Sunday, July 11, 2010

Joe Neal's report on today's Audubon-sponsored field trip to Chesney Prairie with a few photos linked

Somewhere in my mind I have this message that says, “July field trips don’t work out. Waste of time,” etc. The turn-out for this morning’s Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip was 35-40 folks, which makes it one of the best ones EVER in terms of numbers & I would argue, quality, too.
Chesney Prairie and Stump Prairie photos from today at bottom of old Chesney Prairie set of photos on Flickr from 2007.
OK – it is cooler than usual, we have had some rain, and there was cloud cover with a gentle south wind. Can’t do better than that at mid-summer. Plus, Joe Woolbright and his helpers at Ozark Ecological Restoration, Inc. invested a lot of time and effort in mowing the trail system established a few years ago. What that means is, you can walk a grassy, flowery prairie without undue exposure to ticks & chiggers. There aren’t a lot of places like that, anywhere. Advertising that fact probably encouraged some to come out. Our local National Public Radio affiliate, KUAF, also aired free announcements.

Among the 35-40, there was an 11-month girl and several folks in their 70s. There were local folks and out-of-towners. Some had NEVER been on an “official” bird walk or visited a natural, unplowed prairie in full bloom. There was a blind woman – who enjoyed birding by ear -- and several virtually deaf. There were also very experienced birders, butterfliers, photographers, botanists, etc. 
Folks wanted to know how long we would be out: as long as they wanted to be. How far would we walk: as far as they wanted. Could they walk slow: everyone sets their own pace. Is talking OK, or since it is Sunday, did they have to be church quiet: no. Also, Chesney is always open for a visit.

It took only about 15 minutes for the string of folks headed out into the prairie to bunch around different paces & interests. The birders got out ahead and racked up Painted Buntings (male, female, young-of-the-year), Red-headed woodpecker, Orchard Oriole, etc. They naturally bunched around Mike Mlodinow and Joanie Patterson.

A solid knot formed around Joe Woolbright, especially evident as the trail wound around a stunning patch of blazing stars attendant by an array of appreciative butterflies. Woolbright explained how prairie management worked and Paige & Mary Bess Mulhollan filled right in with specifics on the butterflies. Great masses of ashy sunflowers are blooming and we kept getting over-flights of American Goldfinches probably impatient for the seeds to ripen.

Two photographers, David Oakley & Jacque Brown, disappeared in the tall Big Bluestem grass in search of a trophy plant – I think some kind of Silphium. Lisa Sharp, owner of Nightbird Books (where we have had recent NWAAS meetings) came with her husband. Lisa wanted to experience the prairie. Her husband is a “walker” who circumnavigated Chesney’s trail system, then caught up with us to take in the flora & fauna. 

I completely lost track of most of the field trip, mainly because I kept getting & sharing stunning spotting scope views of singing Dickcissels with folks who didn’t have binoculars or hadn’t been birding much. 

Andrew Scaboo got a digiscoped Painted Bunting image. BUT, equally wonderful, we all learned that he has received a post-doctoral fellowship at UA-Fayetteville and will be around northwest Arkansas longer. Since he had finished his PHD, we assumed we would lose him – a good companion on a field trip and a frequent observer at Woolsey Wet Prairie. He wants to go on to a teaching job eventually.

Finally, did I forget: towering Big Bluestem Grass, swaths of Switch Grass, Prairie Cord Grass in flower along the headwaters of Sager Creek, colorful butterflies on blooming buttonbush, a roiling & ever-changing caravan of juicy summer clouds, Loggerhead Shrike on the fence.
Photos from Saturday night Joe Neal lecture at Nightbird Books at bottom of old Flckr site of photos of Conservation groups and people collected over three or four years. Please scroll down to view and use tools (actions choice) to ENLARGE view.

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