Sunday, August 14, 2011

Late Summer at James A. Reed WA




Sunflowers planted at James A Reed for wildlife.
Photo Credit Amy Petersen
It was a lazy, late-summer morning at James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area.  With the cooler weather we decided to get out and try our birding luck.  This time of year is usually post-breeding for most birds, the young have fledged and are dispersing to feed up for the long migration or in preparation for the winter.

Being the post-breeding season for most birds it was unusually quiet.  Indigo Buntings were calling as usual.  This species seems to enjoy calling well into the day and long after other birds have gone quiet.  We enjoyed a few Bell's Vireos,  getting a good look at one male.  There were also a number of House Wrens, one apparently feeding chicks in a nest box.  The undulating flight of the brightly colored American Goldfinches were very common.

We surprised a Cooper's Hawk eating his morning breakfast and enjoyed the soaring flight of a lone Turkey Vulture.  The Barn Swallows that nest on the floating docks on the lakes around the area were all hanging out on trees and bare branches around the lakes.  I saw none still on the nest.  We enjoyed the presence of one lone Green Heron trying hard to appear like a limb on a log.

One special treat was to see several fields of planted sunflowers.  Sunflowers are planted for wildlife including doves, quail, pheasants and turkeys, along with songbirds. Our two hour trip around the wildlife area was just what was needed after a long, hot summer.  The anticipation of fall is strong in my bones. I look forward to more adventures outdoors.

Monday, July 25, 2011

How about a river cruise?

Our Reception Committee
Having lived most of my life in Missouri, first in St. Louis and now in Kansas City I have always been acutely aware of the presence of the two rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. These rivers bordered my imagination, locating me in my known universe.  I have always been aware of their flow and their presence like the tides to the moon.

So on a recent trip to the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois Amy and I decided to take a drive along the Mississippi River to look for some birds and enjoy the day. As expected there was a fair number of industrial areas along the river but there were also a lot of recreational and natural areas along the river as well.

I was impressed with how much the river was used by people.  I saw boaters, swimmers, fishermen, campers, cyclists and more using the river and the area along the river. It provided a strong contrast to the almost non-existent use of the Missouri River in and around Kansas City. Even St. Louis where I grew up didn't use the river for recreational purposes quite to the extent that the folks of the Quad Cities used there portion of the mighty Mississippi!

There may be many reasons for the difference between Kansas City's non-use of the Missouri and the Quad Cities extensive use of the Mississippi.  First, there is clearly a lack of vision today as to the recreational benefits of the Missouri River. When I drove across the I-29 bridge into Kansas City and looked at the rather anemic Richard Berkley Riverfront Park (Its actually just a handful of skinny trees, a bike path and a parking lot or two) I wondered at the lack of vision. It could be so much more, a much more attractive place to play and possibly work.

Perhaps its more than just vision.  I know that the Levee Districts around Kansas City can be quite difficult to work with(I've heard impossible). These privately controlled districts own the levees and pretty much refuse to allow any access across their levees.  Add to that the various political entities that would have to work cooperatively on both sides of the river and you can see why their is little recreational use of the Missouri in and around Kansas City.

Getting to the heart of the matter may be the lack of the immediate presence of flood control measures on this section of the Missouri, unlike the flood control on the Mississippi.  The Army Corps of Engineers has a Lock and Dam located right in the Quad Cities.  They also control a good portion of the park land that we saw on either side of the river. So their presence has had a positive effect on the recreational opportunities in the area even as they may have upset the natural habitat of the river for such species as the Least Tern or the Pallid Sturgeon. This may be the real explanation of the differences between Kansas City and the Quad Cities.  The historic lack of cooperation between the various county, state and city governments in the Kansas City region would make an organization like the Corps essential in the creation of the recreational opportunities that they have in the Quad Cities.

How about a river cruise?
The bottom line for me as that I would love to see us move away from treating the Missouri and Mississippi like an open sewer and start maintaining it for conservation and recreational purposes.  Wouldn't a springtime stroll along the river or a dinner cruise on a steamboat be a better use of the river than just treating it like a sewer and trash dump?  How about a nice canoe trip down river on a summer afternoon rather than dumping old appliances onto its shores? How about allowing some areas along the river return to their natural pre-settlement uses as wetlands and habitat for deer, waterfowl, and turkeys? It just takes vision.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Red tails are Redder than ever

Patch staying cool.
Well we can confirm that there are three, not two, fledglings from this years Red tail next in Loose Park. We were able to see at the same time two adults and three young 'uns; and we have finally given them all names. The father we call Gage, the mother is Patch (because of a conspicuous white patch on her back) and the three juveniles Cream the oldest and most independent(named after his all white or cream colored chest, belly and legs), Yankee Doodle (named for his stripped belly and red vest) and Three Feathers the youngest and most vocal of all the birds (named for her three dark feathers that protrude into her white chest).

The family is all together with dad often perching high above the din of the city on an antenna atop a tall apartment building. Yesterday, Dad was joined by Cream and Three Feathers while mom and Yankee Doodle hung around the park, panting from the heat.

Loose Park Red Tails: An Update

Well Spring has turned to Summer and the nestlings have become fledglings.  In recent weeks Amy and I have spotted at least two fledglings out of the nest.  They can fly but have not learned to catch food for themselves so their parents have been kept busy.

Three Feathers on a recent visit to our window at work.
We have named the more dominant one Cream and the more dependent bird Three Feathers.  Three Feathers has three dark feathers protruding from the neck into the white or cream upper chest area.  Three Feathers spends a lot of time calling to be feed while and seems to have more trouble flying.  She spent a lot of time on the ground alongside a building or perching on top of the building's cornice.

Cream is less vocal but more dominant.   He (I assume he is a male) has less trouble flying, tends to be more posed, more independent.  He is called Cream because his entire chest, belly and legs are an unmarked Cream or Off-white color.  Cream is a beautiful bird that I first noticed in the nest with his stark coloration.

What is special about following these Red-Tails is the ability to compare their behavior to last years brood.  There always seems to be a dominant sibling, probably the first born. They tend to hang around near their natal nest as long as their parents are feeding them.  Last year's adults seemed to disappear in late summer or fall leaving the young to fend for themselves.  The last I saw of last years young was in late Fall early Winter in a neighborhood several miles from the nest.  A young Red-Tail hand caught a squirrel and was getting ready to eat when another Red-Tail came over to claim the food much to the vocal protests of the first Red-Tail.  But readily acquiesced to the more dominant Red-Tail.   I have not seen them since and wish them well.