Sand Prairie Conservation Area (and others)

Sand Prairie

Because the Conservation Nature Center roped me into their Big Year event, I’ve been paying attention to my year list lately. So Friday night when I started thinking about where to bird the next day, I remembered that my friend Mark had recently mentioned that Lark Sparrow was pretty much guaranteed at Sand Prairie. Having missed that one so far this year, I decided to head down there in the morning.

I got to Sand Prairie just at sunrise, a little after 5:30 in the morning. The MDC is restoring prairie vegetation on this 200-acre plot, and it’s unlike anything else in the region. There are big expanses of sand almost devoid of plants, but a lot of it is covered with native plants that you don’t see elsewhere. At first glance, it looks sort of dull — hardly any trees, just low scrubby-looking stuff. But when you walk out from the parking area, you realize how diverse it actually is. I find that I can’t walk very fast, because I’m afraid I’ll step on something beautiful.

But this time I was looking specifically for Lark Sparrows. I got out of the car, started to spray on some insect repellent, looked up on the power lines, and there was a lark sparrow perched on the wire. Bingo. Kind of takes the pressure off. I wasn’t in any hurry, so I stayed an hour and a half, walking into the prairie a bit. Lark sparrows were everywhere, and when the light got better, one posed pretty nicely for me.

Lark Sparrow

As always, there were loads of Grasshopper Sparrows, and some interesting flyovers — a Cooper’s Hawk, a couple of Common Nighthawks, a Green Heron, a Belted Kingfisher. And lovely plants. Like this American Jointweed that decided to flower very early:

Sand Prairie

And several of these, which I’m informed are Hoary Puccoon:

Sand Prairie

After Sand Prairie, I drove back north on Highway N, and stopped at Cape Lacroix Bluffs Conservation Area outside Scott City. I know this place mainly for the trail up onto the bluff, where in winter you can set up a scope and look at waterfowl out on the slough to the north. When I got out of the car, I heard the buzzy call of Bank Swallows, which were swooping all around. They were congregating to the west of the parking lot in a pit where the port authority has been digging sand. When I looked that way with binoculars, I was excited to see the swallows climbing in and out of holes in the sandy bank.

Bank Swallows

Bank Swallows

I just hope the port doesn’t decide to dig more sand for a few weeks.

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