Birding by Canoe

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Great Blue Heron


The Acadian flycatcher is more commonly heard than seen. This little flycatcher arrives in May and hunts and sings from the middle layers of streamside trees. Learning its startled, quick whistle is the best way to identify it. All the flycatchers hunt by darting out from a perch-usually a dead branch-snatching an insect, then returning to the perch.

Swallows also hunt flying insects. The most common species of swallow on the river is the brown and white northern rough-winged swallow. Rough-wings nest in the nooks and crannies of bluffs and cave entrances.

Several of the earliest arriving warblers are river birds, including the prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers, the northern parula and the Louisiana waterthrush. Waterthrushes are also warblers, but their ground-dwelling habits and brown plumage are thrushlike. What the waterthrush lacks in color, it makes up for with its beautiful song-three clear, sweet notes followed by a descending jumble of twittering notes.

The Louisiana waterthrush is common in spring and summer. Look for it constantly dipping and bobbing its tail as it walks along the shoreline among rocks and rootwads in search of insects.

Beautiful yellow-throated warblers have a song similar to the Louisiana waterthrush, but this species will be singing from high in a sycamore tree. In fact, some birders refer to them as "sycamore warblers."

Another beautiful treetop warbler is the northern parula, which has a distinctive buzzy zip that slides up the scale. The cerulean warbler is a species of conservation concern and not commonly seen. However, recent spring surveys have found healthy numbers of this blue and white jewel along Ozark streams, such as the Current River. Its call is sometimes confused with the parula's.

What a cardinal is to the color red, the prothonotary warbler is to yellow. This gorgeous golden bird likes backwater sloughs and other places with sluggish water and standing dead trees. It is the only warbler in the eastern U.S. that nests in cavities. Its song is the stereotypical bird song: tweet, tweet, tweet-but loud and emphatic.

April also sees the arrival of two river birds that are not songsters. The spotted sandpiper-a small shorebird with a spotted breast-prefers open gravel bars, where it hunts along the water's edge.

Spotted sandpipers bob and dip their tails conspicuously, like the Louisiana waterthrush. They have a fluttery flight and look like they are only moving their wingtips. Spotted sandpipers are polyandrous-meaning females mate with more than one male. In this rare

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