Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shaw Nature Reserve

 I'm aware that I haven't posted in almost a month, and I am SO sorry! I've been extremely busy, what with summer camps and preparing for next school year.

 My family spent the most of the first week of June in St. Louis, MO; exploring the Science Center, Botanical Garden, Butterfly House, and much more. Well, actually more like re-exploring. We lived there until about 7 years ago, and it's where I was born. Most of the five days we spent there were not spent birding, but the last day, Saturday, we went to Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, MO; about 30 minutes outside of St. Louis. I decided to write this post in more of a story form, just for fun. I hope you enjoy it too!

The morning of Saturday, June 9 dawned bright and warm. As our family slowly woke up in our hotel in Clayton, Missouri, at first all we could think about was how much our muscles ached from hours and hours of walking around St. Louis's many attractions. My body ached, too, but I thought it could take a little more. I had birds to watch at Shaw Nature Reserve and Arboretum in Gray Summit, Missouri. So did my 9-year-old brother, George, evidently, because the first thing he said when he woke up was "I hope we see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher today." I was a little surprised. I didn't know he was that in to birds. My spirits were high as I woke the others up.

We were sluggish, but we finally set off at about 10:00 AM for Shaw. As we drove, I tried to think up a list of birds we could see there. I'd heard that Shaw was one of the best birding places in Missouri, mostly due to its habitat variation. It had prairie, forest, glades, and wetland. I'd been there once before when I was about 4 years old, but of course I couldn't remember it much. We were there for their annual Prairie Days celebration, and the only thing I could remember was the insect booth. How it worked was a guy would sit there and ask kids what their favorite insect was, and then he would ask them questions about it. After that they'd get a token. When he asked me what my favorite insect was, I said "Cabbage White", and he just gave me the token. But I couldn't remember the birds, as I was more interested in bugs then.
 By the time we got to Shaw, my mental list included Song Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, and Lark Sparrow.

As we pulled into the visitors parking, I looked out my window and took it all in. I could see forest surrounded by prairie scattered with glades, and a large pond over a hill. Paired with the blue sky, it was beautiful.

The view from the visitor center

We all got out of the car, George and I excited about birds, and my 6 year old brothers, Dennis and Huck, excited about bugs. After a quick spray of insect repellent and a dab of sunscreen, we were ready for a great day in the field.

And it was. Within the first ten minutes I had counted Eastern Meadowlark, Song Sparrow, Killdeer, Purple Martin, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Eastern Phoebe. We had to walk along the forest trail to get to the prairie, and the forest revealed more birds, such as Summer Tanager, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, and Kentucky Warbler. Ethan walked on ahead and stumbled on a concealed pond. He came running back, claiming to have seen a Little Blue Heron take flight from it. I was a little doubtful, as he often confuses them with Great Blue Herons. But he said it was a lot smaller, and had a darker head. So I took his word for it and wrote that down too. That sighting made Ethan's spirits rise, as it was a lifer for him. In fact, so was Indigo Bunting. He'd never heard or seen one, but they were everywhere at Shaw! They seemed to be singing from almost every tree. I counted 15 by the end of the walk.

Indigo Bunting

Summer Tanager

We finally emerged into the prairie, and were greeted by this sight:

 The prairie at Shaw is some of the last left in the U. S.  Most of it has been plowed for farmland.  But there are still a few pockets of prairie left, and Shaw has about 100 acres of it. The grass can reach 7 feet in September and October, but in June it's about 3--4 feet tall. The prairie is full of life, with over 50 species of wildflowers and insects. There are lots of birds, too--as we found out. Almost as soon as we stepped out of the forest, we heard a Bobwhite from across the field. It was soon joined by 2 others. Male bobwhites usually sing their two-note songs from posts or stumps, where they are easily seen by rivals, but we didn't see any.  I momentarily turned my attention to photographing my non-avian surroundings, and here are some of my results:

If you look closely, you can see a milkweed bug on this.

Altogether, we spent about 2 hours there, and ended up with 29 species. Here's the eBird checklist:

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