A Naturalist Voice
The event has been described in naturalists’ circles as the “Sky Dance”. The fans of the book The Sand County Almanac are very familiar with it. I have enjoyed the avian flight dance for decades and now look forward to the weeks of performance running most every late winter day on my own property. The stage is set along my resident nature trail and long driveway snaking through native grass lots, young forest and shrubby fields. The “stage curtain” rises as the sun retires and I find myself on edge waiting for the first player to come out. I have known colleagues who have rushed home from work to catch a television show or sports event, clearly I understand their anticipation. Now every February and March I’m going home, work can wait, the sky dance is premiering.
The contestants are the American Woodcocks and often we Ozarkers know them as “Timberdoodles”. They are related to the graceful shorebirds of this country’s beaches and mudflats. Perhaps the timberdoodle is the awkward shorebird cousin, for when I mention to beginning birders the woodcock is “gnome-like”, I get nods and smiles from the baffled birdwatchers.
Twilight brings the performance of the males and it is both visual and auditory. The nasal “peent” call is the icebreaker. The call is given from the males at ground level. The first famous flight display of the evening is a wide circular flight against a backdrop of sunset pastels. The timberdoodles go higher and higher; the whole time the wings quiver and make a twittering sound. The most engaging part of the night show is there are sky circles taking place everywhere! Perhaps at the peak of height, around 300 ft. the twittering jingle stops and a flight song accompanies a zig zag flight to the ground. If the gnome remark created a sparkle in the eyes of a beginning birder, you should see the expression when I mention the song resembles the sound of kisses on my face from my great aunts in my youth. If you have that sort of extended family in your childhood, I guarantee you will recognize the sound. The cycle of peenting, display flights and songs continue well into the darkness and sometimes have a short encore at the break of dawn. It is the type of show in natural history that entwines the fabric of our personality to the outdoors.
We who appreciate nature seek these adventures and want to share them. We recognize the naturalist bond in every thread of our experience. I could not agree more with my champion Aldo Leopold who wrote about the drama of the sky dance and my mentor Dr. Janice S. Greene (MSU Biology Dept.) who first introduced me to his writings and observations. I encourage everyone to grab a youth, friend, or even an aunt and seek out the timberdoodle’s gift to our outdoor experience.
Jeff Cantrell is a local biologist and educator in SW Missouri, adjunct professor at MSU and proud member of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Becky Wylie
It’s that time of year again — time to view the eagles at Stella. The Chert Glades Master Naturalists will be hosting the Festival of Eagles on Saturday, January 24, 2015 at Stella, Missouri. Activities begin at 10:00 a.m. and go until 3:00 p.m. There will be scopes set up for getting up close and personal views of the eagles who visit Stella every year.
Representatives from the Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Master Naturalists will be available for answering questions. There will be a life-sized eagle nest replica, a life-sized eagle wingspread to compare your “wing span” to that of an eagle, face painting, and more. Volunteers will be scouting the area for good viewing opportunities and maps will be available to help you get the best views. Every year the town of Stella has some goodies available for those who visit. There will be hot coffee, hot cocoa, and baked goodies available at the Methodist Church.
For directions to Stella, you can check mapquest or google maps. Here are simplified directions: from Joplin, take I 49 south to Neosho, exit 24 (US 60). Turn left. Go 1.3 miles. Turn righ on I 49 BUS/MO 59/US 71 BUS S. Go 1.3 miles. Turn left on Lyon Dr. Go 1.5 miles. Turn right on Doniphan, go .8 miles. The road will curve left and become Hwy. D. Go 10.6 miles. Turn left onto Hwy. A. Go .8 miles and you will be in Stella. The activities will be located at the city park on the corner of Carter & Ozark streets.
So, come join us for a day of fun in the great outdoors. Dress for the weather, bring your camera and binoculars, if you have them, but mostly just come to enjoy the day. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with your family, learning about one of the great successes of conservation.
In winter, Missouri is a leading migratory stop for Bald Eagles, and Stella is a great place to see them!
Bald Eagle recovery is a spectacular conservation success story!
- 1782 – Adopted as national symbol; 100,000 nests (est)
- 1800’s(early) – Nesting eagles common in Missouri
- 1900 – Numbers declining; eagles shot on sight to protect livestock; no Missouri nests
- 1940 – In danger of extinction; Bald Eagle Protection Act makes harming, possessing or harassing illegal
- 1962 – U.S. nesting pairs dwindle to about 400; Silent Spring(Rachel Carson) is published linking the pesticide DDT to thinning eggs that break during incubation or otherwise fail to hatch
- 1972 – DDT banned
- 1978 – Listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act(ESA)
- 1983 – First report of re-nesting in Missouri
- 1995 – Status upgraded to “threatened” (ESA)
- 2007 – Bald Eagles completely de-listed (ESA)
- 2007-present – More than 2000 Bald Eagles winter in Missouri with 200-300 nesting pairs!
Photography: Kevin Mouser, Ken Middick, Katharine Spigarelli, Becky Wylie
Eagle facts: Val Frankoski
- See more at: http://chertglades.org/?p=2012#sthash.0RqA0N1a.dpuf