Apple Creek Conservation Area and Citizen Science

I’ve been in the Audubon Society of Missouri for several years now, and ASM has an arrangement with the Missouri Department of Conservation called “CACHE”, for Conservation Area Checklists.   I’ve mentioned this before in this blog — MDC contributes some money annual to the ASM, and ASM agrees to encourage its members to bird MDC Conservation Areas and record the information in eBird.  While the MDC is happy to get data on any of the Conservation Areas, each year they select a few to promote as “target areas”, and ASM pushes especially hard on those.  This fiscal year (starting with July, that is), one of the target areas is Apple Creek Conservation Area, only a few miles from my house.    This is so satisfying for me; I’m not just out wasting time in the woods — I’m doing Citizen Science!

The only problem is that the Mississippi has been at flood stage or above since late March or so.   This means that Apple Creek is unable to drain, and backs up to whatever the river level is.  On March 26 Diane Bricmont and I drove down toward the boat ramp at Apple Creek and found that the road was under water.  In May, I took my kayak, and was able to follow the trail west from the boat ramp by paddling over the top of the gate on the service road.  So birding much of Apple Creek is sort of challenging.  Nevertheless, my friend Mark pointed out that the bar chart for Apple Creek in eBird is really skimpy for the third week of July — there wasn’t even a Red-bellied Woodpecker reported — so yesterday I headed down to see what I could do.

I could have taken the kayak, but I just wasn’t feeling up to that, so I figured I’d do what I could on land.  When I drove down the boat ramp road, sure enough, it was under water a short way past the campground.
Road to the boat ramp at Applc Creek

The trail to the west — look to the left in that photo — would have been walkable for someone with chest waders, maybe.  I birded around the campground, and walked a trail to the east that leads up a hill into the woods.  Then I figured I’d get to the west trail by another route.  I drove back up highway CC to a little parking area, and walked in the service road from there.  This road leads down to the a part of the trail that is on higher ground, at least briefly, and i was able to do a little birding there.  To the west, the trail went back under water where a small creek crosses.  I was going to turn back, but then I realized that it might be possible to cross a field, go in the woods, and get around the flooded bit.  Which I did.

From there, I was able to walk another mile back to what would usually be some shallow ponds.  Right now it’s all part of Apple Creek, and I found several wading birds, all of whom were probably wondering just how far off the beaten track you have to go to avoid these damn birders.  

Flooding at Apple Creek
Little Blue Heron

 

Little Blue Heron in the middle of its molt from immature (white) to mature (blue) plumage.

 

 

Snowy Egret

 

Snowy Egret.

I walked all the way out to the edge of the river, and by then I was hot and thirsty, and had a long walk ahead back to the car.  A little over two miles, in fact, with about 250 feet elevation gain in the process.  When I got back, I was definitely ready to head home, but I’d recorded 48 species of birds.  So tempting to just try to find two more.  I stopped at the turnoff to the shooting range, usually good for a few species, and found that House Sparrows have taken up residence in a culvert, using old Cliff Swallow nests.  49.  I’d had it, and got back in the car.  Just up the road on highway CC, I saw a bird on the wire, and stopped to look — damned if it wasn’t a Purple Martin.  If I’d had my scope, I could have seen it from the edge of the conservation area, so it goes on the list.  50 species, and the third week of July no longer looks skimpy.

 

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