The World's Best Birdwatcher
hear a single wood warbler, thrush or vireo that were so plentiful decades ago," Winter said.
Each year, Winter lamented, there is "a greater stillness" in the remaining forests of the Midwest. Loss of habitat, both in the U.S. and in the birds' wintering ranges in Mexico and Central America, has drastically reduced the populations of many forest and grassland bird species. In fact, the cerulean warbler has declined range-wide at an annual rate of 4.3 percent a year since 1966, according to an analysis of the USGS Breeding Bird Survey.
On the other hand, two purple martin houses on Roaring Spring Ranch attract about 10 pairs of purple martins each year, and an array of hummingbird feeders attract a large number of rubythroated hummingbirds. Around Taylor's ranch home, the hummingbirds may consume a half-gallon of sugar-nectar each day during late spring, summer and early fall.
The ranch is also home to the gray bat, a federally endangered species. These bats inhabit Roaring Spring Cave, near the mouth of Roaring Spring. The cave is one of the few known breeding sites of the gray bat and is monitored by Missouri conservation agents under an easement provided by the Winter family. Each year, after the bats have hibernated, agents enter the cave and gauge the amount of deposited guano to assess the bat population. Population estimates dropped about 75 percent over the last several decades but rebounded somewhat in a recent survey.
With more than 7,700 bird species and 30 years of serious birdwatching behind him, Winter has taken up a new hobby--identifying in the field all 200 species of wildflowers that the late Edgar Denison illustrated in his classic book, Missouri Wildflowers.
Winter met Denison many years ago while they were birding together in St. Louis' Forest Park. Through the years, Winter often called upon Denison to help identify wildflowers.
"I recall seeing along the Meramec a wildflower I had never before encountered," Winter recalled. "While I thought it was a member of the mint family, I called Edgar to describe to him what I had found. He told me I was eyeing the beefsteak plant, Perilla frutescens, then a recent immigrant from India.
"Apparently, the wildflower had found the moist river valleys of Missouri to be to its liking," he continued. "When I visited India years later, I looked for the beefsteak and found it growing in the river