Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Squaw Creek

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Reserve , a bird sanctuary located near Mound City, Missouri, which is north of St. Joseph and just a few miles off of I-29, reported recently that 203,000 snow geese are currently at the sanctuary, in addition to the 28,000 ducks, and 295 bald eagles. I manage to visit the sanctuary once every autumn. If I lived closer, I would welcome the opportunity to go there more often; it is about a two hour drive one-way from where I live. Spending time among the birds now, before the approach of a winter storm, would be preferable to preparing for another semester.

During my visit in November on what the merchants call Black Friday, that is, the day after Thanksgiving, there were more than 100,000 snow geese and about 200,000 ducks at the site. The weather that day was abnormally warm, about 55 degrees or so, and a number of frogs were sunning themselves along the pathway to the observation tower. The frogs would have made for an easy dinner for the great blue herons that typically layover before heading farther south.

The snow geese are more easily frightened than Canadian geese and some strange sound or an eagle passing close-by causes nearly the entire flock to suddenly lift off and circle the water where they had been resting just minutes before. All of this activity occurs as the geese are vocalizing to each other; the combination of what the Smithsonian Birds of North America refers to as “nasal barking” creates a cacophony that fills the afternoon and haunts one afterwards.

This nature reserve closes at dusk. A great many ducks return around this time from their forages for food in nearby fields. The combinations of their songs are especially pretty, with some birds more prominent at one moment but silent a moment later. Although I had been capturing the afternoon at this reserve with my camera, I was awestruck by the sounds that I was hearing and would have preferred remaining much longer. Those sounds are replayed in my head when I look at some of the pictures I took during that Friday afternoon.