Stop! Look! And Listen!
The red rim of the rising sun was barely visible on the eastern horizon as I took the Williamsburg exit off Interstate 70. It was June, 2002 and I was on my way to conduct the annual survey of breeding birds on the Whetstone Creek Conservation Area.
When the surveys began in 1977, the Missouri Department of Conservation had only recently acquired the Whetstone Conservation Area, and I was a newly hired research biologist. Now, I was about to participate in my 25th annual breeding bird survey on the area. As I turned off the blacktop and onto the gravel road that leads into the area, I couldn't help but reflect on the changes that the Whetstone landscape and its bird community had experienced during the last 25 years.
When the Conservation Department bought Whetstone, it was a working cattle ranch. Covering more than 5,000 acres, it was half open land and half forest. The broad ridges had been planted to cool-season pasture, in which the predominant grass was fescue. The valley of Whetstone Creek, from which the area would derive its new name, was fescue pasture, as well. Grazing on these pastures kept the vegetation clipped so low that it was possible to stand on one side of a large pasture and see up to a mile across it to the other side. The draws leading down from the uplands to the valley were forested, and much of the woodland was grazed. There were some crop fields in the southwest and northwest corners, but they represented only a fraction of the overall area.
Several different Conservation Department managers have had a hand in shaping the landscape of the Whetstone Area since 1977. Early on, they battled to convert the vegetation from big expanses of fescue to smaller, more diverse patches of cover and food for wildlife. Native grasses have been planted to replace some of the fescue, which is a non-native grass. Today's management of the area employs a number of practices, including controlled burning, grazing, haying and grain planting in the open lands; and timber cutting and thinning in the forest lands.
Creating wildlife habitat has been the goal of management since the beginning. Some people first think of the animals that provide hunting opportunity when they think of wildlife, which isn't surprising. They like to see deer when they drive around Conservation Department land in the summer or