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Jim Zellmer, Jack Hilsabeck, Terry Swope, John Rushin, Larry Lade, Linda Williams, Marita Abner, Sharon Abner and I all had many outstanding looks at the Swainson's Warbler at Martha Lafitte Sanctuary in Liberty, MO between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. this morning. Linda Williams took some outstanding photos of the bird singing on a bare branch, which I hope she will provide to Mobirds for general display.

The bird is definitely defending a territory that includes the same area where it was reported having been seen yesterday. To reach the bird, go south on the walkway that goes by the east side of the Visitor's Center, then take the Rush Trail east 50-75 yards or so until you reach a small area of open prairie. The bird was in the thick foliage of the wooded/brushy area that borders the prairie on the north -- i.e. about 20-30 yards north of the trail. You should see some evidence that people have walked north through the grass there.  There are power lines near by.

Hisabeck, Swope, Lade & Co. were already there when Jim Zeller and I arrived at 7:30. They had heard but not seen the bird. They conducted us to the place where the bird had been heard, and someone heard it sing once or twice again. We proceeded to the northern edge of the prairie, and I played my tape of the bird's song. Almost immediately, we heard it chipping close by in the thick brush at the edge of the prairie. We could see leaves moving and occasionally get glimpses of parts of the bird, but it was difficult to get on the whole bird. It continued to chip and move about there for 4-5 minutes.

I continued to play the tape, and the bird began to fly around in an agitated manner and to sing. At first, it was difficult to get on it while it was singing, but there were several times when it sang from bare snags in the brush and/or from exposed branches on surrounding trees. At that point, Linda Williams left to get her camera, tripod and long lens.

While Linda was away, the remaining group had good looks at the bird in exposed positions. I tried to play the tape as little as possible. For the most part, it continued to sing in our area without tape activity. However,  whenever it seemed likely to wander off to defend other parts of its territory, I played the song once or twice to keep it nearby until Linda returned.

Linda returned after about ten minutes. At that point the bird perched on an exposed branch about 15 feet off the ground and sang repeatedly in that one place for 5-10 minutes. Linda got frame-filling photos then. Others got video.

Altogether, we observed the bird for a half hour or more. It was still singing when we left at 8:30 a.m.

When I visited Saturday, the bird had been reported having been heard from the picnic pavilion near the entranceway, in the northwest portion of the Sanctuary near the old Thompson house and from the staff parking lot. I played the tape at all of those locations then without response. It is unclear to me whether the bird has changed territories or whether its territory has always been large enough to include those parts of the sanctuary. In any event, the place to see the bird is  where Craig Hensley, Kristi Mayo and Doug Willis saw it yesterday and we saw it today.

It probably is possible to see the bird without a tape of its song, but it could be very difficult. Like most territorial birds, the bird does move around and sing from different perches, and its route may include a perch near where you are standing, if you wait long enough. The bird sang from perches fairly near the ground to as high as 15-20 off the ground.

I recommend taking a tape of its song, if you want to see it. I also recommend getting there early in the morning. (I do not know if it will respond to a Screech Owl tape).

 If you do play a tape. please use it sparingly. Constant playing of a tape could drive the bird away. (I have also heard of birds -- like the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl below Falcon Dam, Texas -- learning to ignore tapes because so much tape playing was occurring).

I do hope that Linda Williams will provide the MBRC with her photos and a write-up. (Some people don't understand why a write-up is necessary when you have photos. It is necessary to authenticate the photos and to make a permanent record of information about date, time, location, angle of view, etc.).

I will let you know tomorrow whether the place is infested with chiggers.
 
Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
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