This is the story of the Lutman's spring 1999 Birding/Relative-Visiting vacation to Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina and related parts. It began Monday, April 5th and ended Friday, May 21st - a little less than seven weeks. It takes the 6 or 7 weekly email reports I sent out, and consolidates them into this webpage.
When we see a bird for the first time on the trip, it is in CAPITALS. If it's a life bird for us (never encountered before), it is in CAPITALS* with an asterisk. Subsequently, for a given bird, or before we've seen a given bird, it is in Initial Capitals. If it's a wedding, it must be North Carolina.
Sharon will see clients thru Thursday, so I leave San Jose alone at 6am, headed for Donner Pass and I-80. Learn in Stockton that chains are required in mountains. Reverse plan, head south on I-5 for Las Vegas first night. Arrive about 8pm, having high engine temperature problems much of the way. Set up in dark at Oasis RV Park.
High temperature in engine delays leaving. Trip to Las Vegas Chevy dealer to troubleshoot source. They don't check very deeply, just add coolant. Take off again. That night in mid-Utah at the Butch Cassidy Campground. Thanks to Bob and Dinah McCluskey for loaning us about 20-25 books-on-tape. This makes the solitary miles fly by.
Take off east, headed for Green River, Utah, about 7:25 am. Fill up in Georgetown, Colorado at $1.089. California prices were about $1.50 when I left, so this is great. Arrive at daughter Shandra's in NW Denver area about 5 pm. Granddaughter Samantha one year old today. Way cuter than a year ago. Way. Three-year old Mikayla remembers the trailer, and wants to play in it right away. Truck overheating again.
Serial port in laptop locked up. Can't do email. Try to fix. Make worse. Much. It seems I deleted a piece of software that had control of the serial port. Sort of like somebody borrowing the key to your garage, then leaving and forgetting to return it. The garage is there but you can't get anything out of it. Well, I guess the garage door to the house has to be locked from the inside too. Oh never mind. Granddaughters Mikayla and Samantha cute as Punkin and Puddin. Lots of great photos.
Pick Sharon up at Denver International. Shandra's husband Jeff works at airport, just below Sharon's arrival gate. He comes up to welcome Sharon, then heads back to work on luggage carrier system. Make appointment with Chevy service for Monday morning.
Great time visiting, taking pictures, playing, renting videos. Birthday party for Samantha at park. Mikayla "helps" open the packages and even helps play with gifts! Imagine.
Fluctuating temperature in '89 Chevy Silverado pickup with 93,000 miles turns out to be cracked block. Sharon and I go to look at new trucks.
Buy a new truck in Denver - '99 Chevy Crew Cab, one ton, long bed, 454 cu in, gray, trailer package, six inches shorter than an 18-wheel big-rig (it seems). Have hitch and electric brake, plus storage box moved from old truck to new one. Give old truck (engine repaired) to Shandra and Jeff. This truck is so long that when you stand in the back and sight along the side, the principle of perspective comes into play, where the front of the truck recedes to nothing in the distance. It is so long that if you get ready to go someplace, you have to double check because the front of the truck may already be there.
From sister Shirley, I learn of mom's brother Carl Hilty's passing a few days after his 90th birthday in Versailles. Decide to jam two days of driving into one in order to get to sister Shirley's near KC, so we can drive down to Versailles early Thursday morning for funeral.
Leave Shandra's at 4:55 am after getting up at 4:00. Rains most of the day. Make it to Kansas City area Wednesday evening about 8:00 pm, after 14-hour driving day with 350 mph western Kansas crosswinds (about 40 miles per hour below average) in time to then drive down to Versailles for 10:30am funeral Thursday 4/15. First tank of gas is about 9 mpg. Old one got 10 mpg pretty reliably, pulling the trailer. Ah, progress.
Sad occasion for me, but then uplifting as we all celebrate Uncle Carl's life. Visit with relatives not seen for six years during dinner in church basement, then over to Aunt Dorothy's for more visiting with Uncle Pete and Aunt Nancy, Uncle Hiram, Uncle Calvin and Aunt Arline, Aunt Dorothy and other relatives from Iowa. Back to Overland Park, Kansas that evening.
Checking outside Jerry and Shirley's kitchen window at and around their bird feeders, I can see a pair of NORTHERN CARDINALS, a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, a COMMON GRACKLE, a BLUE JAY, a DOWNY WOODPECKER and a HOUSE FINCH. And a MOURNING DOVE.
Sister Shirley accompanies us as we bird eastern Kansas, about an hour south of KC area, but cold and wind (it snowed and sleeted on us off and on) pretty much shut down the birds at first. As we drive towards Marais deCygnes State Park, we pass through Linn County Park. Here, we spot a WILD TURKEY by the side of the road, then an EASTERN MEADOWLARK. Several TURKEY VULTURES soaring. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD seems darker here than the California ones. There is a HOUSE (ENGLISH) SPARROW on the ground and a STARLING and a ROBIN by a tree. We make a turnoff, and near a stream in front of a residence, there are birds everywhere, as the sun comes out. We see CHIPPING SPARROWS, RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS, including a gorgeous male, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS, lots of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS. On a gravel road, waiting for traffic to clear, we see a RED-TAILED HAWK, perched low.
Later, at mid-morning, we see a GREAT BLUE HERON, flying down by the water. An EASTERN BLUEBIRD flits around, as we use the park facilities. We also see AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, a WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, AMERICAN COOTS, a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, TREE SWALLOWS over the water, and a KILLDEER. A half-dozen LARK SPARROWS are in the road as it begins to snow a little. YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS of the MYRTLE variety (white throats, not yellow) are on the left side of the bridge. Earlier, Shirley spotted three deer -- an adult and two fawns. We pick up a TUFTED TITMOUSE as we arrive on Marais deCygnes property. We come to a big lake, where we see a new subspecies of the CANADA GOOSE, called MINIMA*, or "Cackling" Goose. This is the smallest subspecies and is about half as tall as the ones we are all familiar with. It's about as big as a mallard, but with full adult markings. There are also SNOW GEESE, including one blue phase. Did you know that the farther north you go, the smaller the subspecies get in Alaska? You can look it up. The minima migrates the farthest. We see a flock of 40 WHITE PELICANS on the water near the Ranger Station Headquarters. Ranger Brent tells us that they do have the Minima, but they've all left except for the injureds, who will stay.
Sharon and I will bird the St. Joseph area in NW Missouri today, hoping to surprise a Yellow Rail or a King Rail in the marshes. At 7:32am, we are headed for Little Bean marsh. We get to a place called Iatan Road, with railroad tracks on our left, the river beyond, and flooded fields on the right. Sharon spots a WOOD DUCK, and we also see PIED-BILLED GREBES and NORTHERN SHOVELERS, so perfectly named because of their overly long bills. We see four or five SORAS, maybe one VIRGINIA RAIL, and a SWAMP SPARROW*. A NORTHERN HARRIER glides over the fields. We move on to another park, and get a GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER*. We see a HERMIT THRUSH, and its an EASTERN VARIETY SUBSPECIES*. We hear a calling Tufted Titmouse. At mid-afternoon, after driving a muddy road in, at the Honey Lake area, a bunch of DARK-EYED JUNCOS fly up from the road. It's getting late, so we head back to Jerry and Shirley's. Jerry fixes us all a "shore dinner" which is fish, potatoes and vegetables in aluminum foil and cooked on the outdoor barbecue. He got this name from their annual Canada camping/fishing trips. Great.
Jerry diagnoses an automatic transmission connection leak IN OUR NEW TRUCK and fixes it. Gold star to Jerry. He also found a replacement for the vent cover that blew off the top of the trailer during the cross-Kansas trip, modifies it and fitted it. Platinum star to Jerry! Hey Shirley, thanks for marrying Jerry. Birded around KC, but no new birds. At Blue Springs Lake, we see an estimated 200 Double-crested Cormorants. They look like a lot of little sticks. It looks like migration hasn't really begun yet for the Missouri warblers we're after. We try the Burr Oak Woods, and on Discovery Trail, we see several WARBLING VIREOS. In three more weeks, this place will be buzzing with warblers, but not today, Jack.
WEEK 3 OF 7. MONDAY, APRIL 19 - SUNDAY, APRIL 25. KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI AREA TO CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO.
Load up, hitch up and take off. We make a side trip to Liberty, Missouri to check out a bird sanctuary, but still very quiet. At Martha LaFite Thompson's Wildlife Sanctuary, we see Northern Cardinals, Starlings, Nuthatches and Sparrows. Drive to Versailles, set up at cousin Mel Gerber's on a concrete pad near the barn where we used to electrify his dad's hogs with a cattle prod. What a connection through time. Then and Now. Mel's RV Park.
As we set up, we see House Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Grackles, Meadowlarks, and a Red-tailed Hawk. We bird an area recommended by Mel and Wally Groth (Mel's brother-in-law) for Greater Prairie-chickens, but no luck. Maybe too windy. Will try again tomorrow at sunrise. Red-winged Blackbirds abound. Then we see two birds in a burned area. I check my book and just as I'm about to call them female Prairie Chickens, one flew, and they are clearly hawks. We finally settle on two immature Northern Harriers, and then see an adult. Into town to visit second cousin Rachel Boatright at their expanded print shop. Had dinner at good ol Pioneer Restaurant. Rachel got us set up to show our Alaska Video to the Lutman side Thursday evening at their shop. I'm right now in Mel's "shop", where he repairs his farm machinery. There is a handy, comfy little office/kitchen/shower/laundry attached. So I'm borrowing his AOL connection to get to you.
We're up before 6am and drive over to Wally Groth's old Holsopple property, hoping to see Greater Prairie Chickens. What I love about these birds is that they were on this property when I was born in 1943, up through when I left Missouri for California in 1965. They were there when my daughters Tara and Shandra were born in California in 1973 and 1975. They were there when Sharon and I started birding in 1995, and in all probability, they were there a thousand years ago.
We bird from Wally's restored barns, but have no luck, and cousin Mel and Wally are afraid that this pocket of prairie chickens may have moved to other, bigger prairies. We see the three Northern Harriers again (also called Marsh Hawks) though, one adult and two younger ones - probably first year birds. The adult Harrier has a very distinctive white rump patch, and sort of glides about meadows and fields, a few feet off the ground, patrolling for mice and other tidbits (The "rump" is that part of the back that's just below the wings). The adult male is gray above and the adult female is brown above. I can never remember which is which without checking our ID books. But I have a new hook. Gray male, like gray mail, like a knight's suit of armor is gray. Gray mail. Gray male. Wonder how long that will last. Both are white below.
After an hour, we drive back to the trailer, where we have breakfast and Sharon packs us a lunch. Today, we are headed for Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area (south of Stover, southwest of Versailles), then Ha-Ha-Tonka State Park (south of Camdenton), then Lake Ozark State Park (northeast of Camdenton). It will be a big day.
At Big Buffalo Creek, Sharon hears some buzzing and we pick up the first of many BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS. A Great Blue Heron flies over. Near a couple of hunters taking a break (it's Wild Turkey hunting season), we find a pair of EASTERN PHOEBES pumping their tails on a bridge, protecting their nest which is no doubt under the bridge. A half-dozen BLUE-WINGED TEALS are drifting around a large pond. Construction repair is underway on a low concrete bridge, and one of the guys tells us about a nesting Bald Eagle further west, and outside the conservation area. We see a first for us - two chicks being attended by an adult BALD EAGLE in an enormous nest. On the way back, we get a NORTHERN PARULA upgrade to our single, solitary bird we saw way off in the top of an enormous sycamore tree on the California coast. He took a wrong turn during migration. These warblers are all over Missouri, and we enjoy their zippy calls. We hear, then see a HAIRY WOODPECKER, distinguished from the Downy by a longer bill length. The main migration has clearly not gotten underway yet, or this area would be covered with twenty different types of warblers.
We head on down to Camdenton and Ha-Ha-Tonka. On Spring Trail, we see Tree and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS and hear the rattle of a BELTED KINGFISHER before we spot him. There are Turkey Vultures ("Buzzards" when I was a kid) everywhere. Nothing much is happening here either, although we have a great hike.
We get to the Lake Ozark State Park information center at 4pm, and the sun is getting lower, but we take off on a trail hoping for warblers here. We quickly see a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers attending their nest. We follow the trail a while, then somehow take a wrong turn and are lost. We hear a high whistle as a hawk sails by at treetop level. We feel this is most likely a Broad-winged Hawk, but aren't sure enough to claim it. We find some power lines, and follow them down to the road, then take the road back to the truck. We're beat.
We head home to our trailer, and just as we're turning the last corner before heading up Mel's lane, we see and hear a COMMON SNIPE fly away from the road and back down into the field. Sharon reads that Common Snipes migrate during the night in large flocks, then split up into singles during the daytime for feeding. Then after a day or two, they reassemble and resume their migration.
We go to Aunt Dorothy's (mom's sister) for breakfast and have a great visit. Then we do what I've been dreaming about for two years. We drive down into "Ed's Timber". This famous stand of trees is where the Hilty and related families have held a Fourth of July picnic since I was a kid. It's always guaranteed to be 110 degrees, and to have the best food in the country. And I'm dying to see what kind of birds have lived in this picnic area all my life. As we lift the wire gate, we see a Killdeer. There are quite a few in the area. We don't find much activity in the main woods, but we see birds flying around in the open field and in the woods beyond it. Aunt Dorothy calls this other stand "Billy's Timber", because they bought it from Billy somebody. In the meadow near Billy's Timber, I see two large black-and-white woodpeckers fly in. Their color pattern reminds me of Acorn Woodpeckers, but that is a western bird. These are something else. I remember the pattern of a woodpecker we're after, and I spot one on top of a dead tree. I yell at Sharon, but she thinks I'm yelling at her. I guess I am, but it's because I want her to see the birds so badly. I get the scope on one, and she finally gets the confirming identification. They are a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS* (Lifer number 5 of our trip) There are lots of Bluebirds. Sharon sees one go into a tree with nest material, and we see a Tufted Titmouse attending its nest also. Sharon is watching a squirrel, when it suddenly drops about thirty feet from its limb to the ground. We wonder if it slipped. It seems ok. We watch a White-breasted Nuthatch working a tree, then decide to go back to the main timber stand. We see a bird fly in and drop down into the creek. We identify a SOLITARY SANDPIPER.
Aunt Dorothy wants to show us several local stores and shops, so off we go. At AmosŐs clock and gift shop, there is a large family of PURPLE MARTINS in his martin houses. We buy some cool stuff, and go back to Aunt Dorothy's where we have lunch. Then, at Daniel Baumgartner's suggestion (he got their ok and wants to show us their home), we caravan over to Yoder's house, near the tiny community of Marvin, where Dan has told us that there are many bird feeders.
We get a great up-close upgrade of a RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD. Then Sharon hears a chickadee call different from the ones we've been hearing. We identify a CAROLINA CHICKADEE, and learn that this area has two kinds of chickadee - Carolina and Black-capped.
Back to Aunt Dorothy's because she wants to take us to the tiny community of Excelsior and then to a quilt shop. We take her in our new truck, and Excelsior is pleasantly updated from the one old junky store I remember being there the only other time I went, probably in 1960 or so. We buy a couple of spatulas made from Osage Orange and Walnut. Then we move on to the quilt store. It's spectacular. Sharon comes out with a quilt for our blue bird room (room which is blue, in which we store our bird stuff, on shelves), and I come out with neat grandkid stuff. There is this train set. An engine and a caboose, and 26 different cars - one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, in 3D cutout. I buy all 26 letters, but extras of some key ones. The most recent example of the use of this was when grandson Sieren came over. I asked him what we should spell, and he said "Pod Racer." This is a thing from the new Star Wars movie, and that's what we spell. Now the cool thing is that each car has a cup hook in the front and an eye hook in the back. So when you spell your word, you can pull the engine around the room, and the entire word will follow it, plus the caboose. Pretty cool. I just realized that I need some more letters. I'll have to make a list and relay it to Aunt Dorothy.
That night we have dinner with cousin Mel, Mary and their kids Will and Grace, both in high school. Very enjoyable, as we also use their showers. Then it's off to cousin Loretta Baumgartner's to show our Alaska 1998 Video. Many cousins, other relatives and friends from the area were able to see this, but many others were not free that evening. So I left a copy of it with cousin Twila Garber, for anyone to watch who wants to, after we're gone.
It's 8:30am. As I am waiting for Sharon to get ready, I bird the nearby trees. I see a Northern Mockingbird, then a red-headed finch - a house finch by his brown cap. Our books show that the House Finches are not in this area, but the finches' territorial expansion and the age of the book extrapolate to this making sense today. Sharon has noticed that all of the swallow nests are inside the barn. When I was young, I recall that the nests were outside the barn, under the overhangs. I'm not sure why they've moved indoors. I remember pigs being on the ground floor inside the barn in the 50's, but now the pigs are all in different buildings. Sharon thinks they stayed outside then because of all the activity inside. From outside, I notice a Northern Cardinal in the road. There are Starlings and House Sparrows around. I watch the swallows head away from the barn, and patrol back and forth over the big field to the south. They're catching bugs out of the air.
As we drive down the lane, headed east, we turn left, go perhaps an eighth- or a quarter-mile, then turn east again. I'll call this Mel's East, but that's not the name he uses. There's a big ditch to the right, and there are lots of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS. They are famous for their song. We finally identify the large rusty bird we've been seeing, which seems to be rather easily spooked. It's a BROWN THRASHER and we will see quite a few of them during our trip. We hear, then see a HOUSE WREN. Then we chase a pair of warblers which turn out to be COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. I like their bandit masks. There are Blue-gray Gnatchers in the lane on the way out of Mel's East.
We head for town, drive through Versailles, and down to Gravois Mills. This town is pronounced "GRA-voys", not GRA-vwah as it might be in French. Cousin Joyce (Lutman) Spencer says that Grandma Lutman used to chide her grandchildren not to act like they were from "GRA-vye", and I recall hearing that sort of hillbilly pronounciation other times. In Gravois Mills, we see two large white birds on the lake - White Pelicans. There are Common Grackles by a boat storage facility, and an Eastern Phoebe in a tree. A Brown Thrasher sings up a storm as we identify FORSTER'S TERNS by their white wingtips (not dark). A Warbling Vireo is warbling in a tree and there are Canada Geese and Double-crested Cormorants on the lake. We gas up at a Texaco station, then see several WILLETS on the way to Troutdale Hatchery. A Great Blue Heron overflies the hatchery. We can't identify a warbler with a gray throat, yellow chest and white undertail coverts. We see a nice Red-shouldered Hawk, then head back up to Jacob's Cave to try and solve the Tiff Problem.
THE TIFF PROBLEM: When I was a kid, I used to gather these milky white rocks that I called tiff, from the gravel roads in Versailles. But I can't seem to find anybody now that's ever heard of tiff. We go into the entrance, and a gemologist is working the rock concession. I pick up a piece of what I recognize as tiff, and hold it in my closed fist in front of her. I tell her that as a kid, I used to collect old cloth tobacco pouches, with their yellow drawstrings. I would fill them up with tiff, and I would have a bag of gold. I opened my fist and asked her if this was tiff. "That's quartz, or quartzite," she says. She walks me across the room and points me to the tiff section. But it isn't my tiff. It's a fairly dull-looking rock, totally opaque, with a little bit of sparkle to it. So my conclusion now is that the stuff of my youth was quartz or quartzite. And somewhere along the line, I was told that my quartz was tiff or else I heard somebody talk about it, and assigned that name to my rocky mineral.
The tiff puzzle solved, we leave the cave entrance and hear a ziippppp. We can now recognize this as the Northern Parula. We see a wren dipping its long tail under an old tractor. Its belly is white, not yellow, so it's a BEWICK'S and not a Carolina WREN.
On the way back to Mel's, in Versailles, we stop by 511 Jefferson Street - our old house. We see a Common Grackle and a Robin, but no House Sparrows. Maybe I exterminated them all with my BB gun when I was 12. It's mid-afternoon and as we are going east on Prairie Valley Road, I notice a fairly long-necked bird in the field, with a large eye. I say to Sharon that it looks sort of like an UPLAND SANDPIPER. I back up, and that's what it is. The only other ones we've seen were around Nome, Alaska, but I know that they're fairly common here. We turn north on Smith Creek Road and see a long-billed bird fly, like a shorebird. I think it's the Snipe again, but then think that it might be a Woodcock. We watch it fly up and down a second time, and both can see that it's white underneath, and is therefore a Common Snipe. We were hoping for Woodcock.
We come back to the trailer, rest up a little, and go into town to Rachel and Larry's shop, to show the Alaska video to the Lutman cousins. I see cousins I havn't seen for 40 years or more. Carmen and her husband. Larry and Jeanie Lutman. Rachel's daughter and grandkids. Byronita. Eva and her husband. Who am I forgetting? Aunt Frances doesn't make it due to some mixup. Maybe she can connect with Twila Garber to see the video I left with her. Great fun eating pizza, talking and watching the video. Larry and Jeanie had gone to Alaska recently also, so we share tall tales.
Up early and over to cousin Loretta's for breakfast. Then to Aunt France's to visit and check out her garage sale. To cousin Twila and Homer's for pork sandwiches, from the hogs they had raised.
Then over to the red barn property where we saw a couple of kingfishers. Along the creek a little brown bird was flying back and forth like a wren. We get the scope on it, and see that it appears to be going into a nest near or in the bank. The rusty belly says CAROLINA WREN. Into town again, I say "Hi" to Jim Dornan, who is just closing his new shop. Back to the trailer. We are pooped.
Sharon lies down to rest, I go up to Mel's house to visit, and Mary says, "Were you supposed to have dinner with the Yargers tonight?" I checked my Palm III. It is right there, but I forgot to look at it. I suspect I was so full from eating, I didn't want to eat anything, on a subconscious level. I talk to Sharon, and give her the option. She chooses to stay home, so I call Bev, and tell her what happened. I say I'll be over in half an hour. She laughs and says come on over. Meet David, although I have a feeling that I have met him several years earlier. We enjoy barbecued steak and extras, then talk about stuff till ten-thirty or so. I am so full.
530 am. Turn off the alarm, reset for 630 am because it was so windy. Still windy at 630 am, but decide to go out anyway. We head over a little west of Cole Camp, to High Lonesome Prairie Conservation Area. We bird on our own near a parking lot for 45 minutes, chasing a sparrow of some kind, but not finding any prairie chickens.
We decide to head on over to Columbia, and are driving out when we pass several turkey hunters in the gravel road. "What were you taking pictures of?" they ask us. We tell them it is not a camera, but a scope, and that we are looking for prairie chickens. "You were looking in the wrong place," they say. "Turn around, go past the parking lot you were in, continue on, then take the first gravel road to the left. When you get to the top of the second rise, look to the south. They'll be all around there. It's 9:30, so they may be finished booming. But maybe not," they finish, giving us some hope.
We turn our long pickup around as fast as we can, and follow their directions. We park on the right side of the gravel road, near the top of the second rise, and Sharon climbs into the back of the pickup for a better view. I am looking south, from the road in front of the truck. Suddenly Sharon yells, "In the road. Right in front of us." I look, and see three surprisingly large and plump (relative to the picture I had in my mind) females slowly walking across the road, left to right. I check my NGS and it is clear that they are female GREATER PRAIRIE CHICKENS*. As we are watching, we notice several EASTERN KINGBIRDS, and then a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER suddenly gets our attention, coolly sitting on a fence. He flies, turns, and we notice its wonderful split tail. From her high position, Sharon says "I see some males, walking towards the road, to the left," she says, and I pick them up too. We can see their black horns sticking out at the shoulders. But they are calm, and not booming. I walk quickly but quietly to the location in the road where I think they'll enter, to get good video, but they never appear. I walk back to the truck, and we drive forward, hoping to see them. Two males fly back, toward the way from which we came, and we watch them land in the field.
We drive to an intersection, turn around, and quietly drive back so we're about even with them. They don't fly away this time. Sharon says, "Play the CD of them booming," and I do. The sound is so loud, as I sit in the truck, that I couldn't hear them if they did call. But Sharon is outside, so she will be able to hear them. The first time I play it, I have my binoculars on them, and I see one stretch his neck up, and see his bill open and close, like he's cluck cluck clucking. I play it again, and he starts his booming ritual. I shut off the radio, and I can clearly hear him now. He goes on for about twenty minutes, in this little corner of heaven. Just before he booms, he leans forward, so that he appears to be looking down at the ground. Then he flips his "horns" forward, sticks his tale up, stamps his feet, and fills and empties his yellow air sacs to make the booming. I take photos (too far off), and video (a little better), and you can hear him on the video. Fantastico. Greater Prairie Chickens in mid-Missouri. It just doesn't get much better than this.
After we get our fill, we head to I-80 and Columbia. At Rock Bridge Memorial State Park picnic area, we hear a bird, and begin chasing his beautiful song. It's a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH*. He bobs his tail back and forth as he sings, and has a white eyebrow. A White-breasted Nuthatch is on the Sinkhole Trail. We drive down to Baskett Wildlife Research Area, and get a Northern Parula, but not much else. We head for home.
That night, we meet everyone at Lehman's restaurant in Tipton for dinner. This famous restaurant used to be held in the Lehman's house, but they got so popular, they had to expand. The food is good, but I'm not sure it's as good as Fourth of July, Uncle Ed's Timber Mennonite food. Well, maybe.
At mid-morning, we're in Tipton, headed for Cape Girardeau (Uncle Peter and Aunt Nancy's) via St. Louis. We listen to "Chromosome 6" book-on-tape to pass the miles to St. Louis. We arrive at Busch Wildlife Area, and call a birder in our ABA (American Birders Association) catalog, who by allowing his name to be in the book, has agreed to accept calls from out-of-town birders who want directions to target birds.
Well, I call five people, without success on this weekend, but finally get a teacher or professor at St. Louis University. We ask about the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (called ETS by people around here)-- where's the best place to see one. "How much time do you have?" he asks. "One hour," I tell him. He laughs and directs us down 64, off at McCausland, left on Nashville, three blocks, then park and look around. There's a permanent breeding population there.
We follow his excellent directions, and are on a tiny, narrow one-way street, with cars parked on both sides. I close my eyes as I drive our rig through. Well, figuratively. We actually find a place to fit our long truck and trailer and park. It's lightly sprinkling. The fellow had said to watch for bird feeders, but Sharon didn't see any and I saw only one -- empty. Just before we parked, we had driven by an alley, and Sharon had heard birds down there, so she suggested we head that way on foot. We got out, and loaded up our bird-watching gear, and started out. We had gone about fifteen feet, when I saw an apparent House Sparrow land on a gutter. I applied my binoculars, and yelled, "Its got a black spot in the middle of a white cheek patch." As you can guess, that's what sets the ETS apart from the more common House Sparrow. Sharon gets on it just as it disappears into the gutter. But it quickly flies out, and lands in an evergreen tree, but on the back. We walk around a little, and get a clear view of the EURASIAN TREE SPARROW*, with a piece of straw or dead grass in his beak. I also notice that his crown was brown, and had no gray stripe on it as does the Hosue Sparrow. We high five, and go back to the truck. As we are unloading our gear, and getting settled in our sets, another ETS lands on the chain link fence about six feet away. We watch it until it flies off. Mission accomplished, we're outta here.
We make out way to the interstate, miss the turnoff, drive over into Illinois, get lost just like in the Chevy Chase movie "Vacation." We finally get out, back across the river, and onto the south-bound interstate correctly. From that point, it's a breeze down to Uncle Pete's. Aunt Nancy has checked with the pastor, and it's ok if we park our trailer in the church parking lot, while we stay with Peter and Nancy, in their house. I unhitch, and we take our "overnight stuff" back to their house. Dinner is served.
Uncle Pete puts us in touch with a birder friend of his -- Ida, but I don't write down her last name. She's incredibly helpful, with suggestions of where to find the particular birds we're after.
We enjoy breakfast and Uncle Pete wants to come birding with us in our new truck. We go over the bridge, into Illinois, and head north, along the river. At Shawnee Park, we stop to check bird sounds, and a shabby, red-faced man in a red pickup asks something about drilling for water. He says he's supposed to meet someone here. As we drive on, I notice a "Walmart Sucks" decal on his rear window. Perfect.
We come to a shallow pond, created from all the recent rain, and there are a number of shorebirds on the pond. The one we are really excited about has a yellow-brown breast, a definite demarcation to a white belly, a slight droop at the end of its bill and yellow legs. It's a PECTORAL SANDPIPER* who is migrating through, headed to points north. Other birds are harder to identify, plus I didn't record them at the time.
We follow Uncle Pete's friend, Ida's directions till we come to a low water bridge. We hear the fluid song and then see INDIGO BUNTINGS. What color. Sharon sees a possible Lesser Goldfinch, but they shouldn't be here. Maybe an American Goldfinch? Or we later decide it might be a Hooded Warbler. Not sure enough to count it. At mid-morning, we turn on a levee road suggested by Ida. There are crows flying over, but instead of the longer CAAAWW, they have a truncated, nasal CAH, chopped off at the end. Ida described it as a regular crow with a real bad cold. She said, and the book also says, that the only reliable way of identification is the call. We have a flock of FISH CROWS*, one of our target birds for the area. In late morning, we find the house with a red brick lower half and a yellow upper half. We first drive the wrong way, toward the river. We quickly realize it, but have to go on till we can turn around. We see two BOBWHITES running like crazy, a male and a female. Sharon sees an AMERICAN KESTREL on a wire.
Getting hungry for lunch, but we get back on the brick house road, going the proper direction this time, towards the bluffs. We stop at one place, and Sharon sees first a bright yellow bird with dark gray-black wings. It's a beautiful PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, and they love swampy habitat. We also stop near a house under construction, which appears to have been going on for years. I find a bird we can't identify -- maybe a Kentucky Warbler, but we're speculating a little. Sharon follows the liquid song of the BALTIMORE ORIOLE, and we spot it high in a tree. An Indigo Bunting flies in to join many others, and then Sharon finds a pair of YELLOW-THROATED VIREOS*, another of our target birds for the trip. This is a fairly common bird for this area, and it is one of my favorite situations -- finding birds common to an area which we've never birded. Like flying to Antarctica and saying, "Hey look, a penguin." All you've gotta do, basically, is get yourself and your binoculars there, and start looking.
We make it in to the road paralleling the bluffs. It's closed off because itŐs the time of spring when the snakes come out of their winter homes in the bluffs, and move down to the river. Indiana Jones would NOT like the idea or birding here. Ida called this Reptile Road, but we don't see any snakes. We also don't walk it, as Ida suggested. Maybe another dayÉ As we head back out, and cross the railroad tracks, we see five Indigo Buntings together
We head for home, and a typically enlightening evening of visiting. I had heard that Aunt Nancy was a very good Scrabble player, and I love nothing more than a game of Scrabble against somebody who's really good. We got two games in, and I think I won one, and she won one. But if you ask Sharon, who won the first one depends on the rules. She wouldn't accept my interpretation of the rules. You know, the ones written clearly on the inside of the box. Oh well. Nancy IS good, and a fierce competitor, although I'm not sure she'd admit the fierce part. More Scrabble!
We're up at quarter till 7, and it's another rainy day. This day, we're after a grassland bird. Ida has pointed us to some horse farms, and again Uncle Peter wants to go with us. We head out there, and Peter fills us in on the history of the area as we're driving. We are looking for the Bobolink. We see Red-winged Blackbirds, Starlings and a pair of Goldfinches, but no Bobolinks.
We drive on to Mingo State Park and see a female SUMMER TANAGER, plus lots of other birds. On the boardwalk, we see another Louisiana Waterthrush, a small flycatcher of some kind, and yet another Waterthrush. Sharon spots a large perched bird, and we identify a YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, with its white cheek patch, and yellow crown feathers. Very elegant. At Duck Creek, Sharon finds a PILEATED WOODPECKER. These birds are the woodchoppers of the forests.
We head for home again, and that night show the Alaska Video one more time, at their church. It is well-received, and we talk with Ida some more. She invites us -- or did I invite us? -- to her house tomorrow morning to try and see a Wood Thrush.
Uncle Pete declines a third day of birding, and we are at Ida's at 6:50 am. It is damp, and we see Pileated Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummer, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker and a pair of CATBIRDS. But no Wood Thrush. We decide to try for the Bobolinks one more time.
We drive out to the horse farm again, and one of us spots an interesting bird up on a wire. We are expecting the birds to be down on the tops of the grass stems. Our scope then confirms a BOBOLINK*. What incredible colors. We can see the black with a cream-colored patch on the entire back of the head. The white wing patches and rump patch are also clear, as is the ragged tail. Love our scope.
We then head over to the Trail of Tears State Park, and the visitor center is not open yet. We walk around to the back where there is an amphitheater. Here we see a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, and hear the "who-cooks-for-you?" of the BARRED OWL. Sharon picks up a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET. We also see a NASHVILLE WARBLER and an Eastern Phoebe. A BLUE-HEADED VIREO gives its "Vireo? Vireo!" call. Next we find a RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEE first by its call, then by sight. A Great-crested Flycatcher and several RED-EYED VIREOS follow. We are really jazzed and now the visitor center is open. We ask about the Wood Thrush, and the ranger gives directions, but says "Don't cross the road barrier. The [Mississippi] river is over the road a little ways below that." We drive down, and find a barrier crossing half the road. Is this the one not to cross? We assume this is not the one she's talking about, and we drive another half mile or so. I see an interesting bird in the road, standing like a robin. I stop, and we get out our binoculars, then the scope. It's a WOOD THRUSH*, just walking around the road, just before the road takes a turn to the left. We get our fill of the wonderful rust color, with white underparts and black spots all over the white. In the Mississippi River camping area, we find another Hermit Thrush. It's only 10 am, and we've got two lifers already. We arrive at the place the water goes over the road, and bird there. We see a Red-headed Woodpecker, a Yellow-throated Vireo, and several Northern Parulas. A large tree is home for several Baltimore Orioles. A male Ruby-throated Hummer sits on a twig.
It's a little before noon and we're hungry, so we drive back to the visitor center, set out our lawn chairs, and have lunch, while we watch the woods. The lunch birds are a female Rufous-sided Towhee, several Catbirds and a curious-looking yellow bird. This bird has a black dot, similar to the Wilson's Warbler, for an eye. It has an olive green top of the head and back. We check carefully, and itŐs a female HOODED WARBLER*. The male is much more spectacular, and we hope its mate is around, but it apparently is not. Leaving Trail of Tears, we see a pair of Wood Ducks flying away.
We drive over to Illinois, headed for Reptile Road. There we see a Black-and-White Warbler, and get a wonderful view of a couple of ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. What a combination of black, white and brilliant pink. We hear a song, but can't place it. Worm-eating Warbler? Red-eyed Vireo? Don't know. We stop at the under-construction house, and Sharon finds a Common Yellowthroat. As we are watching it, two small birds chase each other through the bushes near the stream, and up into the large sycamore next to that. It's still another lifer, a pair of YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS*. Black and white, with intense yellow throats. We are seeing another bird which we finally decide is a TENNESSEE WARBLER in mid-afternoon. We head for home, but stop at the pond where we saw the Pectoral Sandpiper a couple of days ago. The sun has been out, and the pond is almost dried up. Not a bird.
We head back for Cape, and our last night before leaving for North Carolina. Another enjoyable evening of dinner and conversation.
We are up and out of the Methodist Church parking lot at 6:34am. We hit Cairo (KAY-row) Illinois about 7:30, then Kentucky a few minutes later. We hit Tennessee at mid-morning, and by 5:30pm (changed to Eastern Time now), we are headed for Asheville, now 52 miles away. We check into Bear Creek Campground at 6:30pm, and get the last pull-through space. No birding today.
We're on the road early again, headed for North Carolina. We hit South Carolina at 9:07am, and earn our South Carolina decal for its spot on the US map on our trailer. At 10:29 am, we are into North Carolina, headed northeast. At 1:54pm, we are set up in Zooland Campground, a few miles from Asheboro, and there are lots of birds around. It is not raining, but it's cloudy, windy and cool.
I call sister-in-law Loretta and get directions to their house. Jerry and sister Shirley are there, and it seems like everybody but me is doing something constructive for the wedding. I visit with people over the shoulder, and take videos.
There are huge boulders on George and Loretta's property, and one is cleft right down the middle. Workers have created a "water feature," at Loretta's direction, I think. It looks like a stream emanating from the split in the boulder, then flows a curved path through rocks and ends in a shallow pool. It's maybe ten feet long, and the birds just love it. A pump draws water from the bottom of the pool, and sends it back to the pump and the cracked boulder. When the sun is low, the birds in the water are back-lit, but the trees keep the sun out of your eyes, when you're in the house looking out. It's a great site. To my pretend annoyance, George has seen a Black-throated Green Warbler bathing there a few weeks earlier, but we haven't seen one yet. I bump up this warbler to a higher degree of desirability. This is a bad situation (more about that later).
Tara and her boyfriend Cihan (GEE-hahn) flew into Charlotte, and Jerry, Shirley, Sharon and I meet them at their hotel in Asheboro, to go to dinner. We select an International Restaurant, and son of a gun, but the owners (or the chef) are Turkish, as is Cihan. They talk about their home country, in Turkish of course, then Cihan orders us all kinds of Turkish goodies. Delicious. People everywhere like Cihan. We go back to George and Loretta's and visit some more, then we drop off Tara and Cihan, and head back to the campground.
We eat breakfast, then go to George's. Now everyone is working on stuff for the wedding. Mostly to dress up the front yard, where the wedding will be. A large white tent with tables is the backup wedding location, in case of rain.
When things are in place, we go back to the camp, but decide to bird the Pisgah Covered Bridge "on the way." Well, just a little out of the way. We get a Spotted Sandpiper, who flies up from the road as we approach. At the Bridge itself, we get a series of loud calls, and chase down a fantastic UPGRADE -- a male Hooded Warbler, with his bright yellow body, and black hood. We follow the path someone is creating along the creek, then over a new footbridge, then back to the covered bridge, on the other side of the stream. It's time to go back and get ready for the wedding, so that's just what we do.
Sharon looks great, and I, well I look like me. I double check my camera and video for film, batteries, etc., and off we go. Because of the limited parking space up on the hill, they have three or four shuttles which carry people from a church parking lot down below, to their house on the hill. We shuttle up. People are beginning to arrive, and we mingle a while. We meet Bridget's fiance, his parents, and get to see all of George's clan as they arrive. Uncle Hiram and Aunt Janet come from Greensboro. Lots of pictures and video.
As the wedding is about to begin, I take the still camera and ask Cihan to do the video, which he does. The wedding is absolutely beautiful, set off by Bridget's radiance. I think I take about three rolls of photos total, for the wedding prelims, the wedding and the celebration afterwards. The entire shindig is at George and Loretta's, mostly in the front yard. And we get to watch the sun go down. John and Bridget try to make it out of there, but somebody puts shaving cream all over the windshield of their convertible, and they have to get out and clean it off before leaving. They're headed for the Florida Keys, but will spend the night somewhere in the area before they leave. We slowly unwind from the party, and head for camp.
I drop off the photo rolls at Walmart for 1-hour developing, and ask for double prints (or was it triples? I can't remember). I leave the negatives and one copy with Loretta, for Bridget, and take one copy. We all go to breakfast/brunch Sunday? Anyway, Sharon and I, George and Loretta, Tara and Cihan, and Jerry and Shirley enjoy breakfast together, at ease after the pressures of getting ready for the wedding.
We all decide to go back to Pisgah Covered Bridge, and do so, but we don't see the Hooded Warbler today. On the way, we stop at Zooland to show George and Loretta our new truck. We take time out to have Shirley and George put on North Carolina and South Carolina map stickers. I take some good bridge photos, and somebody (Loretta?) spots a snake in the water. Sharon shares Indiana Jones' aversion to snakes. Although we saw perhaps two or three snakes, she will tell you that there are snakes all over both Missouri and North Carolina. Well, actually there probably are, but don't tell her.
We go back to George's, but Tara and Cihan have to take off for the Charlotte airport. After watching the Alaska Video (some of us nap), we visit some more, and decide to go out to dinner. But first, we spot a male Summer Tanager on the property.
At dinner, George tells us about one time in Savannah, Georgia, while he and Loretta were there for a dance contest, I think it was. I've forgotten the details, so I'm going to make some of them up. While waiting for Loretta's practice to end, George was walking along the Savannah River and sat down on a bench to watch the water flow by. There was (as it turned out) a slightly retarded, muscular black man there too, also watching -- maybe thirty years old. He had on a suit, but the pants were shorts and the jacket was short-sleeved. Hey, pretty smart for the humidity of Georgia. He also had a wide-brimmed hat on. He looked sharp. George said something to him about a construction crane and then he said, "If you were standing on top of that crane and a big wind came along and blew you off, would that be a good situation --, or a bad situation?" George laughed and said, "Well, I guess that would be a pretty bad situation." Then the fellow said, "If you were standing in the street and a car drove by and ran over you, would that be a good situation --, or a bad situation?" George said, "Why, that would be a very bad situation." Then George said something about the waste floating in the river, and the fellow said, "What IS waste?" George said, "Well, it could be lots of stuff. It could be old logs or cardboard or even human sewage." The man then said, "If you were in a big tank, and there was waste all around you, up to your neck, and if your girlfriend put her foot on top of your head, and pushed you under, would that be a good situation --, or a bad situation?" George gave his vote, and the guy got up and started slowly walking away. He stopped, turned around and came back to George. He put out his hand and said, "I'm Joey." I just love that story.
After dinner, we go back to George and Loretta's for the evening, visit some more, then Sharon and I take off for camp. We are going to leave early tomorrow morning.
(NOTE: This begins Week 5's report)
I sent out Week 4 before I intended, so I'm going to do two FLASHBACKS hereÉ FLASHBACK #1: When we were waiting for our menus at what I called the International Restaurant (actual name: "Something Different"), Tara's boyfriend Cihan noticed a Turkish talisman ("Nazar Boncugu" in Turkish) on the wall. I noticed it too, but I didn't know its name. It consisted of several flat, polished stones, each with a white circle, then a smaller blue circle, then a central black circle. Sort of like one eye of an attractive blue-eyed person. The "evil eye" is a belief stretching back to the pre-Christian era, among the people of the Mediterranean, that someone can put a spell on someone else by giving them the evil eye -- a sort of ominous look. And scary, if you see it. Blue beads are to ward off the effects of the evil eye. It is also believed that the evil eye can strike people, plants, animals and even homes. That is why they were on the walls of this restaurant. They sort of look like what you might call "pleasant eyes."
The restaurant owners were a married couple, and the wife was the chef. They were from the Adana region, in south central Turkey. Cihan ordered kebabs (one type is Sis kebabs, from which we get the name shish kebab) and borek (cheese or meat mixes, baked or fried in thin layered or folded sheets of pastry dough) for us. There were other cheese and vegetarian dishes too, and it was all very tasty. Try to have a tall, friendly Turkish fellow with you when you go to a Turkish restaurant.
FLASHBACK #2: The day after the wedding, and after breakfast, on the way to Pisgah Covered Bridge, we all stopped at our camp to show George and Loretta our fifth wheel trailer, since they had never seen it before. While there, I took a video of Shirley adding South Carolina and George adding North Carolina to our US map. Guest celebrities. OK. FLASHBACKS ARE OVER.
We pull out of Zooland Campground at 6:20 am, having racked up 3946 miles since we bought our new truck 20 days ago. We head north and enter Virginia at 8:37 am, then West Virginia at 10:13 am. Two new state decals earned. It's a gorgeous day. We zip over a bridge into Ohio in mid-afternoon (earning another sticker) and come right back, then hit Kentucky a few minutes later. We will be driving in Kentucky for the rest of the day. We make it to Frankfort, past Lexington, for the evening. Just as we come to a stop, going down a hill, I notice gray smoke clouds coming up from both the left and right side of the hood. I pull over, and the smell is definitely brakes. We just passed Jeff Sachs Chevy dealer a minute ago, so I'll go there tomorrow morning and have it checked out. We set up in Elkhorn RV Park and bird a little, but all the birds are familiar and expected. The park is right next to a smoothly flowing river. Don't think of the brakes, I tell myself. There is a Robin nesting on a trailer hitch and a Mourning Dove on a wreath hung next to the front door of the park managers. We have a decal ceremony, adding three new states. Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. Our map has grown by a good chunk in the last week.
I take the truck in, and the diagnosis is overheated brakes. No problem, they're still new, and we're just "cooking off" the brake surface. I guess he was right, because the smoking doesn't occur ever again. I drive back, we hook up and take off a little after 9:00 am, headed for Louisville. At mid-afternoon, we get our last new state of the trip, in a jog over to Indiana and back. A half-hour later, we pick up a trip Ostrich -- well, about a hundred of them. We cross into Missouri at 5:00pm Eastern time, having driven in Kentucky most of the day. But it's 4:00 pm here. Ah, an hour invested going east, now returned. How will we use it? We make a wrong turn, and head south after crossing the Mississippi River, in a complicated intersection. I suddenly realize that we're close to Big Oak Tree State Park, a park I had decided not to bird because we weren't ever going to be close enough to go there. But nowÉ We get there about 4:20pm.
From the parking lot, as I'm retrieving my birding gear, Sharon has noticed movement high in a -- you guessed it -- Oak Tree. She gets her binoculars and wants me to check them out. They're BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS*! Now, I've caught up with George. There is a wonderful boardwalk through the huge Oaks and swamps, and we hear more birds than we see. We get several views of a thrush-like bird, and after about the third time, we realize that we're looking at a lifer -- a VEERY*! Colors are a very soft reddish-brown above, and soft whitish-gray underparts. All right, two lifers in about ten minutes. My expectations are now soaring, but that's it for the new birds here. We see several Prothonotary Warblers in this swampy habitat, and they are striking, in their yellow and black. Several Red-eyed Vireos, then a pair of Catbirds by double bridges. I had intended to be at Uncle Peter's eight minutes ago, before we made our "wrong" turn, it now being 5:08. Oh well, when you gotta go, you gotta go. We'll call them on the cell phone when we get back to the rig. Next we see a fantastic BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, then a Wood Thrush. Back at the parking lot, Sharon spots a White-breasted Nuthatch and several Mourning Doves.
We call in "late," and head out about 6:30 pm, then get to Pete and Nancy's about 8:15pm. We park on the street just beside their house this evening, because we don't have to unhitch. We get a nice thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder and I have to get something from the trailer, just so I can race through the storm. I go out the brand new and gorgeous front door, across the porch, and around to the trailer. I wait a little for the rain to increase some more, then go back to the house. I do use an umbrella, just for fun. From the front hallway, the lights of passing vehicles make all sorts of wonderful and multiple lights in the beveled glass in the new door. The front door and surrounding panels look to be of dark-stained hardwood, but the door itself is not wood at all. Wood cracks and warps in this weather, so this is some special synthetic material. Nancy makes a copy of the Alaska tape, because some friends heard about it and would like to see it. We visit a little after dinner, and then turn in. Tomorrow, we're headed for straight birding.
I'm not sure, but I think this was the day we went to "Hardee's Think Tank" with Uncle Peter. This is where the problems and innovations of the world are worked out on a day to day basis, by Peter and a bunch of his friends. The world is lucky to have this group of problem-solvers working for it.
By mid-morning, we're at Johnson's Shut-In State Park and ready to bird. We're not staying here tonight, just birding. A "shut-in" is a narrowing of a rocky gorge, where a river runs through it -- not a person who needs help getting out of the house, like I thought. We have come here to try and see Kentucky Warblers, among other birds. Just as we cross the river, a yellow bird flies in and lands. It's an American Goldfinch. Behind it, I re-focus, and a nice Rose-breasted Grosbeak turns around to give us a view of his rosy breast. Then a few minutes later, we get Lifer #599, a KENTUCKY WARBLER*. Let's see, this is our 16th Lifer (species) on the trip, not counting two new subspecies. He has a gorgeous black face, with yellow, scowling eye-brows and a loud, attractive call.
Sharon looks inside a wet trail map box, but it contains only spiders. Joey asks if putting your hand in without looking would be a good situation or a bad situation.
We head on toward Salem, Missouri, and Montauk State Park, beyond that. At about 4:30pm, we go into the trailer for some ice or cokes or something. We find a cylindrical gallon of ice cream has somehow opened the freezer door from the inside, rolled out and onto the floor, rolled FORWARD, off of the linoleum, although that's uphill (the trailer floor slants backwards when it's hooked up and driving down the road), and spilled its guts onto the carpet. Ooey Gooey. Earlier today, I went into the trailer to use the bathroom, having pulled off the road, and found our little TV lying on the floor. How it escaped its fasteners I'll never know. But it's dead as a hammer, so we first go into Walmart, but (can you believe it?) they don't have what we want. So we go to a tiny Sears store, and they do. We pony up $200 and get our new TV. It has the RCA jacks in the front as well as the back, so it's much easier to hook up our video camera at the end of a few days' shooting, and watch our vacation playback. We make it to camp and set up in Site Number 304 of Loop 3, WITH electricity. In a STATE Park! I'm guessing that lots of Missouri State Parks have electricity so RVs can run their air conditioners in the humidity. Anyway, the weather is absolutely perfect. Probably 75 degrees and no humidity. Matches my memory of Missouri springtimes. After we set up, we talk to some park rangers, and set our course for late afternoon birding
It's only about a five-minutes drive to the headwaters of the Current River, but there is another river that it joins. I can't recall what that one is right now, but water is just upwelling out of this 20-foot diameter hole, and running straight into the passing river, doubling its volume, or more. As we're parking, we see a beautiful brown and black ORCHARD ORIOLE, and we see several more during our stay here. Then Lifer #600 starts singing from its perch. Of course, Sharon spots it. It's a fantastic BLUE-WINGED WARBLER*, singing and singing. Now just BEFORE she got it, she was saying "Let's go. It's getting dark, and we could bird here all night." Now I'm no dummy, and I saw that WHILE she was saying this, she had her binoculars trained in a nearby tree, so I started walking over to see what she had. Then she said, "I think I got a Blue-winged Warbler." Never listen to what your wife says. Listen to what she means. The bird did its "blue-winged" call, part of the source of its name. It is yellow above and below, with blue-gray wings and dark eyebrows. We head back to camp for dinner. And we can even get a few stations with our trailer antenna and our shiny, new TV. I transcribe the day's microcassette input to the laptop.
Our big target birds for this area are Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler and Cerulean Warbler. We are up and on Pine Ridge Trail, as suggested in our Audubon Society of Missouri "A Guide to the Birding Areas of Missouri" book.
Time OUT for a double coincidence story. The above-mentioned Missouri birdbook has contributions from a group of people. Three of the main contributors are ALL from my alma mater -- Versailles High School, Versailles, Missouri. They are Bill Clark, Mark Goodman and Randy Washburn. Bill Clark went to my church, was about eight years younger than I, and we always used to tease each other for some reason I forget. Randy Washburn was Colon Washburn's younger brother. Colon was two years younger than I, and they also went to the same church we did. Plus Colon used to be in an APBA football league that I was in. A sort of forerunner to today's Fantasy Football. And Mark Goodman grew up on the street behind our house. So that's the first coincidence. The only other Missouri birding book I found I ordered from Amazon.com: "Birds of Missouri -- Their Distribution and Abundance." It is by Mark B. Robbins and David A. Easterla. I can remember being in grade school when Versailles High School had a near state champion basketball team. And that was the days when schools weren't divided by size. One of the players was David Easterla. "Easterla" was pronounced "Easterly" by all of us. He had a younger brother one year older than I, named Richard. David's son Todd and three of his buddies have participated several times in the famous World Series of Birding, which takes place annually in Cape May, New Jersey. There are several hundred, or at least a hundred teams. And one year, their team finished thirteen or fifteenth or so. They must be good. You bird 24 straight hours in this birdathon. Now David Easterla is a professor at Northwest Missouri State University, in Maryville, Missouri, and is generally recognized as the person who has seen the MOST SPECIES OF BIRDS in the state of Missouri. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Any time any Missourian sees an unusual bird, they get word to him, he drives down, camps out for however many hours or days it takes to get a look and a photograph, then heads back home. Or that's what he did in his younger days, if not today. So some good birders have come from the tiny town of Versailles, is my long-winded point.
Back to birdingÉ As we're climbing the steep trail, Sharon spots a spectacular UPGRADE for us -- a pair of SCARLET TANAGERS. These colors just explode the morning. The male is bright red, with shiny black wings. The color blast of red reminds me of our first Vermillion Flycatchers in the sun, in southeast Arizona. We go as high as we think is right, then as we turn around to head back down, we hear another lifer. In ever-increasing volume, starting real soft, and ending almost screaming, it says "teacher teacher teacher Teacher Teacher TEACHER TEACHER!!!" We try and try, but can't see him. But by our new rules (now the same as most birders' rules), we count it as a new bird, if you are 100% sure of the song or call, even if you don't see it. I know, I know, it sounds kind of cheap, but after you've been into it a while, it makes more sense than NOT counting them. So, it's another lifer. Of course, we hope to see one and will keep chasing that sound. It goes into my records as "Lifer 601. Ovenbird. Heard Only."
Next, we leave the park, headed for White River Trace. The famous (if you know your American history) Trail of Tears actually consisted of several different trails. And this one, dating to the 1840's, is one branch of the Trail of Tears on which Native American Cherokee were "moved" from the North Carolina-Georgia area to Oklahoma. But in 1999, we are after Dickcissels and Prairie Warblers. We tramp around in the area, but it's pretty windy, and we don't see much. FIELD SPARROWS, but that's it.
Then we follow hazy directions to another place, unsuccessful in our search for Prairie Warblers. On the way, we see a wonderful sign of spring -- three Killdeer babies, exactly the same color as the rust and white gravel road. They run, stop and bob up and down a couple of times -- miniature versions of their parents. Who are flopping down on the ground beside the truck, trying to divert our attention from the babies in front of us. "Yes, yes, yes," I tell the adults, as we pass by the babies, taking care not to run them over.
We get back to camp, and on the way I call David Plank, who lives in Salem. By another coincidence, he did the cover artwork for "A Guide to the Birding Areas of Missouri." Will this never stop?! I want to ask him if he has specific knowledge of our target birds, but I get only answering machine at his home and office numbers. OK, so we're on our own. It means more to us if we discover birds on our own anyway. I had planned a long 70-mile trip through the forest logging roads, but with what I know about the birds we're searching for, this seems to be the wrong habitat. Plus it's pretty hot. So we bag that plan and go back to camp.
Later in the day we get a pair of Baltimore Orioles and a YELLOW WARBLER, by some willows. Ceruleans are supposed to be very high in the trees, but we can't detect any birds up there at all. A Great Blue Heron flies over, then a Kingfisher flies up the river. We get a first spring Orchard Oriole male. He reminds me of a young Hooded Oriole male back home, with his black throat and greenish-yellow color. We get another Blue-winged Warbler, and I record a one-note bird call on the cassette. But we don't spend any time trying to figure out what it is. Back to camp, dinner, and a relaxing rest-of-the-evening.
We're out for the dawn chorus, trying to get Cerulean Warblers. A nice Rose-breasted Grosbeak greets us as we head up Pine Ridge Trail again. Up and down, but no Cerulean. We meet the Naturalist, who graduated from Missouri University at Columbia -- my school! She's friendly and fits into this neat park perfectly. Montauk State Park is, primarily a trout hatchery, and there are stretches of the river which are just for fishing. Almost everyone who is camped here is here for the fishing. We vote this in the top ten camps we've ever stayed in, as we hitch up and take off, dumping at the waste station on the way out.
We're heading for Springfield, Missouri, where we hope to see American Woodcock near the Springfield Nature Center. I've only been down in this corner of the state once or maybe never. The weather is still perfect, as we set up in Springfield, at the KOA. That night, we plan our moves for the next day.
Nixon Farm is first on our list, east of town. We are out there at 7:15 am, and BOOM, right off the bat, we hear the song, then immediately spot the bird. It looks like a junior version of a Meadowlark in a way. It's a DICKCISSEL*, and we watch and listen for ten minutes or so. We are to see and hear several more during the next few days, and they are fun to listen to: "dick DICK CISS uhll."
Then we drive up to Ritter Spring City Park. In the parking lot, we get Nashville Warbler, Northern Cardinals, a Rufous-sided Towhee, a Brown Thrasher, a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. All before 8:05am. A Hermit Thrush adds his presence a couple of minutes later. Then we hear the sewing machine song of the WORM-EATING WARBLER*. We go chasing it -- we have the exact tree, but can't spot him. He eludes us, as he flies away, tree by tree, still sewing. We decide to walk the path, down beside the stream, ending at a pond and picnic area, maybe a half-mile away. On the way, we see Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, BLUE-HEADED VIREO and other birds.
We come to a clearing amidst huge sycamores, and I think I hear a hiss. A hiss? Where? What's that? We look all around, nothing. Then another hiss! From over our heads. "It might be an owl," I offer, searching. We're both scanning like crazy, then I spot it. The tree has a kind of gray-white color, and right at a junction of two large branches, in a natural cup, sits a young owl of the same general color. No ears, a roundish head and showing the beginning of disks around the eyes, is this fine UPGRADE. "Hiss," he says, in baby Barred Owl language. Fantastic. Before seeing this young owl, we had only heard the "who-cooks-for-you?" call of this species. We can't figure out if he's in his nest or just up out of it, or whether he actually flew there. He just doesn't look developed enough to fly, but we're not sure. We watch each other for about four minutes, then Sharon and I slowly resume our walk. The owl is done watching us, and turns his head away.
Then we hear a familiar sound. "YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO," whispers Sharon, and she immediately spots it. They are common around here, but not commonly seen. We have been hearing them, but this is our first look of the trip. They are great hiders. We bump into several birders, and tell them about the owl chick. They came that way, but didn't see it. After reaching the pond, we head back, hoping to see the owl again. It's nowhere around, and now we think maybe it can fly.
We have our lunch, then head out for Le Petite Gemme Prairie. Missouri is full of small, isolated prairies, kept in or returned to their original condition. There we see pet Peacocks and Peahens on a nearby farm, plus Ostriches. Wild birds are GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, Eastern Meadowlarks and Scissortail Flycatchers. But none of those are the bird we're after. Suddenly "tizz-LICK!" The exact call described by our field guides, and exactly like we listened to on our CD. We slowly walk toward the sound, and up it flies, about twenty yards away, settles back down into the grass, hidden from view. We repeat this about three times, and then give up trying to get a perfect, perched view of this HENSLOW SPARROW*. "Difficult to see," our book says. We hear a Bobwhite.
We go back to the KOA, and because we seemed to have covered all the main areas here, we get a refund for our last day. We will instead, leave early tomorrow morning for our next stop. Roaring River State Park, in deep southwest Missouri, near Cassville. I go back to the trailer while Sharon makes some phone calls.
Happy Mothers' Day to all the moms.
We go to Ritter Springs Park again, hoping to see either the Worm-eater or Ovenbird or both, but the Worm-eating Warbler is our top desire. We hear a Worm-eater again, but unfortunately, he keeps moving away.
We go back to the trailer to pack up for the move. We head out before 8:30 am. About a mile south of the turnoff from the KOA, Sharon suddenly sees camels, zebras and buffalo, at some kind of small wild animal park, but it's not public.
We arrive at Roaring River State Park before noon, and set up. There is a nice back-in under a huge shade tree, with electricity. The park staff comes to the office starting at 3:00 pm, so we are to go and check in then. I realize that we haven't put Indiana's decal up yet, so we add it -- the last new sticker that we will do in 1999. As we're relaxing, a woodpecker works its way through camp, and we see a couple of Yellow-throated Vireos. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird zooms up to check out the bright orange Union 76 ball on the radio antenna.
We decide to drive around the area, and we find BLUE GROSBEAK, Great-crested Flycatcher and at Muncey Cemetery, we see a couple more Dickcissels. We drive a loop running past the cemetery, and from a high point in the country, we can hear maybe eight Dickcissels at once. Later, we decide to take the eight mile Scenic Drive loop, which spends much of its time running along a high ridge of mountains. About halfway into it, I pull off onto a little side road/trail, and we decide to play the Ovenbird tape and see what happens. Because we can hear some "teacher Teacher TEACHER" calls even WITHOUT playing it. After maybe three calls from the CD, we are instantly surrounded by a pair of birds, which won't quite show themselves. But they are definitely "teacher" birds. At last one lands in the tree branches directly above the road, in front of the truck, and sits for maybe five seconds. teacher Teacher TEACHER!. Rusty stripe on head, clear throat, spots on white below, black edges on the rusty crown stripe. A spectacular UPGRADE to the Ovenbird we have only heard up till now.
We go back to the lodge/store late in the afternoon and I buy a Roaring River baseball cap and a T-shirt, plus we each get some ice cream. We then drive down to Warbler Woods, to give one more try for Cerulean Warblers. There has been a flood here in the last couple of weeks, and we must walk amongst some debris on the path. We see a nesting pair of Eastern Phoebes, on a ledge in the bluff, maybe five feet above the ground.
No luck on the Ceruleans, and we go back to the store, to buy some batteries. There are a couple of Chimney Swifts over the store. We also see a bird overflying that Sharon thought was a Common Nighthawk, but I thought it was a Swallow. No agreement on this bird.
Back to the trailer for dinner and considerations of how to find Cerulean Warblers. That's it for Week 5 of our trip. Our "new" truck has 6492 miles now. Next report will be Week 6, where we finish up our southwest Missouri (and nearby areas) birding with several surprises, and return to the sister Shirley's near Kansas City.
At 6:15 am (and at 8:30 last evening), a siren goes off. Curious at first, we finally figure out that it is the opening and closing bell of each day's fishing period.
At 7:44am, we are up on Devil's Kitchen Trail. We have heard Worm-eating Warblers, but just like at Ritter Springs in Springfield, they fly away when they see us coming. We hear another Ovenbird, and see a number of flycatchers and Indigo Buntings. A half-hour later, we are down where Cerulean Warblers might be. We get Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated Warblers up high. But no Ceruleans.
Another twenty minutes later, we are out on White Cedar Glade, where there are reports of another of our target birds. We don't hear it, although we do hear muffled bird songs. Then too -too -toot, in reponse to us playing its song. We get break looks as the male flies all around us, singing from trees making his territory. It's an excellent PRAIRIE WARBLER*, reinforcing that this is his home. OK, OK, we're going.
We have breakfast at the Roaring River Inn and conference center. The potatoes are terrible, but the eggs and toast are excellent. The waitress says they've only been open a few months. Next, we traverse Old Roaring River Road backwards (from our guide's directions), starting at the hatchery. There is nothing new, but it's very exciting because there about five places we would have turned around at, with our old 2-wheel drive truck. Although we've driven through Arkansas with our trailer, we decide to take our new truck over the border and come back, just to say we did it. In early afternoon, we come to Gateway, Arkansas, population 65. But somebody has crossed out the '5' and painted a '7' to replace it.
We bird around Butler Hollow, Seligman, Norm's Grocery store, encountering a little light rain, but it feels cool and nice. Nothing new in the bird world for us. By late afternoon, we are back in camp and Sharon is doing laundry.
My left hand is swollen like a balloon because the medicine I took to prevent lyme disease made me super sensitive to the sun. I didn't know this, and it was simply riding two days with the sun shining through the driver's window on the back of my left hand that caused the problem. My right hand was burned too, but nothing compared to the left. There is a huge, loose blister all over the back of my hand, and it looks like if you priced it with a pin, it would É (That as me having to sit down as I describe it, and is the reason my brother was the doctor and not me). So in the late spring heat, I'm wearing winter gloves so the sun won't shine directly on the back of my hands. When the gloves are in the sun for more than a few moments, and the gloves heat up, I get this instant pain sensation in my hands É That was me lying down. So enough about the worst sunburn I've ever seen. Life is great. We got a Prairie Warbler today! Back to camp.
We are up at quarter till six, and go over to near the hatchery where yesterday morning we heard Worm-eating Warblers. We wait here for an hour and a half, but never hear it today. Then we drive up Old Roaring River Road about a half mile or so, but there is nothing interesting there. Back to Warbler Woods, but it's real foggy here, so we turn around and go back to camp. We rest a bit, then in early afternoon we walk the first part of the mile long trail that goes from Scenic Drive down to Butler Hollow. Once again, we hear the Worm-eater, but once again, well, you know. We then drive up through Eagle Rock, where we stop at Wolfpen Gap, but there are no Broadwinged Hawks here, as we hopde. Back to camp and lots of relaxation.
It has been sprinkling, but I think it's stopped. It rained two inches in Springfield last night, but less here. We bird a little, but then rig for travel. I have been talking on phone with some ABA birders, and I have a strong recommendation for northeast Oklahoma, for Cerulean Warblers. I'm stoked.
At mid-morning, we stop in Bentonville, and walk through the Walmart Visitor Center. It's in Sam Walton's first 5 & 10 cent store (the first one he owned). An old-timer in the visitor center is very friendly, and I tell him cousin Mel's hunting story, which I'll tell you now:
Bud Walton (Walmart Sam Walton's younger brother), Tom Woolsey (lawyer and a former senator from our district in Versailles) and Mel were going bird hunting on one of Mel's properties. This property is adjacent to a whacko recluse named Joe Klein. Mel said that Bud and Tom each had their favorite bird dog, and off the three of them went, chasing Missouri quail (Bobwhites). The dogs were excited and ran away from the hunters. Suddenly Tom's dog came bounding back, but Bud's dog could be heard crying and yelping. Joe had somehow caught it. "Let my dog go!" shouted Bud. Joe answered with a shotgun blast through the woods, aimed above their heads. Then another. Bud, showing a glimpse into his being as he said to himself, the other two hunters and to that person in the universe who records promises made, "I'm gonna git muh dawg," and stormed straight towards where the shots had come from. The yelping continued, then stopped. After an interminable length of time, Bud came walking back with his dog. All right, Bud. Mel said they didn't hunt on his property any more after that. With that background, Mel told us, "Don't go too close to Joe Klein's. He's liable to shoot at you if you cross the creek and get onto his property." We stayed well on this side of the creek.
As I finished my story, the old-timer said, "Sam was a really wonderful, caring person -- interested in all his employees. He called them associates. I didn't know Bud, and I only talked to him once. I introduced myself, and told him that we had the same birthday. He just kind of looked through me, didn't respond, and walked away." Maybe he was thinking about his dawg.
We buy some souvenirs at the Walmart visitor center, and head on toward Oklahoma. We cross into the OK state about 11:30am, and for lunch, we get a life bird. I'm driving along, and Sharon says, "Did you see that Hawk?" I say no, and then there is about five seconds of silence. We both say, "We have to go back," and we turn around. Sharon checks as we returned, and says, "he's still there." I pull over, into a half-circle gravel driveway of a house right on the highway. Nobody appears to be home at the moment, and I leave room to get in and out. We quietly walk back with our binoculars, bird book and scope. The bird has a dark chest above, is lighter below, but still dark. He flies. Sharon sees white wings with black trailing edge, and I get a glimpse of a striped black-and-white tail. He's about the size of a Red-shouldered Hawk, but isn't that. He has flown low, through the woods and away. We check our books, and the Eastern Audubon's has a photograph exactly like the perched bird. It's a BROAD-WINGED HAWK*, which we've been looking for all over Missouri.
We continue on and arrive in late afternoon at Spavinaw State Park, just below Spavinaw Lake. The river's a little high, and I'm concerned a bit about flooding. I stop a maintenance guy, and he says that it floods here all the time, but it's ok right now. We pick a spot and set up. I call an ABA person again, and get directions to Chloeta (Choleta?), and so we head out to look for it. We see a GREEN-BACKED HERON by the road, as we leave the park. We drive back and forth, and guess what, there ain't no Chloeta nor Choleta! We then ask an older lady in a junky store, and she says, "That's the area around Topsy's." We did see some stores with that word on them. We turn around and go back, catching a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER. In late afternoon, the sun is out now.
We wind through a gravel road, and end up below a dam which creates Euchy Lake. There we get an AMERICAN REDSTART, a Prothonatory Warbler, two kinds of swallows, Cliff and Northern Rough-winged. But no Cerulean Warblers. Then we drive up to the lake, and see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, quietly sitting in a tree. Sharon has spotted him, if you had any doubts. We also see Great-crested Flycatchers, Northern parulas, and either a Gray-Cheeked or Swainson's Thrush. We talk it over and decide it is probably a -- no, we never decide. Too tough. Back to camp. Sharon sets up our portable hummingbird feeder, and bang, we get two Ruby-throated males right away. The first one drives off the second one. We see two Red-headed Woodpeckers, several Baltimore Orioles and a squirrel trying to drink out of our nectar feeder. We decide to get up for the dawn chorus, and go to the low-water bridge below the dam, before sunup tomorrow.
It's about 5:00 am, and we just turned off the highway, onto the gravel road. I see an orange thing fly up, like an insect. I am SO sleepy. I ignore it. Sharon says, "I think that was a bird." "It was an insect," I say. But now I'm not so sure. And right then we hear a sound, kind of like a whip-poor-will. We stop, roll the windows down, in case it calls again. It is completely dark, and also foggy. We're stopped right in the middle of the road. Then we hear "chuck-will-iz-wi-dow" as clear as you please. Fantastic, a life bird, a CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW. Heard AND seen!
A little later, it's 5:46am, and we're at the bridge. As it gets lighter, we get Indigo Bunting, Prothonotary Warbler but it's getting foggier. At 7:00 am, it's too foggy to see, and we give up. We head back to camp. On the way, back out from the bridge, two female elk cross the road ahead of us. It's late morning, we've hitched up, and we're headed for Nevada, Missouri, looking for Pennsylvania Prairie and Sedge Wrens. We cross back into Arkansas in late morning, and by noon, we're back in Missouri. It's very hot, and at mid-afternoon, we arrive at Possum Pete's RV Park, near Nevada, Missouri. It's visible from the highway, it's pretty basic, and the office is locked. We set up and rest, out of the heat, in our trailer AC. Later, we see that the manager is in the office, so I go pay for the evening and order up an ice cream (advertised in a sign on the wall). "Sorry, no ice cream. We just opened for the season," he says. Dang, it's hot!
We're up and out at 5:35 am. We head for Butler, Missouri, then turn west, headed for Marais deCygnes, looking for Cerulean Warblers (again). It's windy, overcast and looking bad, but we're going to try anyway. We bump into a birder, and he says they used to be here, but he hasn't seen any for three years. That takes the wind out of our sails, and we decide to just go straight to sister Shirley's in Overland Park, Kansas. On the way out, we see GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES, then have an uneventful trip. I get on Jerry's computer, and when Jerry gets home from work, we all go to a movie.
Sharon flies out tomorrow, so it's our last day of birding. We get information that there may be Cerulean Warblers on the grounds of Ft. Leavenworth. Hey, I've never been there. That'll be fun. Except that it's dark and dreary and rain is on the way. We go anyway. We cross the river, find a hallmark greenhouse, then the cemetery. There have been reports of a Cap May Warbler there, and we've never seen one. So that's two life birds we're shooting for. A local KC Audubon group arrives, and they're looking for the Cape May also. They describe the location of the Ceruleans, and it's clear we're not gonna slog through two hours of swamp to try for them. It continues raining very hard, and we go back home. We go see another movie that night.
We all take Sharon to the airport and drop her off. Well, I go in to be sure she's on schedule. Then the remaining three of us go to breakfast at the Village Inn, Jerry and Shirley's favorite breakfast restaurant. Jerry and I do the final repair on the refrigerator vent cap, and I learn a lot about how these caps fit on the roof openings. I'm not sure, but I think we go to another movie that night.
I am up early, and I take the truck in for its 6000 mile service at Morse Chevrolet in Overland Park. It doesn't take long, and I'm back at Shirley's by 9:45 am. I pack up and I'm on the road, listening to James Michener's "Mexico" book-on-tape. At mid-afternoon, when I would usually turn the driving over to Sharon, there ain't no Sharon. I pull over and take a little nap. That evening, I camp in Wakeeny KOA, Wakeeny, Kansas, and the truck turns 6800 miles.
I head out of the KOA, and see WESTERN KINGBIRDS all around. I'm back in the west. By noon Mountain Time, I'm in Colorado. In early afternoon, I see a black bird with a white wing patch fly across my path. It's a LARK BUNTING. And by late afternoon, I'm buying groceries at the Safeway near daughter Shandra's. The last time I shopped here, I was in the old truck, and it was overheating like crazy. This is more like it. I visit with Shandra and Jeff, and play with the little ones. We watch the Avalanche win their ice hockey game 5-2, winning 4 games of 6 vs. Detroit. And the two they lost were at home. Very unusual.
I get some photos of Shandra and the girls, and she's gone at 7:20 am. I head out and near Breckenridge, a flag is flying at half-mast. When you're on vacation, you lose track of headlines. I never do learn what that's about. Continuing to gain altitude, I pass a puddle covered with ice at 9:30 am. Quite cool. At Vail Pass, the truck turns 7200 miles, and I'm on the downstretch. By noon, I'm going through the far end of Glenwood, having just passed through Glenwood Canyon and seeing black and white WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS soaring above. By mid-afternoon, I'm leaving Colorful Colorado, and I spend the night in Utah. But like John Steinbeck, in "Travels with Charley," I am zoned in on getting home, and I don't even remember where I stayed this night. Maybe around Salina or Richfield. But farther west than Green River.
I spend the day driving through Utah, cut the corner off of Arizona, and arrive at the home of cousin Joyce and her husband Ralph Spencer in mid-afternoon. They still have a big lunch waiting on the table for me. They are right on Lake Mead, and have a sandwich/ice cream shop called The Inside Scoop in Overton, Nevada. As instructed by Joyce over the phone, I stopped in for a free ice cream as I went past their store this afternoon. Don't you hate it when somebody ORDERS you in for a free ice cream? We talk about old times, new times, future times, kids, grandkids, birds, their Utah years, Mormons and everything under the sun. I also see the inside of their big fifth wheel. It has slide-outs, and I feel like I'm in a motel room, it's so big and roomy.
After filling up on cousin Joyce's breakfast the next morning (after saying I didn't really want any), I head out for home. As brother-in-law Wendell Wood says, "What's not being hungry have anything to do with eating?"
I cruise through Las Vegas, through the Mojave desert, over Pacheco Pass, through Barstow and Bakersfield, up Highway 5, over 152 and Tehachapi Pass, and back into the driveway about 7 pm.
We identified 24 new bird species we had never seen before, plus 2 new subspecies. I was hoping for 28, so I am extremely satisfied with the results of our trip. This brings our World species list to 599, and our ABA list to 527.
The best life birds we saw were Red-headed Woodpecker, Greater Prairie-chicken, Bobolink, Ovenbird, Dickcissel and Broad-winged Hawk. And, oh, the Warblers -- Hooded, Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, Kentucky, Blue-winged and Prairie. In a nutshell, I guess it was the warblers of Missouri, my birth state, I was after the most.
The biggest "misses" were Cerulean Warbler, American Woodcock, Eastern Screech Owl, and seeing the Worm-eating Warbler. Misses that didn't bother me so much (because there were only low probabilities for each) were Sedge Wren, Harris's Sparrow, Black-billed Cuckoo, Canada Warbler, Yellow Rail, King Rail, Snow Bunting and Sharp-tailed Sparrow.This wraps up our Missouri/Kansas/North Carolina, Spring 99 Vacation.