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My wife and I ran in the Hope for Haiti 5K this morning at Frontier Park in
St. Charles.  Because of this, we started from Columbia at 5:30 am to make
the trek to the park before the race at 8.  When the race was over and the
prizes awarded by 9am, I convinced my wife to let me go to Columbia Bottom
for a 'quick tour'.  huh huh...I did not realize just how expansive,
beautiful, etc. etc. etc. this place was.  I've heard other St. Louisians
and MO-birders mention it or mention seeing this or that at it, but without
seeing any pictures, you really don't get a feel for how majestic this place
is.  It really is a great park and well-kept, too!

My intended quarry for the day was the Black-Necked Stilt, which has been
seen off-and-on all summer.  I think I set a personal birding record by
finding not one, but two, within 5 minutes of leaving the Visitor's Center.
 I must admit it was a bit of Providence that I even saw them at all.  They
were well-hidden in the soybean field behind the open water when I was
driving by.  Thankfully, the Great Egret standing tall and white against the
plains and the dusky Mallards with babies in tow were not.  I stopped to ID
the ducks (thinking at first they may be Wood Ducks) and after a few minutes
of scanning the horizon counting Egrets, I heard a very un-Egret-ish call
coming from the field.  Honing my bins back on the water line I spotted a
black and white head poking out from behind a row of soybeans.  As I
scrambled for my scope, it erupted forth into the open water and ran
headlong toward the Mallards, flapping its wings and calling as it went. 
Let's just say I think my wife's arm has a bruise from my excited 'love
patting'.

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/IvSDLhK1Fv-GGYufVCGUjKDIitwR9vyUgJrydH4Eu84?feat=directlink

That was the highlight of the trip by far, but not the only great spot.  A
bit farther down the road, we heard several Bobwhites calling, so I stopped
to listen for a bit and see how many there were.  When I did, I heard
another call that sounded almost insect-like.  Turns out it was lifer #2 a
Grasshopper Sparrow.  He was lit on what I would call a scrub oak about 20
feet into the field and, given the distance and his size, in pretty plain
sight.  A bit farther, we got great looks at a Blue Grosbeak singing to its
mate, another Northern Bobwhite, a young Yellow Warbler fighting with a
young Orchard Oriole, and a Warbling Vireo.

At that point, the Sun was coming out hot, so we were about to head home,
but I saw a chance to look for gulls at the river and convinced my wife to
let me go for just a few minutes.  We drove down towards the river and I saw
a sign for a boardwalk, so we got out to cool off in the shade and walk
around.  That boosted our species count considerably as there were tons of
birds lurking in the trees.  The boardwalk is flooded, but we were able to
go about 20 feet into the backwater area before stopping.  Amer.
Goldfinches, W-B Nuthatches, Y-B Cuckoos, Amer. Robins, Blue Jays, Warbling
and Red-Eyed Vireo, an E. Phoebe, and a few others I can't remember off the
top of my head all passed through while we stood there.  Also present was
lifer #3, a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.  I've been chasing these guys down for
months with no luck...just not looking in the right places until now, I
guess. :)

Across the street was lifer #4, an American Redstart, though he was only
heard, not seen.  I still hope to see one before the summer is out, but I
counted him all the same.  Also across the street in the now flooded
Confluence Trail was a surprise visitor: an American Bittern!  At first, I
saw a mix of Great and Snowy Egrets standing on the trail in a flood wash
area and decided to check them out.  Turns out they were fishing for minnows
as they swam over the flooded sidewalk.  How great!  When I put my bins on
them, I then noticed a Little Blue Heron (1 of 10 on the day) off to the
side and then the Bittern in the rear near some reeds.  He skulked off
before I could get my camera, but we left and came back about half an hour
later on our way out and he was back.  I snapped a few quick photos, but
they're grainy as we were at the street.

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/IppKT88Q35IW4jRmOG4uOaDIitwR9vyUgJrydH4Eu84?feat=directlink

In all, it was a good trip.  We saw (or heard) 46 species and had quite a
few good spots.  Hope everyone else enjoyed their balmy Saturday morning!

Cheers and good birding,
Chase (and Katie) Darr
Columbia, Boone Co., MO
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