Tuesday, June 24, 2008

North into a cold wet Spring

In my typical way, with time on my hands as the winter passed, I had studied maps and checklists and cash reserves figuring what kind of trip would net the most new state ticks, the most lifer possibilities, and the most new landscapes. Subject to time and money constraints. It used to be just time, but gas prices were changing everything in terms of any kind of distance birding. Which was true for a lot of folks, attested by numerous mentions on the listservs, and a growing interest in "green birding", fuel free and muscle intensive.

I was drawn to another Gulf Coast trip, with the possibility of making the 50% in Louisiana, Mississippi (I was really close), and critically building on Tennessee and Alabama. But I missed the prime time window for those when the migrants were coming ashore on the April/May cusp. So the alternative northern loop through several prairie states started looking best. It had a lot more lifer hopes too, all chickens, my nemesis the Gray Partridge, both Sage Grouses (Grice?), and Spruce Grouse if I went into Minnesota Boreal habitat. I was also drawn to a trip to Isle Royale National Park, almost the only lower 48 one that I hadn't seen, the least visited NP, but one of the top ten for back country permits. Not a real birding goal, tho I could get some good MN ticks with a little luck, obscure woodpeckers, big water ducks and loons, that sort of thing. It also held the opportunity for breaking 100+ species in four more states, and adding to a bunch of others. Like a fool, I listed them out, with their goals, and figured around 300+ ticks possible would give the list a big boost. Plans jelled.

Getaway, start Nebraska and Iowa

Thursday, June 5 and Friday, June 6, 2008

I took my time getting away in the morning, first checking email and delivering some work, then back home to clean out the truck, vacuum everything and wipe it down, then load for travel. I always wonder what I'm gonna forget, any fool would make a checklist, but maybe the next time. I'll make a post of the stuff I take and other logistical considerations on these trips. I did manage to make a note of the mailing addresses and due dates and amounts for several credit cards. Then I mowed the last section of the lawn that was slightly tall, knowing that I'd face a jungle when I returned. We'd had an extremely wet spring, with flooding and over-filled lakes on the news, so plants were thriving. We'd already cut the hay, a month earlier than usual, I usually delay beyond the local custom to let ground nesters get their babies up, but his year I would have lost a lot of grass falling over from its own exuberant weight. Back through town headed north with a stop for the last decent meal I'd see until I got back, at the Oasis, favorite-of-locals semi-vegetarian mostly home-made tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant. When I'm in strange places with some counter-culture flotsam I always hope to find places like it, usually without luck.

First long drive of the trip is north-west across a corner of Missouri, opportunity for the cheapest gas in the nation, and up the Eastern edge of Kansas. I always stop at Schermerhorn Park south of Galena, still looking for Black Vultures and Bewick's Wrens for the KS list. After that it was just a grinding drive, I could have made several stops, but I wanted the feel of being gone from the familiar. Crossed back into MO at Kansas City, and Interstate to the Squaw Creek NWR exit south of Mound City, for another MO gas dose and dinner. The station there was associated with an Indian Reservation, cheap gas and a big cheap plate of food recommended by a trucker on the next stool, good too. Now all this time the weather had been fairly dramatic. I'd had a welcome tail wind going north. I drove along keeping pace with the cloud shadows, which were going fifty plus mph. Not very good birding anyhow. At the station the sky had darkened and it looked like rain, actually it looked worse than that. The waitress I'd fallen in love with (I always do) said there were tornado warnings for the area, and a few minutes later that there were tornadoes on the ground just west of there across the Missouri River in Kansas and Nebraska where I thought I was heading.

Then a few minutes later she announced that there were tornadoes around us, it looked scary outside, low gray fast moving clouds with shreds of green and yellow weather scraps moving like flying trucks. She invited everyone to head for the basement just as the power failed. Folks had a few flashlights, and we crowded into a decent size room with not enough seats. I was on the floor. The guy next to me had his dog. Truckers and staff and kids from the Res, travelers, a cop, made a good mix. We stayed for most of an hour until the spotters said that the worst danger was past. By then it was storming horizontally, with lots of fireworks. It was dark, I was tired, a splashed to the truck knowing that the rain would make the campershell into a drum head. Got the bright idea to park under the station canopy, let the rain fall on that, the lights and pumps were off. But in about an hour I got woke up when the lights came on. So I got up and moved the truck back to a dark spot in the truck parking area, still raining. Well, that was an interesting start.

Friday - I was up before the kitchen opened, so grabbed a muffin and headed to the refuge only a few miles away for premium early morning birding. I drove the tour loop hoping to see a Ring-necked Pheasant, and one finally crossed the road ahead of me. I'd missed them before. Also got a Spotted Towhee for MO. I'd entered Warbling Vireo range, but didn't recognize the song at first. Figured it out later, and it followed me for the first part of the trip, some places they were quite numerous, not having dispersed on territories yet. I added three ticks for MO, better than I'd hoped for. Crossed the river into Nebraska, and worked my way up to Indian Cave SP with one stop when I saw a sign for an arboretum in Fallsville. Indian Cave is great place and I'd been looking forward to catching shorebirds at a couple of places there, one a wetland and then along the river. Both were closed due to flooding. I did OK there, but was disappointed. The flood induced lack of mudflats was a theme of the journey after that.

I was working my way north along the Missouri River, I'd tagged several likely looking places in the mapping software on the laptop, GPS enabled, on the passenger seat. At Nebraska City I crossed into Iowa to check out Waubonsee SP. It wasn't a good birding place, so it wasn't a long stop. Back into Nebraska and up to the Lincoln area. I had been following the NE listserv, and had marked some sites around there. It was very good birding, especially when I found the Spring Creek Audubon Preserve a few miles southwest of town. The afternoon was already hot and muggy, but there was a new Visitor's Center, hereafter VC, with AC. Yesss. Good birding too, nice prairie remnant, and a very kind woman at the VC sent me up the hill for Henslow's Sparrows, which hid forever almost but eventually came out and rasped their little songs and calls. Good bird for the trip and year as well. Back into town for the Pioneer's Park Nature Center, but I was late and some trails were already closed. They'd had some vandalism problems. Looks like an excellent place to hit early in the day during spring migration. I needed to find some camping, the previous night hadn't been good rest, but had some awful luck for a while. I tried a WMA that was over-run with kids, Friday night, the good campsites were closed due to flooding, and the others were both expensive and ill-equipped. The next likely place was a SP where I'd been stormed on a previous trip, and I knew wasn't much for habitat. Kinda hot and frustrated. Ended up back across the river at Lewis and Clark SP, almost flooded, but with good showers. Tried evening birding and got driven back by rain. Logged sightings into the computer.


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