Thursday, May 7, 2009

Joe Neal reports on May 6 bird-watching in Madison and Franklin counties

Judith Ann Griffith & I birded in Madison and Franklin counties May 6,
mainly between Brashears (intersection highways 16 & 23, Aka the ?pig
trail?) and Cass (on 23). I met Judith at Brashears. At the start, we
were in our local cloud forest. Through the fine mist we could hear
both Sedge and Marsh Wrens in a big hayfield & soon had both in close
view. I had already seen a first year male Orchard Oriole atop a
brushpile. When we returned in the afternoon, two Bobolinks perched
atop the brush and nearby was a flock of 10 Orchard Orioles.

The main focus was Cherry Bend in the Ozark NF. It?s half-way between
Brashears & Cass and involves about two miles of upper, east-facing
moist, mature hardwood slope. We parked in the small lot where the
Ozark Highlands Trail crosses 23, then walked up to Rock House, which
overlooks slopes below.

We saw bunting flocks along the whole drive between Brashears & Cass,
in both the private farmland and National Forest. Most involved 5-10
Indigos in all plumages, a few had 25 or so, and some included a few
White-crowned & Chipping sparrows. At Cass, we saw a fine male
Painted Bunting along them. We got the red around the eyes, both
greens, etc. I cannot image what the field & thicket-loving
White-crowned Sparrows felt when they awoke midst the shagbark
hickories & pawpaws of Cherry Bend!

In the Cherry Bend area we made several short stops & listens, and the
short hike up from the parking lot to Rock House. The native wild
azaleas are blooming & it?s hard not to stop in full blown admiration
for a fine male Black-throated Green Warbler when you have a flaming
pink bush extending over a high bluff, stream full & screaming below.
At Rock House we caught a crack of sunlight & at eye level a singing
male Cerulean Warbler. For those of us mainly used to butt shots of
Ceruleans high in the canopy, an eye level male in decent light makes
clear the bird?s name & its unique creation. I was just dumb struck &
that?s saying something in my case. We humans have fine sensibilities,
but they can be overloaded.

For the day, we recorded 21 warbler species. In the forests at Cherry
Bend, we had the following: Golden-winged (1), Tennessee, Nashville,
Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green (in 4 spots; they are likely
breeding birds at Cherry Bend now), Cerulean (12+; all along the 2
miles & best place I know in the Ozarks), Black-and-white, American
Redstart, Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Kentucky, Hooded, Wilson?s. These are
mostly common breeding birds at Cherry Bend.

Also at Cherry Bend, our highway workers are valiantly repairing giant
cracks and minislides in the asphalt. Bless their hearts; it?s a
critical road through our neck-of-the-woods. Gravity makes its claims
on highways, just as it does on us. Judith & I made our way carefully
along 23, spotting Swainson?s Thrushes and one Gray-cheeked Thrush
using roadsides. This old ?pigtrail? is steadily heading downhill &
one senses it has chosen return to its pre-1880 state as a pioneer
trail & Native American hunting track. We have smart highway folks &
I?ll bet they can keep it going for us who love birding & botanizing
Cherry Bend, not to mention all the Ozark towns and communities who
depend upon the feed trucks and freighters passing through, below Rock
House, where we are watching Ceruleans & wondering at the many
Hoodeds?and the virtually unimaginable resplendence of Scarlet
Tanagers in spring light.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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