First, I would like to thank everyone who replied to my request for Chuck-will's-widow locations last week. I never expected so many responses!
Last night Matt Ladage and I left St. Louis a little later than planned (we were hoping to time our trip down to miss the rain...which I suppose we technically did), so we arrived at Holly Creek Conservation Area around 10:15pm. We had failed to hear any nightars on the way in, nor at the parking lot on the west side, so we pitched our tent in the primitive camping area and I grudgingly called it a night. However, I was roused from my light sleep around 1:20am by one, then three, CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOWS. Part of me wanted to get out of the tent so I could hear the "chuck" part of the call (they were a bit distant), but most of me was content to sleep. Luckily, a few moments later a bird started calling much closer and my little dilemma was solved.
We woke up at 4am and were at Donaldson Point Conservation Area at 5:50am. I was absolutely amazed by the numbers of calling YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS. I don't think we had a single stop from this point on that failed to include at least one calling cuckoo. We were greeted by a calling RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, several GREAT CRESTED and ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS.
We walked down road 3 from the "main" road and had to wade through about 1 foot of water at the bottom of a small hill. Phil had promised us "numbers" of Mississippi Kites, but just after we crossed the water we saw our one and only MISSISSIPPI KITE of the day sitting atop a Sycamore. Shortly after a couple BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS started singing, and a single KENTUCKY WARBLER joined the chorus for a few songs.
I heard a SWAINSON'S WARBLER sing three times, but we were unable to ever actually see the bird.
We continued down to the Mississippi River, where I found three LEAST TERNS traveling down the waterway on some flotsam. A YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT put on quite a vocal display behind us, while PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULAS, AMERICAN REDSTARTS, BROWN THRASHERS and WOOD DUCKS vied for our attention.
Leaving Donaldson Point, we next headed to Big Oak Tree State Park. A PROTHONOTARY WARBLER nearly landed on the car as we pulled up to the boardwalk, and we'd later see at least 6 singing males. Many of the birds here were the same as at Donaldson, but we added SUMMER TANAGER and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK to our day's list. What looked like tiny Wood Frogs were present by the hundreds in the semi-wet portion of the trail. Near the end of the boardwalk we found two deceased turtles on a log just off the boardwalk...one had been dead quite awhile, but the other seemed quite fresh and was just missing its head. Any ideas about possible predators?
Around 9am we pulled into Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area near CR 518 and 102. Here we found at least ten LEAST TERNS, a few PURPLE MARTINS, a small Common Snapping Turtle, our only AMERICAN KESTREL of the day and a HORNED LARK on the jetty/spit like structure.
We spent about 2 minutes looking for White-winged Doves in East Prairie, but a single EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE was the only dove we saw/heard.
In Stoddard County we tried looking at some rice fields for interesting birds. Route A was absolutely devoid of anything interesting, but just north of Route A on Route CC we found about 20 BLACK-NECKED STILTS in two fields across the street from each other.
After a quick lunch in Sikeston we visited Sand Prairie Conservation Area, which had to be the coolest CA I've seen in Missouri (outside of my beloved Big Creek CA up in Adair County, that is). Right away we saw another EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE, a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, a pair of BLUE GROSBEAKS and another YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Within a few moments we'd heard/seen two or three GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS and our only RED-TAILED HAWK of the day. Near the far east end of the area we encountered about 20 NORTHERN BOBWHITE chicks.
Our last stop of the day before returning to St. Louis was the heron rookery near Benton. I thought I had seen a good sized rookery before...but this one just blew me away. We saw hundreds (if not 1000) of CATTLE EGRETS, plenty of LITTLE BLUE HERONS, about 30 SNOWY EGRETS and a GREAT EGRET or two. Sadly, we also found the debris of several roman candles that may have been used to shoot at the birds in the recent past. We also got to see a few AMERICAN CROWS, which I assumed were responsible for many of the predated eggs we saw lying around well outside the rookery boundaries.
I've posted a few photos from today here: http://picasaweb.google.com/rndouglas/Missouri
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