The Short-eared Owl is a unique flyer. Birder and author Pete Dunne described them as a “…pale beer keg on wings.” Just as apt, but completely different, many have described their flight as like that of a moth, with long, straight wings that give a buoyant and unpredictable pattern that is often mixed with long periods of gliding. They have the tools of a successful hunter and although they lack the speed and power of their neighbors – the Northern Harriers, their ability to fly agilely and without making a sound, allows them to pick up their rodent prey without much apparent effort.
The Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) is a very secretive bird whose summer nesting range occurs in the southeastern United States. It requires a habitat of dense undergrowth and heavy leaf litter for foraging and nesting and, in Missouri, this species is rarely found north of the Current River watershed. It’s safe to say that in the St. Louis birding community, the most popular bird of the past week is a Swainson’s Warbler that has apparently set up a territory along the Lost Valley Trail in Weldon Spring Conservation Area in St. Charles County.
Named for William John Swainson, a naturalist, illustrator and contemporary of John James Audubon, the Swainson’s Warbler could fit in well in the lush habitat of this section of Weldon Spring C.A. Here it will compete with the bounty of other low-feeding passerines found here like the Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler and the occasional Hooded Warbler. Like we needed another reason to love birding at this location!
The Swainson’s Warbler is definitely not your typical species of wood warbler. The Parulidae family is well known for the gem-like coloration and spectacular patterns of many of it’s species. The Swainson’s Warbler, however, has a color and pattern more adapted to a lifestyle of foraging in the leaf litter and spending time in the dark understory of swamps and bottomland forests. This bird has a brownish back and lighter, white to cream-coloration on its breast. This typical countershading coloration allows it to blend in and virtually disappear within its environment. There is no sexual dimorphism in the coloration of this species – males and females are virtually identical, unlike other species of warblers also found along the Lost Valley Trail like the American Redstart and the Cerulean Warbler.
The bird is rather flat-headed with a much longer and stronger bill than most other warbler species. It is also known for its pink-colored and strong legs. These adaptations are probably helpful while lifting dead leaves and other detritus of the forest floor while it forages for its arthropod prey.
It is this author’s opinion that the song of the Swainson’s Warbler is one of the most satisfying of bird songs. It sounds like it took the stuttering song of the Louisiana Waterthrush (a closely related species) and perfected it. I can still completely enjoy myself just being in the woods with these guys singing. Be prepared for frustration if you are waiting for one of these birds to pop out of the dense understory to get a nice clear look.
Here you can find video of singing Cerulean and Swainson’s Warblers I took years ago at the Greer Spring Access location.
Colombia, MO has had one or more Swainson’s Warblers for the past five years or so. Will this species become a regular at Lost Valley Trail? Is this one of the “good consequences” of climate change? It should be mentioned there have been a few reports that there are currently more than one bird along the trail. Some have claimed two males in separate territories and/or two birds spotted at the same location, indicating the potential presence of a female. I have spent four mornings over the past week looking for this bird and have seen no evidence of more than a single male yet, but there is always that potential.
Best of luck to those going to try for this bird. You would be hard pressed to think of a better place to spend some hours on a spring morning.
Thanks for visiting and let me know if you have had success hearing or laying eyes on this bird or if you have had any luck finding evidence of more than the one bird.
Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata can be very difficult to find. Usually growing in groups of ones and twos, it is a small plant that prefers shadier locations that get dappled sunlight. I want to thank John Oliver for all his assistance getting me on this and a number of other Spiranthes species this year.
This species of ladies’-tresses is known for its graceful and diminutive flowers. Casey and I found only a couple of plants, each with flowers rather less developed than hoped for. I’m not sure if we were a day or two early, or if this might be all to expect from this population. We found these plants alongside trails at Babler State Park in mid-September.
Miguel and I have been having some fun this year photographing the white-tailed deer rut. More photos and a potential article to follow this preview.
For the second year in a row, a special beetle that has been described by our own Ted MacRae as “one of the rarest and most beautiful species of longhorned beetle to occur in Missouri” was found during the joint field trip of the WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography groups at Hughes Mountain Natural Area. Tragidion coquus, purported to be spider wasp mimics, mine in dead oak branches and can be found in flight between June and November. I wasn’t happy with my photos of last year’s specimen (also a female), so I was thrilled to be able to take the time and set her on some foliage with fall colors. It was an almost disaster as she was able to take flight before we were finished. But, having the quick reflexes of a Marvel superhero, I was able to catch her out of the air with a quick grab with just a slight kink in her antennae in consequence.
I had a great time introducing some photographer friends of mine to one of my favorite places in the state, Vilander Bluff. With the largest bluffs on the Meramec River, to get the type of view seen here requires a little bit of effort. Dave and I put in some work in finding this new-to-me perspective that was well worth the bit of effort and risk. Next time we’ll need to bring climbing ropes…
A trip to Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary last weekend paid off. I crossed paths with this juvenile Merlin, my first of this season, three different times. In this instance I had my camera prepared. He kindly perched long enough that I could swap for the 2X teleconverter. I think the 2X performed pretty well in this perfect light, but heat distortion was a major problem on this cool but sunny day.
Many thanks to Casey Galvin tracking this one down and to the property owners allowing us access.