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The Accidental Bird Watcher

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

hunting, and my partner and I had split to work both sides of a long, wooded fence row. My little setter suddenly slowed to a trot and began picking her way into an adjoining field of tall grass. She had her head held high and was definitely scenting something, her tail going from dead still, to a slow side-to side motion.

Then, the world around us erupted in prairie chickens. Not all the prairie grouse came up at once, but about every two seconds a new one burst from the grass. They seemed so much bigger than the bobwhites I was expecting. They all flew in the same direction, uphill, alternately beating their wings and gliding. I kept expecting them to drop back into the field, but they went to the skyline, finally cresting out of sight over a little country cemetery.

My dog's eyes were as big as saucers, and my heart was beating like a jackhammer. Prairie chickens have long been a protected species in Missouri and, sadly, their range, despite the best efforts of conservationists, seems to be shrinking. I have since seen them on other occasions and feel privileged to have done so, knowing that, 50 years from now, Missourians may not be able to share my experience.

When I first moved to central Missouri, the Conservation Department was working to restore Canada geese. Having had no experience with these birds, I found myself fascinated with them and spent time watching the birds on local ponds. They apparently mate for life, are incredibly vocal and are excellent parents. A subspecies nests in cliffs along the Missouri River, and even now, while riding a bicycle on the Katy Trail in spring, I will hear some of these cliff nesting geese calling from the river bluffs.

While fishing or canoeing, I always enjoy seeing kingfishers, the jaunty birds with the Woody Woodpecker topknot and saucy personality. They most often pass overhead, making a chattering noise while following the stream. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to see one plunge in the water and come up with a minnow wiggling in its pointed beak. On canoe trips, too, I see wood ducks, the most colorful of all waterfowl. In early summer it may be a female with a brood, racing ahead nervously at my approach with her offspring following frantically behind.

Much later in the season, when winter sunsets paint the

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