Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration 10

About noon, Steve M. brought news of a rarity. After gathering gear and installing me as navigator of the white Birdmobile, Steve set out to seek Smith's Longspurs at Stuttgart Municipal Airport (short u, not like the German city). During the drive, we saw Northern Harriers in flight, which was very cool.

Stuttgart carries a couple distinctions. It's home to the World Championship Duck Calling Contest, and the airport is large enough to land a 727. Steve learned from the fellow in the airport office that renovations will make the runways suitable for a 757. Why? So Vice President Dick Cheney can visit.

We began scanning the grasses. There was a lot of grass and a lot of sparrows. We encountered two fellows who were Cornell volunteers for the ivory-bill search effort; on their day off, they wanted to track down the Smith's. We shared information before going in different directions.

This was my first attempt to locate sparrows in grassland, and my respect for researchers and birders who do this voluntarily grew exponentially. Those little birds are such irritating buggers. We saw the more-obvious Eastern Meadowlarks (their brilliant yellow chests almost blinded me) and a few Short-eared Owls in flight, which was rad.

The two Cornell volunteers began walking into the same field that Steve and I had begun to scour. The pair walked from the south while we walked from the east. (Thank goodness I'd worn boots this morning to handle the water and the mucky orange mud.)

Soon, I heard one fellow yelling "Smith's! See the big white wingbars?" OK, if you say so. I picked up on the call, though, and used that to distinguish the Smith's from the Song Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows that Steve identified.

Eventually, the bitterly cold wind zipping across the prairie did me in. My discomfort overrode my enthusiasm for better looks at the four longspurs that landed a bit in front of Steve. I waited while he stalked them for a while. While retracing our steps across the huge runways, he voiced a longing for his motorcycles while I yearned for my Bimmer. Then we retreated to the warmth of the Birdmobile, where Steve turned on the passenger seat's heater. What a guy.

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