March 5, 2016: Saturday along the river

Magnolia Hollow Lake

The MDC had Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area on its list for management plan public input the other day, and I’d never heard of it before. When I found that it was only an hour’s drive from me, I decided to go check it out. When I got out at the first parking area at around 6:!5 yesterday, it was already pretty birdy — yellow-rumps in the trees, sparrows flitting around, etc.

I walked down to the fishing lake, which is quite a pretty spot (see above).

The yellow-rumps were thick there,

Yellow-rumped warbler

and I spotted a GBHE perched in a tree way in the distance.

Great Blue Heron

I spent some time just sitting on a rock listening to the YRWAs chipping in the trees, and eventually walked back up to the parking area. I drove on, getting out briefly at each parking area. As I was pulling out of the campground parking lot, I noticed a fat little bird in the grass on the shoulder. I stopped and cautiously opened the car door, but he didn’t seem to be worried about me; it was an American Woodcock, bobbing up and down in the full sunlight. He was backlit, so my photos are a little oddly exposed, but it’s the best chance I’ve ever had to get a pic of one.

Woodcock

At the next parking area, I got out and instantly saw a raptor departing into the woods. I ran up to see if I could tell where it had gone, and I could see something perched in the distance. In the binoculars it looked like a koala, but I was pretty sure that was wrong. Fortunately, the camera gave a better ID.

Barred Owl

From the last parking area, a paved path leads to a little deck with a view of Establishment Creek emptying into the Mississippi. Between them there’s a large fluddle. With a spotting scope, that’s a good spot to observe waterfowl. I found Canada Geese, mallards, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and gadwall there, and heard a kingfisher as well.

View at Magnolia Hollow

Next I decided to move downriver a bit (and inland) by visiting Ball Mill Resurgence and its new sister area, Blue Spring Branch Conservation Area. I’d never been to the latter, and I didn’t want Mark Haas to get all the “First Seens” in ebird for it. It’s kind of a weird layout. There’s a parking lot with a sign:

Blue Spring Branch

But the path to get into the area starts about 1/4 mile down the road. I bushwhacked down the hill from the parking area through tall grass and brush, but I wouldn’t recommend that approach. At the bottom of the hill (where I met up with the path) is Blue Spring Branch. It’s a fair-sized creek, but there’s a ford that wasn’t hard to cross with rubber boots.

Blue Spring Branch

I crossed the stream, following the path when it veered across an old fence line into a marshy field. There were some sparrows, and a deafening chorus of frogs. Adding to the soundscape, someone in a farmhouse a quarter-mile to the east started practicing the flute. From there I followed deer trails uphill to the far eastern edge of the Conservation Area. While there wasn’t that much happening on the ground, a mixed flock of geese (Snow, Greater White-Fronted, and a Ross’) came over. I made a loop and wound up back at the Branch, where I flushed 5 Wood Ducks. Added 13 species to the ebird list for the area: take that, Mark!

Of course I had to go to Ball Mill as long as I was in the neighborhood. Things were pretty quiet there, but I did get a nice pic of a bluebird.

Bluebird

One of these days I need to go there after a big rain and see the resurgence in action.

Working my way southward, I headed for Red Rock Landing Conservation Area. Last couple of times I tried to get there, high water made it impossible. The MDC says you can’t get in when the Chester gauge is over 20 feet; Saturday it was at 17 and there was no problem. It was also pretty quiet — what do you expect in mid-afternoon — but there were two killdeer and a Wilson’s Snipe (new ebird record for the area) on the wetland. I walked down to the river and came back up, and saw an armadillo approaching along a side trail. I crouched down so as not to be conspicuous and got out the camera.

Armadillo

At full zoom, I got some decent pictures, but he kept trotting toward me so fast I couldn’t keep him in focus. I was starting to worry that he’d just run right into me, and even as I backed off the zoom, I couldn’t get all of him in the frame.

Armadillo

He hopped over a log just 5 feet from me, and when I turned to watch him go by he finally realized I was there. He quickly scuttled into the flood debris. Those guys really have nothing going for them but the armor — sight and hearing were clearly not priorities for them as they evolved.

Afterward I walked a mile of the trail up onto the bluffs. It was totally dead for birds except some eagles out on a sand bar in the Mississippi. Nice view, though, but it won’t be much after the leaves come out.

View from Red Rock Landing trail

It was interesting looking at the eagles from up on the bluff; one immature took off and flew across the sand bar to perch in a tree, and I was puzzled by the coloring in his wings — brown on his back, shading pretty abruptly to black on the wing tips. I’d never seen that before, but a quick look in Sibley showed exactly that pattern. Then I realized that I’m not usually looking down at an eagle in flight.

After a mile or so on the trail, it was about 2:30 PM, and I was getting a bit tired — I think my total walking distance for the day was about 9 miles. I headed back and went home. Total species for the day, 49. Not bad when neither shorebird nor warbler migration has started.

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