Archive for the ‘Native Plants’ Category

The Breitensteins’ place

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m a member of Birding Pals, which works like a dating site, only for birding.  You put your info in it, saying where you live and when you can take people birding in your area, and people who are planning to visit can contact you via the site — they don’t get your actual email address or other contact info unless you give it to them.  If you’re available, you can take them birding, and they’re supposed to buy you lunch or something.  It’s how I got in contact with Claudio in Chile, although he’s really a paid guide, which isn’t what the site is designed for.  Anyway, some time ago I got a request through birding pals from a couple in Bollinger County.  They’ve developed their property to maximize wildlife habitat, and they wanted someone to come and find out what birds live on their land.  I agreed, but then put it off, and one thing led to another, and then I went to Chile…

Finally I arranged to go visit on Wednesday, the 24th.  As it turns out, the couple, Kathy and Paul Breitenstein, were featured in an article in the Missouri Conservationist last March.  I knew I was in the right place when I turned into their driveway and saw all the Rattlesnake Master growing in their “yard”.

Breitenstein Place  The Breitensteins’ driveway.   Rattlesnake Master

Along with a wide variety of other native plants.  The dogs ran out making a lot of noise and then licking me, and Paul came out to greet me.  He gave me a general idea of the property — about 110 acres, mostly wooded, a lot of it their own plantings, and a big area of prairie plants that they’d established.  He was meeting a crew doing some deck construction for him, so I set out on my own.  I made a slow circuit of the property, starting out in the woods and ending with the prairie.

One of the first birds I heard when I got out of the car was a Chipping Sparrow; or so I thought, but when I looked up at all the pine trees, I thought maybe it was a Pine Warbler.  They’re tough to distinguish.  I think on the average Pine Warbler has a more melodic, sweeter trill than the Chipping Sparrow’s mechanical sound, but they both vary, and there are areas of overlap.  I was pretty sure this was a Pine Warbler, though.  When I set out into the woods, I stopped and scanned the pines.  There was a flash of movement, and in the binoculars it was a Chipping Sparrow singing away.  Shows you what I know.

It wasn’t until I’d gone almost all the way around the property that I actually did find some Pine Warblers, and they weren’t singing.    In fact, they were immatures, showing some weird plumage that may indicate they were molting from juvenile to adult feathers.  In other words, Pine Warblers are probably successfully breeding on the Breitensteins’ property.
Pine Warbler

This is actually a good angle to view a warbler — undertail patterns are distinctive.  This one is just weird, though, with that asymmetrical gray base.  I suspect molting is to blame. 

The big find for the day, at least from my perspective, was an Eastern Whippoorwill.  Sure, I hear them fairly often, but this one flushed when I was walking a trail in their woods, then perched in a tree where I had a great view.  The first time I’ve ever seen one in broad daylight, and certainly the first chance I’ve had to photograph one.


Eastern Whippoorwill
Not too happy about being rousted out of bed in the daytime, I’d say.

I also happened onto a Blue-winged Warbler — I know that they breed in Missouri, especially in and near the Ozarks, but this is the first one I’d ever seen in July.   As it turns out, also the first eBird record of one in Bollinger County in July.

In all, 34 species, not bad for midsummer birding in a place with no water to speak of.  And a tribute to what you can do if you encourage native plants on your property.  I can’t wait to get back there during migration.

Breitenstein's stream

A visit to Maintz conservation area

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Maintz Conservation Area

I first got into birding when I was 11 or so, as a boy scout, and for a few years I did a good bit of birding in my native South Florida.  Then I discovered girls, and took a 40+ year break.  I resumed birding when Robin and I went to Costa Rica in 2011, and when I came home I started learning the local birds of SE Missouri.  I soon found out about the Audubon Society of Missouri, and their CACHE/SPARKS programs (Conservation Area CHEcklist/State PARKS checklist).  At that time, before eBird was big, ASM maintained their own online birding data program for conservation areas and parks in Missouri. 

I became a frequent contributor, especially for Maintz Conservation Area, only about 10 miles from my house.   Between Mark Haas and me, we quickly built up the Maintz checklist from a few dozen to over 150 species. We did such a good job on it that I’ve lately been birding at other places to help them catch up. Still, Maintz has a special place in my heart, so when I wanted to go for an outing this Saturday, I headed there.

My first stop was the parking area off highway BB, where there are some seasonal wetlands.  They’re full of water now, of course — so is everything in this part of the state, with the absurd amount of rain we’ve had all year.   There weren’t any waterfowl or shorebirds at the wetland, but of course those birds are spoiled for choice these days; every farm field is likely to be a pond they can explore.  Still, there was plenty of bird activity as soon as I got out of the car, with Carolina Wrens, Blue Jays, Eastern Kingbirds, American Crows, Common Yellowthroats, Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees competing for my attention. 

I walked up the hill to the fishing pond, where I heard the distinctive irritable chattering of a Bell’s Vireo.   Walking to the corner of the fields, I followed the service road through some woods and out into a little prairie dotted with Bitterbloom (Sabatia angularis).

Bitterbloom, Rosepink

Bitterbloom, or Rose Pink, is a native wildflower with a very compact, neat growth habit and beautiful flowers.  I’m definitely going to try growing some at home. Across the field the trail goes down into another patch of woods, crossing a dry wash that feeds into Sandy Branch.  This damp, shady area was dominated by Tall Bellflower, Campanula americana.

Tall Bellflower

These lanky, 3-4 foot tall sprays of lavender blooms would look good in my rain garden, too.  I’ll have to look for seed. As I was walking in the woods, a Red-shouldered Hawk was calling repeatedly right over my head, but I couldn’t see it in the dense foliage.  Suddenly it flew out of the tree over me and into another, perhaps to get a better view of the intruder.  

Red-shouldered Hawk

I continued past, flushing the hawk back into the forest, and when the trail opened into grassland again I realized I’d walked almost all the way across the area toward another parking lot. I decided to backtrack and get the car.

I drove around to the other side of the area and walked up a gravel service road to the largest pond on the property.  To the northeast of the pond, there’s a big bare area where until recently a very decrepit old barn used to stand.  Barn Owls nested in that barn annually, often fledging several young a year.   This shot from five years ago gives the idea:
Barn OwlsT

he Missouri Department of Conservation decided that the barn couldn’t be saved, finally, and they put up some owl nest boxes — giant white “mailboxes” on posts in the fields.  Those have been used successfully, and this year they decided to take down the old barn.  It’s too bad; while the owls may do fine in the nest boxes, they don’t provide much of a chance for observing them.

As I was leaving the area, I decided to stop and walk in the fields north of CR 472.  I used to bird that area of Maintz often, but I’d gotten used to visiting other spots lately.  When you walk in, first you pass a big field of cultivated sunflowers, planted to attract Mourning Doves for hunting season.  But to the north of that field is an area of prairie, absolutely packed with native flowers.  Right now it’s largely Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa?).  

Monarda and Ratibida

It’s a beautiful scene, and a lot of wild sunflowers of several species are about to bloom as well.  Wild False Indigo (Baptisia sp.) are producing seed pods, having flowered earlier, and I even found a few plants of Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium).
Rattlesnake Master
I’ll be sure to return in a week or two to see what new things are blooming.