Steve and I just returned from five fun filled days in which we spent some great time floating the upper Current. Of course, I will be processing images for some likely months, but I wanted to share a couple now. We found five American Mink along the banks of the river during our first day. They were mostly unconcerned with our presence as we floated along, following them as they fished and foraged.
We were fortunate to find most favorable weather during this break. The nights were cool and clear and the days warm and blue for the most part. We were able to find and follow a number of forest friends and I’m looking forward to sharing them.
Perhaps the most appropriately named warbler, this special bird is said to nest almost exclusively in pine trees and is one of the earliest nesting warblers within it’s range. These special birds were a thrill for us to find and watch. Closeup images of the male bird were taken at Big Spring State Park, while the nest was located in a Short-leaf Pine located on a parking lot within Shaw Nature Reserve.
The chicks were adorable and near-helpless, only able to open their gigantic craws at anticipation of a juicy insect meal.
During the time Steve and I strained our necks watching the child care from ~50 ft below, we were able to observe that when dad visited the nest he always approached from the side of the nest facing us as seen in the image below. Mom always visited on the opposite side, affording us poor looks. It was interesting to observe that both parents approached the nest in a slow and indirect manner, usually starting low in the nest tree or an adjacent neighbor. They would then hop from branch to branch, often in a spiral up the tree to reach the nest. I do not remember watching either parent make a direct flight to the nest.
About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak. Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways. This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.
I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.
Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo. This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo. The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond! 😉
Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska. The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.
Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions. On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening. An unforgettable experience!
At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs. She patiently sat while I took a few photos.
Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler. This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state. Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range. The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.
This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests. It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler. We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder. The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.
In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.
There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.
The Cerulean Warbler population has declined more than 80% since breeding bird surveys began in 1966? Habitat destruction, in the form of mountaintop removal and stream filling in the Appalachians, and forest destruction for agriculture in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, along with wintering grounds destruction for coffee and cocoa production in South America are responsible. Habitat preservation via cessation of deforestation in both nesting grounds and wintering forests are crucial if we are to continue hearing the Cerulean song.
The Kentucky Warbler’s chury, chury, chury can sometimes be difficult to discern from the songs of the Ovenbird or the Carolina Wren. This warbler builds its nest usually just off the ground, confined within heavy vegetation, and often are parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbird. This guy was coaxed out with a little playback in a woody thicket near the parking lot at Greer Spring. Check out the short tail, easily evident in this photo, which is a good field mark for this species.