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April 18, 2010 by Joseph C. Neal


Joseph C. Neal

My friend Joe Woolbright from Siloam Springs holds forth mornings at a café named Kathy’s Corner. He is more of the liberal persuasion, but his table mates tend toward Rush. So, with the coming of ice & snow in the past few weeks, folks all around Joe at the table have driven the icy-snowy roads to Kathy’s, bringing with them questions like, “Well Woolbright, I guess that finishes off the global warming idea” etc. Joe points out that climate change is not about a single event or year. It’s about long term trends. In terms of his breakfast friends, he might as well just go out and howl at the cold moon.

Birds are indicators of a changing climate. We now find birds here regularly that once spent the winter south of the Ozarks. On the recently concluded Fayetteville Christmas Bird count, for example, we found 13 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, an unheard-of event until the 1980s.

I think about this when I’m out birding. On January 4 I walked the perimeter of Chesney Prairie Natural Area near Siloam Springs. I found American Tree Sparrows in several spots during the afternoon, including one flock of at least 30 birds. They flushed up & brightly decorated a barbed wire fence and the weeds and little bushes holding it up. I also drove county roads around Chesney. Much of the landscape is ice/snow covered & frozen, so many of the field birds have turned to open roadsides, where there is ample food spilled from poultry feed trucks. Savannah Sparrows in 1s, 2, and flocks were along & on the road, joined by White-crowned Sparrows, Harris’s Sparrows, and others. Lots of meadowlarks have joined the roadside feast. In order to separate Eastern & Western Meadowlarks, I kept trying to look at malar areas behind the bill (more yellow on Westerns, for example), but my fingers got too stiff to comfortably use the binoculars. It is a good opportunity, though, if your fingers can take it.

In one spot I found 25 Horned Larks, similarly employed chasing down waste grain. These birds were along a private road into an egg production facility. I was watching them from an open & obviously public road, looking for Lapland Longspurs among them. Soon, two business-like, stiff-faced youngish gentlemen drove out from the egg plant, parked right snug up behind me & requested that I state my business. I would have thought my binoculars would have sufficed, but then they could also be used for spying…

Finally, I have received two emails with photographs from friends in Madison County with two unusual birds at their feeder. The first is a possible Spotted Towhee (a western bird unusual here) and the second a pair of Rusty Blackbirds, from the far north, where they nest in the Boreal Forest.



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