fall migration, and I got there before the office opened. I noticed a lot of waterfowl and shorebirds across the road, and set up the scope on the edge to check it out. Best find was Cackling Geese. Once the office opened, I was able to get a map and checklist, and ask some questions. I had hoped for Yellow-headed Blackbirds, but they had all left. Still the tour road was good birding, great for sparrows since they had cut a lot of small brush and piled it anticipating some Prairie restoration burns. Also had two Rough-legged Hawks. Beyond the tour road I went to the South end, which had woods and creek bottom habitat. Found a Northern Harrier, and a Peregrine Falcon. Sweet stuff. I was there for about three hours before heading on west looking for my Nemesis Gray Partridge. I'm still looking. I was able to find some wifi along the way, and there was word of a Green Violet-ear Hummer in Sioux City, I got the address and a phone number and barreled on down the road. All the time driving I'd been watching the ag fields looking for a gray football, the Partridge, without luck. It was around 1 or 2pm when I found the house, after making the worst possible choices of exits and streets. No Bird. A cold front the previous night had driven it off. Folks saw it the day before but not the day I arrived. The couple who hosted it and a pile of birders were sweet and sat talking with me for half an hour, showing pictures and the guest book of visitors. Clearly a big deal in their lives. I wanted to try for some South Dakota birds, and crossed over into the very southeast-most tip of the state. Found a little park, but it was getting to be late afternoon and not very birdy, but I got one tic.

Missouri exhaustion

I still had to get home and wanted to stop in Missouri where there was a Sabine's Gull, another nemesis, reported at Smithville Lake. I'd searched for the same species there before, and was at least familiar with the territory. But Smithville was quite a ways and it turned dark. I knew of a State Park near Squaw Creek NWR, and headed there for the night. There was a power plant nearby, so nothing like quiet. But I was in place for an early start, and also anxious to get home. I was whooped, not only from traveling, but emotionally, the long mourning process was gaining momentum, and was starting to tell. I skipped Squaw Creek and headed straight for Smithville, figuring I might as well have a three strike finale. Hopelessness setting in also, the time of seasonal depression knocking at the door. Anyway, I spent two or three hours at Smithville Lake, and no matter where I went, the Gulls were on the other side. If I drove there, a boat would scatter them back to the original other side, and when I went there, they had moved. I went home, six hours driving to Arkansas.


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