Friday, December 3, 2010

Joe Neal birding report from December 2, 2010

The great virtue of Maysville is that it is as far north and as far west as you can get in Arkansas. Any further north, welcome to Missouri. Any further west, welcome to Oklahoma. Not far to Kansas. When in the 1830s Cherokees were forced west, Maysville was Tallgrass Prairie, a short hop from the Great Plains. Elements of that past remain: decaying pioneer era farm houses (“little houses on the prairie”) and along fencerows and highways, poignant reminders like Big Bluestem grass and Sawtooth Sunflowers.

Some of that old prairie has been turned into soybeans. Harvested fields yesterday were packed with Lapland Longspurs, American Pipits, and Horned Larks, about in that order. I was out of the car watching a dark chocolate colored red-tail (4 for the day) when a cloud of rattling and tewing longspurs sailed over and claimed a harvested bean field. Counting longspurs like this is like counting starlings. I settled on 325, then 325-400, then after 30 minutes of trying, realized I was out of my league. I saw pipits and larks, too, but when I got my scope on the flock it was almost pure, busy longspurs. Sometimes one longspur would perch briefly on a tall bean stalk – a first for me. A quarter mile north, same thing: I counted 415 longspurs on the ground, part of a continuously moving flock.

I’m pleased to report the Maysville Handi-stop has reopened, very good news indeed, because I was ready for a break! To the north, along Wet Prairie Road, at least 43 meadowlarks flew over, including 2-3 Westerns, which were singing and chucking in the warm afternoon sun.

It was a blue sky day with wispy cloud strings and the clouds turned pink at sunset. I was in the going home traffic, but my mind was around Maysville. We live with the conceit that winter longspurs and meadowlarks are some sort of fancy ornaments or oddities in northwest Arkansas. But this is only because we assign to ourselves primary rights to the land. I’m headed to my house and heater, they are out there now, on and of the land, as night comes.

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