I spent a three day weekend birding around southwest MO, spending time at Taberville Prairie, Four Rivers CA, Wah'Kon'Tah Prairie, and Schell-Osage, and hitting Hi-Lonesome CA on the way back. Kind of a weird few days birdwise but the following were highlights:
3 Greater Prairie-Chicken leks totaling about 20 birds (2 for Taberville, 1 for Wah'Kon'Tah)
2 Smith's Longspurs at Taberville (lifer! wooooo!)
2 Loggerhead Shrikes at Taberville, acting like a mated pair
2 Ross's Geese and 1 transitioning Horned Grebe at Schell-Osage
3 or more American Woodcocks calling near the south campground at Schell-Osage
More detailed summary:
I spent a few days camped out at Shell-Osage CA and used it as a home base to hit some of the prairies around it, having a major urge for some GPCH time. The first morning I viewed two prairie chicken leks at Taberville, one at a historic location on the northern portion of the area and the other in a private wheat field east of the area where birds have been seen for at least the past few years. The one on private land offers the best viewing, and the birds were closer to the road this time than was described to me from past observers. I'll give directions privately to the lek in the wheat field, but I'll warn now (and will warn again later) that the birds are close enough to disturb if you get out of your car and make a bunch of noise. The other lek (on Taberville proper) is not viewable without disturbing the birds, but it's back. I waited until a Northern Harrier flushed some chickens (4) off the lek after 9 AM and they didn't return for a while to check out the grounds (then empty), and that's where I had the 2 Smith's Longspurs at about 15 feet! Viewing the surroundings from on top of that hill confirmed my hunch--there's no way to view these birds without disturbing them... save for maybe seeing a few heads peep over the grasses if you are on a neighboring hill... but there's no need to chance it when viewing is so good from a car at the other lek.
The next morning at Wah'Kon'Tah was less fruitful. Wah'Kon'Tah is a lot tougher to scope out (hillier, restricted access) and it was only by dumb luck that I saw a group of chickens get spooked by a harrier from a half-mile away after a while of searching. There were 6 birds on the hill, which I think was a lek, but even with a better vantage point I could not see or hear birds displaying and could only get on them when the harrier got them up. The vegetation on the hill was pretty tall for a lek, which made things tougher to view. I think Taberville will be a much better destination this year for viewing unless I missed something, which is certainly possible.
Four Rivers was muddy and frustrating. LOTS of ducks, lots of habitat, but they were j-u-m-p-y. Gave up on getting the scope out and even stopping the car to glass over with binocs would spook most of the birds. Also, I would give it a week for the surrounding roads to dry out... some were impassable without 4WD. Schell-Osage was better, and had 4 species of geese over the few days I was there. Also had a lot of woodcocks out and about here at dusk and dawn both days, a Horned Grebe on 3/14, and good numbers of the more common species of waterfowl.
Nothing too notable at Hi Lonesome except for some Brewer's Blackbirds in a flock on private land nearby and a Rough-legged Hawk headed northwest (finally! thought I missed 'em this year) north of Sedalia.
It was sort of a bizarre weekend. I got the feeling the change back to cool, damp weather had toyed with the birds a bit, and some common species were extraordinarily hard to get--especially passerines. I had ONE White-throated Sparrow for the entire weekend, and only because I spent forty-five minutes kicking around brushy areas at Schell-Osage. The only Ring-billed Gull I got at the CA's I visited was one flying over Taberville... go figure. Raptor numbers were very low, and I did not get a single Short-eared Owl... I think many of them rode out of town on the warm front.
Data will be on CACHE once I get my notes together. Also, I am posting a twenty dollar reward for information leading to the return of my camp stove stolen in the dead of night from Schell-Osage! ;-)
Director, Silver Creek Elementary SACC Program
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