Sunday, April 24, 2011

The St. Joseph Oxbows

American White Pelicans at Horseshoe Lake
South of St. Joseph, Missouri the fertile farmland stretches from the bluffs to the river.  All long this corridor are oxbow lakes, remnants of the Missouri River that have been orphaned from the flow of the river.  These lakes have become an oasis for migrating shorebirds, waterfowl and wading birds. Because of this abundance they are also one of my favorite places to bird.

Just south of St. Joseph is an oxbow called Horseshoe Lake just along Highway 59.  In the mornings during the spring and fall migration seasons the lake becomes an avian airport with a constant stream of birds coming and going, taxing and loafing.  Its quite a sight.

Imagine standing on the shore of this shallow lake engulfed in the constant calls of Red-winged Blackbirds, the twittering of five swallow species and the occasional eruptions of the wild, frenetic calls of the Pied-billed Grebe.

White-faced Ibises and Snowy Egrets 
The lake is filed with legions of American Coots patrolling the weedy shorelines; rafts of Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers, each paired off refueling for their long journey; squadrons of American White Pelicans  and Double-crested Cormorants coming and going in waves across the 3/4 mile long lake; the edges of the lake are teeming with countless Sandpipers, Godwits, Dowitchers, and Stilts. Most regal of all are the Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and White-faced Ibises holding vigil in the shallows.

The skies above the lake are filled with the busy traffic of Bank, Barn, Rough-winged, Tree and Cliff Swallows doing their best to put a dent in the profusion of bugs that fill the air.  Cormorants and ducks take off in pairs and larger groups.  From time to time the air is filled with the mass arrival of flights of ducks, geese, cormorants, sandpipers and myriads of others as they settle in from their flight or return from their early morning forays.

American White Pelicans in flight
Of special note are the flights of American White Pelicans that lumber into the air with a grace that belies their large size.  They are all strength and dignity and are always accompanied by a great stirring sound that is quite audible as they fly overhead.  It is a sound of strength and mastery of the air, it must be the sound that angels make as the descend from on high.  It is a presence.

Each trip to the oxbow lakes of St. Joseph leaves me with a sense of peace and beauty.  It reminds me of the mystery of nature, the sudden discovery of what you hadn't imagine was present.  It leaves me with the eyes to see the beauty all around and an expectant heart.  I can't wait to see whats around the corner.

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