Wow, what a birdy day around NODAWAY COUNTY yesterday!  Just the right amount of new and still falling snow, blowing snow, and perfect timing to be out and about driving the county's back roads which were drivable to marginally drivable (slightly insane) but were unexpectedly loaded with all of those usual field and brush dwellers everywhere that are otherwise nowhere in sight beyond the usual chance encounter.  With my brother in town from NYC and an obsessive compulsive wikipedia contributor (online encyclopedia he has authored 25,000+ pages so far, heavy on Missouri especially the NW, and still going strong, no end in sight!) we were on a 'wiki-expedition' yesterday so he could tidy up some loose ends about Nodaway County, visiting some obscure to bizarre locations and taking pictures for inclusion in wikipedia (Possum Walk west of Clearmont for example).  Any birding for me was meant to be just casual at best; bring the bins along in the unlikely event we might see something of interest.
Turns out, all the birds out and about yesterday, especially on the roads which kind of took me by surprise when otherwise it's usually pretty hit or miss and relatively quiet everywhere.  It was a big day for ground birds, large flocks of Horned Larks everywhere and usually embedded with them a Lapland Longspur or two to many.  Several large and pure flocks of LAPLAND LONGSPURS were also seen, sometimes 40-60 or more at some stops, great up close and personal looks, most notable ones along rt. C just west of Clearmont, the main road into Bilby Ranch CA, and another big one on 390th St (County map) SE of Graham.  If we had just focused on searching for longspurs county wide all day long, the numbers would have likely been in the thousands!   It seemed like a perfect set up for Snow Buntings but no such luck this time.  Maybe today as we take on the SE quarter of the county.
The most unexpected sighting was an adult RED-SHOULDERED HAWK seen along rt. 113 about a half-mile south of Quitman.  We initially just whizzed past it figuring at first glance it was just another Red-tailed.  It was perched only 10 feet up on an overhanging branch along the edge of a wooded area and edge of the road.  I haven't seen a Red-shouldered Hawk in Nodaway County since the mid 1960's!  Having not resided in Missouri since the early '70's but still visit regularly, I'm not familiar with many subtle changes in the status and distribution of some birds in Missouri.  So, to address someone in the know, is a Red-shouldered Hawk in Nodaway County and NW Missouri, especially in February, still kind of unusual??
In just a quick drive by, the adult NORTHERN SHRIKE was promptly seen again with no effort at all around noon along rt. DD a half mile west of Skidmore.  As reported a few days ago, it was once again out in the middle of the bean field just north of the 5th utility pole west of the Nodaway River bridge.  The shrike was an easy spot, very active, and at least at that point in time, the only bird in sight.
I'm probably not going to make it to Squaw Creek this trip.  Such a trip would seem almost anticlimactic since the SW corner of Nodaway County has been absolutely inundated with countless thousands of Snow Geese all week long. There are always Snow Geese around this time of year and it's always that ever present sight and sound which makes late Feb - early March one of my favorite times to visit just for that reason, but with this trip I have never seen them in such numbers persistently concentrated right there.  Early a couple mornings ago when I was headed down to one of my parcels of farmland SE of Graham to spend the day doing an inspection and some annual cleanup and trail maintenance, I topped the hill and to my utter astonishment, found myself face to face with upwards to 50,000(!) Snow Geese which had randomly chosen MY land and field of corn stubble out of all the choices available in which to settle and feed, covering the whole thing like..., well..., proverbial snow.   Phew, what an incredible sight and thrill.  Of course since I needed to work out in there, they didn't stay long, but just long enough for me to photographically record this special and quite personalized lasting memory.  After all, at least for a few precious moments right then, these were MY geese.  In the course of such, I was able to pick out a few Ross's Geese amidst the noisy horde and tick off another new species for the farm list.  Woo-hoo!  And when they left, you can imagine the ascending black and white cloud and the deafening cacophony that accompanied their departure!
P.S.  Maybe a tad off topic here, but with the Snowy Owl over in Breckenridge, I might mention something else for anyone maybe interested.  I mentioned Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia) early on here.  When from Seattle I initially started researching and googling Breckenridge for maps on the Internet a couple weeks ago, I stumbled across a Wikipedia entry on Breckenridge, Missouri.  I glanced over it and thought, hmmm, this reads like something my brother might have written.  I asked him about it and sure enough, it was!  I knew he was obsessive / compulsive, but I had no idea how much so!   Kansas City, St. Joe, yikes, practically everything in there it seems is by his authorship and he's lived in New York City for the past 30 years!  As for his entry on Breckenridge and Caldwell County, there is an obscure, interesting, yet ugly chapter in Missouri history centered there.  As exciting as the Breckenridge Snowy Owl has been for many, sometimes learning something 'new' about the places we chase off to in our own obsessive / compulsive pursuit of birds also have obscure little gems of insight to round out our knowledge and enrich our experience.
On Breckenridge, see: 
Breckenridge, Missouri - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  
One more day, then I'm headed back to the wet & rainy Pacific Northwest.  This has been one of the best and most memorable trips back to Missouri in recent memory.  Mind numbingly busy, productive, and great mostly casual birding to boot.  Thanks to everyone who have contributed to make it so.  Here's wishing great birding to all!  
Richard Rowlett
Seattle, WA
(formerly, Maryville, MO)

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