Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcoming Grass: Joe Neal on August 11, 2011

Deep booms of far away thunder recalls historical accounts of the furious cannonade proceeding Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. In the wee dark of yesterday, hundreds of storied Confederate cannon fired away, not at Union lines on Cemetery Ridge, but on drought and heat. The storm held until I got to Vaughn in Benton County.

From this open former prairie, now pasture, fury gathered in the northwest, regiments of whipped-up and boiling gray-purple spreading inexorably across a battlefield of morning sky. I was out of the car scanning the fields when I heard one, then two, and finally 5-7 Upland Sandpipers streaming low and headed south ahead of the storm.

If you use Google Earth, type Vaughn AR (or 72712) into the “Fly To” search field. This gets you to the crossroads of highways 279 and 12 in downtown Vaughn. Now zoom out a little so you can see more landscape, roads and property lines straight, big open fields, and evidence of prairie mounds. Benton County fair grounds are here, less than a mile from where Uplands were flying. They have found it, and didn’t even use Google Earth!

Just as the storm assault commences, I’ve located a flock of 10 Uplands on the ground in a flat grassy field reserved during the fair for stock trucks. Thunder booms and the sandpipers call PER WITA WIT! I sit in my car with my waterproof spotting scope and watch.

If these Uplands nested in North Dakota and are headed for Argentina, they’ve covered a minimum of 1000 miles. The total migration way exceeds 5000, even if it is a straight line, which of course it isn’t. They’ve stopped in what we term our country, near beginning of their southward journey. They wait out the storm in the bare and seemingly miserable shelter of grass in a former prairie converted to a park for cattle trucks.

From my car, and through a 30X eyepiece, I see how rain breaking our drought forms beads on an adult Upland’s sleek, brownish, tan-edged feathers. Beads gather and slow roll toward the tail, diamonds of great value on millions of years of feather evolution. This reminds me of Joseph’s fabled coat of many colors. It blends -- even with all these many tones of brown, white, black, even with streaks and chevrons, even animated by a deep pool of an eye, peering from between two green blades of welcoming grass -- it blends.

But a juvenile, after the storm blast, reminds me of a wet hen. Its plainer, camo browns look, well, and I mean no disrespect, like a wet dishrag. It’s just soaked, its sides and tail ragged and disheveled. I’ve been there myself, soaked to the bones. But, with thousands of miles ahead, there’s plenty of time to molt to that fabled coat.

Morning thunder slowly retreats, yielding to prevailing sun. An adult shakes off diamonds and glides off in pursuit of all kinds of small and low flying insects. Watch out beetles, moths and grasshoppers! The juvenile is more or less on its own, spending a longer time drying, shaking, preening back to a condition suitable and serviceable for an up-and-coming sandpiper. It’s part of figuring out what must done and when. Sun out, preening done, it too glides off into welcoming grass.

No comments:

Post a Comment