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Friday, May 14, 2010

The Last Day & It's Big Birdie Rewards

Meeman Shelby Forest trail

It was the last full day of vacation, something I always enjoy and dread at the same time. Bright and early we headed east to Meeman Shelby Forest where we bombed out on finding our target warblers a week earlier. As we walked away from the car and onto the gravely forest trail, it occurred to us, we were not as much birding, as feeding the mosquitoes. As we walked along, I sweated & swatted. It felt like we were traversing a sauna room in hell, complete with miniature harpies. The birds of the forest were happy enough though. Indigo Buntings, Eastern Peewees, Cardinals, Northern Parula warblers and hosts of Robins sang like we had paid admission to hear them.

Sassafras Tree; Don pointed out its leaves have
1, 2 or 3 lobes, as you can see for yourself

We hadn’t gotten far when I hit a peak of whiny-ness, suggesting I return to the car and drive on to the Shelby Grocery store on a quest for bug spray, to save our lives in the manner of leaving the wounded in the desert to go off in search of water to save both our lives. No doubt, I was suffering from humidity poisoning. Don talked me out of taking an hour off of our morning to fetch bug spray.
It took perhaps 45 minutes for us to realize the birds were messing with us, or worse, Jerry Wilson, the Old Coot we had birded with in Tennessee, messing with us. Cerulean Warblers? Swainson’s Warblers? Nonsense. The species did not exist. It was a joke pulled off by Peterson, another old guy with a cruel sense of humor. We gave up and headed back for the car.
Of course, we checked any movement in the trees along the way. I caught sight of what I thought might be a vireo but found myself excited and yelping at Don, “Swainson’s Warbler!”

Swainson’s Warbler , not my photo though; bird too fast, photo too focused

Don checked out the bird, with its eye stripe, cinnamon crown and habitat that didn’t match the sloping habitat we’d been told the species inhabits. We had been checking for the bird along the underbrush where the species is known to creep along in the manner of Connecticut Warblers. But this silly bird was darting about in a tall shrub, almost 6 feet above the ground. What the heck, the bottom line was Don and I both had a much desired lifer species; our morning was not wasted.
Again, we headed for the car, now not freely giving up our blood to the mosquitoes, just in case they had anything to do with the appearance of our target bird. After a while, Don spotted an Epidonax type Flycatcher. We stared at the bird with its yellowish belly, orange-ish bill. Don said the bird had long wing extensions which means something really important which I hope I understand some day before I die. We added up the key points of the bird and BINGO! I had another lifer species; the Acadian Flycatcher. And the bugger held still so I got several better-than-nothing photos of it.

My lifer Acadian Flycatcher

Hurrah! High fives and four thumbs up, we were jubilant when we reached the car. We drove on to a second site in Shelby Forest. It was a spot Don hiked a week earlier, when I refused to budge from the car. After parking, Don defended himself from a crabby, nasty tempered she-bear that growled… um, that would have been me. I can’t be blamed for my evil temper, it was probably the loss of blood from the ravenous mosquitoes that were determined to suck me dry. They bit Don too, but for some reason his skin didn’t react to the bites so while his skin was baby’s arse soft, mine had the look and feel of a Tasmanian Devil’s snout. It took about an hour of my bitching and a half hour of walking to reach the end of the trail, marked by a private residence. We turned around and headed back for the car. We saw loads of Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers & their ilk, flitting along the road but not our target bird.

Great-crested Flycatchers 'sally'
after insects from high perches
Then Don’s ears perked. He’d heard a call matching the Cerulean Warbler’s song played from my iPhone. The calls came from tall trees near a park maintenance building, littered with equipment loaded on trailers. We stood there playing the iPhone and and lo! In flew a petite and beautiful Cerulean Warbler, a male! The tiny bird flew back and forth high over our heads in the tree tops. It sang a bold song of challenge to my iPhone.

Petite & colorful male Cerulean Warble
Not my photo

I tried for photos but once again, the eensie warbler turned my camera into a humongous piece of useless equipment for hauling around in futility. Oh well! What do I care, I got my third lifer for the day, my 16th lifer for the trip! Don had his second lifer for the day and a new bird for his annual birding list.
We spent the remainder of our last day driving back into Tennessee and revisiting the Water Treatment Plant we hit the first day of our trip. Unfortunately the Stilt Sandpipers and such were again most conspicuous in their absence. Before we left the area though, we decided to visit the nearby Chucalissa Archaeological Museum.

Chucalissa Archeological Museum

Serpent mosiac detail

The Chucalissa – and they didn’t call themselves by that name – were farmers, hunters and traders that lived in the Memphis area at least 3,000 years ago, then disappeared for no known reason. The Chucalissa left behind loads of artifacts, including pottery, tools, weapons and most notably, large earthen mounds that today’s archaeologists busy themselves guessing at the meaning & use of.
Don and I found that all out by paying the fee and touring both the museum collections and the former Chucalissa mounds where, long ago an active Chucalissa village full of native North American peoples went about their daily lives.
The museum was interesting. The gift shop (otherwise known as a Claire trap’) was free to visit. I am proud to announce I came away from the entire vacation with nothing more than photos and one engraved rock I bought at the museum gift shop. Then after paying our entrance fees we watched a movie on the Chucalissa, which can be seen on line for free here, but y’all come back now, heah?
We were able to have a short tour in the museum’s inner sanctum where exhibits are assembled and artifacts examined.

Behind the Scenes

After touring the other stand up exhibits, we went out to the museum’s ‘backyard’ for a walk around the grounds. It had seemed strange to me at first, the mounds being so high, when usually old digs are found buried down below the debris of time. Apparently the Chucalissa actually carried & piled rocks on spots they chose for . The mounds, and again I have no idea why they were so high up. That made for high platfomrs, where the Chucalissa peoples gathered to trade farmer’s market style, or simply get together for dances and such. One can only imagine how simple or elaborate the area must have looked 3,000 years ago.

Central plaza mound where the peoples would have gathered

click for a closer look at second, larger
mound with stairs visitors can climb to the summit

After the Chucalissa Musuem, we were on the path back to California, vacation was pretty much over and it was time to head west to home. Bugger.

This poster is the closest I got to
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Arkansas

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