Saturday, July 14, 2012

Terns, blazing star and sweet corn: A day at Beaver Lake with Joe Neal

Flying out over the lake, the tern looks big and white against numerous Purple Martins at Beaver Lake dam. Caspian? There’s color in the bill, black on the head, and maybe dark (?) in the primaries. Common? I whip out my spotting scope when it keeps trying to settle on a buoy pitched in racing boat-generated tsunamis.

Maybe 120 martins suddenly flush out of the campground over us. Hunting grasshoppers in weeds by the shore, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher exposes it sensation reddish pink armpit.

Between boats, and hence fewer tsunamis, the buoy settles and the tern finds a perch. Tail clearly extends beyond the tips of the primaries. The legs and bill are orangey, not red. Forster's! A Fish Crow AH-Ahs in agreement up by the bathroom.

Despite hundreds of Beaver Lake trips, this all looks new. Most of my Beavers have been December-January, cold and quiet, with nothing but shivering and trying to avoid north wind, plus shuttered vacation homes, maybe the yodel of a Common Loon, the occasional Long-tailed Duck, barren hills. But today's mid-July Beaver is full of people, lake jammed with boats, RV campers with their ACs and TVs. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers patrol the cedar glades.

The Dam Site Loop cut-off between Indian Creek Park and the dam perfectly illustrates different Beavers. It's barren in winter; I whiz right through, hopping lake view to lake view for a rare duck. Not today. At one spot there's an extensive patch of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) with majestic green masses of elephant ear leaves and brilliant yellow flowers atop a lanky stalk. Not so impossibly impressive, but still begat of botanical royalty, surrounding flowers include gray-headed coneflower and grayish mountain mint,shouts of glades and prairies. No whizzing past and ignoring, unless our social order has us in metaphorical mind-numbing shackles.

Several species of goldenrods spring right out of a big shelf of rock in the dam's north park. And seemingly right out of no soil or seemingly no soil, impossibly tiny white Houstonias and the first purple blooms from Spanish Needles.

In last winter's Beaver, just out from this glade, a Western Grebe mixed in with flocks of Horned Grebes and an Eared Grebe. I set up my scope in an empty parking lot with my coat zipped. Grebes and gulls, yes, but no flowering goldenrods, no freshly minted fence lizards on limestone rocks. Today the parking is jammed. Young folks in scuba gear and bikinis own grebe land.

Then it's time to head home. The hurry on highway 62! Those metaphorical shackles! A patch of purple gay feathers in the ditch forces a slowing, reminds me of a different time. Another mighty Silphium, compass plant, is in full bloom. Got to slow for that.

Here and there, in the shade alongside 62, a pick-up full of green produce; man and a simple handmade sign: "sweet corn."

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