2022 – Year of the Limpkin!

A visitor from the south, this Limpkin was found in early September, 2022, at the lake of the Japanese Gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.

Prior to 2022, the Limpkin, a bird with a normal range from Florida to the north to northern Argentina to the south, had never before been recorded in the state of Missouri. This year there have been at least 10 birds recorded in the state so far, the latest finally coming from the good part of the state! 😉 The bird featured here was found in early September by Cathy Spahn at the Japanese Garden of the Missouri Botanical Garden in downtown St. Louis City. This was extraordinary timing as the annual Japanese festival at MOBOT was going on at the time. This meant large crowds of people. Several of us arrived early on the morning of the 5th and found the bird quickly, giving us great looks and not seeming to mind the presence of people at all.

Here the Limpkin can be seen in the context of the Japanese Garden, with visitors on the zig-zag bridge, or Yatsuhashi, across the water.

The Limpkin looks like a heron in appearance, but is actually the only extant member of its own family, the Aramidae, and is actually considered most closely related to the rails. It is also unique in feeding primarily on apple snails but will feed on other types of snails, freshwater mussels and clams and small aquatic arthropods like crayfish as it forages through its preferred habitat of brushy swamps and marshes.

The crooked overlap at the tip of its bill is not an abnormality. This aids the Limpkin in removing snails, their preferred food, from their shells.

This influx of Limpkins into the Show Me State wasn’t exactly a surprise. Limpkin reports outside of Florida began around 2015, with records being found in Georgia, and other southeastern states over the following years. Birders have been waiting for them to show up in Missouri for a few years and now they finally have. The reasons for their northward spread are uncertain but are likely due to the spread of an exotic island apple snail originally from tropical and subtropical South America.

The Limpkin foraging among the lotus at the lake of the Japanese Garden.

I had thought about chasing Limpkins previously seen in the state in 2022 but couldn’t get myself talked into the roughly 600 mile round trip drive this would have taken. I’m so glad I saved the gas! This was quite the experience and I’ll be interested in seeing how long this bird stays in St. Louis. Here are a few more photos of this fantastic bird.

2022 Kansas Trip – Lesser Prairie Chickens

With this crazy summer, full of a time-consuming work project and trying to keep establishing plants alive in the yard, there has been very little time for birding trips. Casey organized this trip from mid April of 2022 and it was definitely memorable. I still have hundreds of photos to process, but here are a few from our first stop, a couple of Lesser Prairie Chicken Leks in western Kansas.

Snow Raptors

A few from a couple snow days this past January. Some of the first outings with the Canon R5. On one day, light levels were quite low and birds were at a great distance. Tried shooting with and without teleconverter to get more light. Difficult circumstances.

Short-eared Owl cruising over snow-covered grassland.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-3200.
Short-eared Owl shortly after leaving perch.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2500.
Short-eared Owl with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/800 sec., f/4, ISO-2000.
Male Northern Harrier
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2000.
Female Northern Harrier with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Squabbling Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Whenever a Short-eared Owl tried and missed its intended prey, it would immediately shake the snow and other materials from its talons.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
Short-eared Owl skimming snowy landscape.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
A great catch!
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1600.

Ozark Bill

“Raptors” of 2021/2022 Winter Season

I know that at least one of these birds pushes the definition of a raptor a little far, but, there is no denying that each of the birds featured in this post is a truly horrific predator if your are unfortunate enough to be considered their prey. It’s been a lot of fun this season shooting these birds. I get out as much as I reasonably can and although it looks like the season is turning over, I’ll have a lot more photos of these birds to share in the following weeks.

The smallest on this short list, the American Kestrel feeds primarily on small rodents and birds during winter months. During warmer times of the year, Kestrels will include arthropods and reptiles in their diets.
Anyone who has spent any time on grasslands, marshes or other flat rural areas will know the distinct shape of the ubiquitous Northern Harrier. These low-flying raptors are the scourge of rodents trying to make their living among dead winter vegetation. In rough times, they will also kill and eat birds, including members of their own species.
The Short-eared Owl should already be pretty well known to anyone that has recently visited this blog. They are terrific predators, combining keen eyesight, hearing and the ability to fly completely silent while performing aerial acrobatics. This bird is on its way to attempt a prey capture.
This was an irruption season for the Rough-legged Hawk. Many more birds than typically seen have been observed in eastern Missouri including this very cooperative female that was photographed in St. Charles County, MO. These birds, along with Short-eared Owls, have already begun moving north towards their summer habitats.
Sure, the American White Pelican is not typically lumped in with the Raptors, but I thought this photo conveyed the ferocity that this predator can use to catch its fish prey. This is another great winter photography subject.
Finally we have the Bald Eagle. We tried a few times this season along the great Mississippi River to photograph these guys pulling stunned fish from the waters. We had some success, but unfortunately, we did not have a long enough deep freeze to bring them down river in the concentrations that photographers dream about.

That is all for tonight. I will hopefully have more photos of these species to share soon.

-Ozark Bill