Monday, November 12, 2012

Revenge (of the non-violent kind) - Part 1

It was happening again. Tim was heading out west and needed a companion in arms. The prairies, he said, epic back country hiking in the rockies, he said, Grizzly in the back country, the North Cascades, and lots of beers. I was sold! 

First order of business on the trip, revenge. Last April we battled blizzards, indigestion (from all the beer and doughnuts), inaccurate directions and fatigue to find both McCown's Longspur and Chesnut-collared Longspur in full stunning breeding garb. However, we missed one of them, the Smith's Longspur! Well that wouldn't do, so naturally our quest was to catch those buggers coming back from the tundra as they passed through the mid-west to the grasslands of Texas for the winter. The problem, they aren't easy to find! Rolling into Neal Smith NWR in Iowa late at night we decided to sleep in the car and wake up to prowl the grass the next morning with high hopes.  Two things I discovered about Iowa, they like to put lots of cheese on their pizza (We actually ate a pizza from the gas station that had too much cheese! When does that ever happen?!) and they have birds! Who would have thought that a crummy mid-west state was interesting. Regardless I digress. The morning came and the grasslands were alive! Sparrows and blackbirds were everywhere! However, after a whole morning of searching we still hadn't found any Longspurs. Getting distracted by a cute naturalist for a time at the visitor's center, we remembered our real quest and were at it again. No luck! Despair was setting in. We were losing the battle and the black hills and the Rockies were calling our name. We didn't have much time! Okay new plan. With a hot tip from a different naturalist we left the refuge. A Wildlife Management Area nearby had a few there, or so we hoped. Without getting lost, we made it only to find a man pulling up with two dogs at the exact field we were supposed to look. Running wild, I watched as Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow flushed before the dogs and slightly cursed our luck. Thankfully, the guy seeing us with binoculars and prowling the field decided to take the dogs elsewhere. So we worked it. Up and down we trod. Sprague's Pipits flushed beneath. Beauties!
Western Meadowlark
 After a false alarm, they flushed, two Longspurs, calling with an un assuming rattle, sweet music to our ears. Landing, we apporach but flush them again. And again! More carefully we crept on where we had seen them land for a third time. Its got to be right in front of us, we thought. Shit! Flushed again! One takes off and lands nearby. Okay we've got it now, we will creep up and not move any closer until we see it! So creep we did, and crept some more. Finally we were within 7 meters of where it landed. Nothing... or wait! Creeping in the grass it was there! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We soaked up the bird for a good 10 minutes as it fed in the grass sometimes as close as 5 meters away. Finally I decided to get on my belly and see how close I could get. Crawling, I got within 3 meters. Then it was just me, the bird, and the grasslands! The spur war was won, and joy and elation went to the victors! 


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