Stop! Look! And Listen!

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

now a regular fixture.

Trees in the Whetstone Area woodlands have matured in the last 25 years, but the amount of forested acreage has stayed more or less the same. Likewise, the composition of the forest-dwelling songbird community has not changed appreciably throughout this period. The numbers of the forest birds haven't changed much, either. Some common species in the Whetstone woodlands are yellow-billed cuckoo, eastern wood-pewee, blue-gray gnatcatcher, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, great crested flycatcher, and Kentucky warbler.

Despite its success, the breeding bird survey technique has several limitations. The primary drawback is that the survey is conducted along roads. Roads, of course, mostly go through uplands. Consequently, not all of the habitats on an area are proportionally represented in the survey. At the Whetstone Area, the riparian zone along the creek is represented by only one stop in the survey, and the woodlands are represented by only seven or eight stops.

Generally, birds must be singing to be detected, so the survey does not account for species that have already finished nesting, species that do not vocalize or those whose calls do not carry very far. Since it is a daytime survey, it also does not pick up nocturnal species. For these reasons, this technique should not be the sole measure of questions regarding bird populations, nor should it be the sole means to measure the response of a particular species to a management practice on the Whetstone Area.

In all, 95 species of birds have been recorded on the Whetstone Area breeding bird survey over these 25 years. I looked back over the data to see what to expect in the course of a morning survey. The average number of species that was detected in a morning was 49. The highest was 58 species, and the lowest was 43 species. The average number of individual birds detected in a morning was 404, with a range of 263 birds to 806 birds.

To me, these figures are more than mere numbers. They show that the composition of the bird community has changed as the habitat changed. I hope to continue to conduct the Whetstone Creek bird survey. It's a great excuse to get up early and listen to the chorus of bird songs on a June morning.

Birding on Conservation Areas

Conservation areas throughout the state provide countless opportunities for avid and casual birdwatching. For example, waterfowl viewing is spectacular in February and March at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in Boone County. During summer, look for Swainson's, hooded and prothonotary warblers in the forests along Ozark rivers. Numerous conservation areas provide access to these streams.

From July through October you can find thousands of shorebirds and herons foraging on the muddy flats of drying up wetlands at Grand Pass (Saline County), Otter Slough (Stoddard County) and Shell-Osage (Vernon County) conservation areas.

An informative publication, A Guide to Birding in Missouri, published by the Audubon Society of Missouri, describes 112 birding hot spots in the state, including 44 conservation areas. You can purchase the book at Conservation Department offices, or on-line by going to www.mdcnatureshop.com. -- Brad Jacobs

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