A visit to Maintz conservation area

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.

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