07 February 2016

MO Town

Between all the travels you've seen highlighted on SYAS so far this year, we've spent considerable time in NE Missouri at one of our home bases near Hannibal.

Truth be told, we haven't ventured very far afield lately which means mostly birding the property instead.  Although we're situated 7-8 miles from the Mississippi River, the property is mostly upland deciduous forest with several mowed fields bordered by cedar clumps and shorter scrub.

As one might expect for the dead of winter, the woods are a fair bit quieter than they were in May when cuckoos, warblers, and buntings were all in full song.  So far in 2016, we've tallied 32 species via 17 checklists here on the property which hosts a pretty standard package of expected winter residents.  Here's our list in taxonomic order:

Canada Goose
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

You might think with us being so close to St. Louis that we get Eurasian Tree Sparrows here on the property... but we don't.  In fact, we don't even get House Sparrows (no complaints there)!  Along the same theme of non-existent exotics, we never see House Finches here either.  Instead, the native PURPLE FINCHES dominate at the feeders.  Here's a male hanging out with some goldfinches:
I honestly really enjoy having these finches around.  The hollow tek call notes you hear are a dead giveaway that they're somewhere nearby.  The females, although lacking pinks and reds, are marked with bold and blurry brown streaks on the breast, belly, and flanks while the head sports a white supercilium:
Although the feeders might have a flurry of activity one second, they might all scatter as soon as this bold and boisterous corvid comes swooping in.  This staple in backyards throughout much of the east is the all-familiar BLUE JAY.  Here's one as it adds seeds to its crop:
Are you familiar with what a crop is?  It's an expandable and muscular pouch in the esophagus that's used to temporarily store food.  This way, when a Blue Jay comes to a feeder, it can load up on seeds and then fly off and cache them at different locations.  Not all birds have crops though.  For example, gulls... no crop.  Owls and geese?  Likewise.

During one of our swings into Hannibal, we stopped along the river and took a look around.  Besides the many BALD EAGLES (a common winter resident in these parts) the river was mostly quiet; a small group of RING-BILLED GULLS flew lazily around the marina, a lone GREAT BLUE HERON was creeping along the edge, a small flock of MALLARDS came in to dabble around.  The only excitement, if you can call it that, was when a sizable flock of big white birds came flying over from the north.  It was a group of 27 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS.  I quickly entered that into my eBird checklist on my phone (via the eBird app) and saw they were flagged due to the flock size.  I still had time before they were out of view and so I grabbed my camera and took some distant pictures as they continued south:
Even though they aren't super rare around here, I do my honest best to get proof ANYTIME something is flagged.  Here's a cropped-in version of 6 of the 27:
We'll be headed to New York within the week so stay tuned for an update from some other corner of the US.