Friday, June 13, 2008

Meramec River Hills

"Yay for this site!" my bushy haired friend exclaimed as he jumped into the passenger's seat of Jane's sturdy red truck. I think he spoke for all of us on the birding trip this week when he proclaimed that the glade we had just hiked through was hard to beat. We spent the morning in a lousy old field (currently being managed for quail and seriously devoid of diversity) looking for Henslow's sparrows and grasshopper sparrows. No luck in the old field, so we drove several miles to a glade looking for glade species. We all ambled through about 20 yards of high quality dry chert woodlands and met the benchmark. The dolomite glade we visited in an effort to hear Bachman's sparrows, prairie warblers and Eastern wood peewees turned out to be the richest glade I've ever seen in Missouri. My fellow birders, some great natural historians in the mix, were equally impressed.

As I looked out over the acres of pink Echinacea simulata in full bloom, my brilliant colleague explained the glade's geology: The Meramec River Hills "are like walnut ice cream. The dolostone erodes from the top of the ridge, leaving behind a thick layer of chert which is perched on top of dolomite bedrock." Surrounded by dry chert woodlands, these glades are interspersed with gnarly old post oaks and knobby dolomite outcroppings. More importantly for the group, the glade hosted prairie warblers, yellow throated warblers and chipping sparrows. More importantly for me, it was a midmorning of firsts.

I've traversed acres upon acres of glades. I've seen crummy ones, quality ones, some that have been wrecked by echinacea root diggers, others that have been grazed so much that they didn't have any forb diversity whatsoever. But I've never seen the poster child for glades in Missouri: the Eastern collared lizard. Exquisitely patterned, large in size with the fascinating habit of running on hind legs, Eastern collared lizards are one of Missouri's most collected reptiles. Glades around St. Louis have been so ravaged by the St. Louis Herpetological Society members that they no longer even possess populations. A fellow birder spotted this one sunning on a big dolomite outcropping. Excited, I walked slowly towards the gravid female when a colleague muttered, disgustedly, "yeah, but the population is introduced." A state agency transported lizards from one glade to this one to increase the opportunities for wildlife viewing. So, really, my first view of an Eastern collared lizard was, essentially, in a zoo. Oh well.

The timber rattlesnake, however, was not introduced. Tucked under a big slab of dolomite, I could see and hear the namesake tail rattling in an attempt to repel us. Poor snake, he didn't realize that among our bird watching group was a 50-ish year old who instinctively grabs a prying stick when he finds a snake under a rock. After several failed attempts to gently cajole the monstrous snake from his hiding spot with a desiccated oak branch, my colleague gave up and set out westward in an attempt to locate another one while the rest of us listened to a blue grosbeak perched high in a post oak. I saw the tail rattle and the beautifully colored sides of a timber rattlesnake. That's enough for now. I was just happy to be on the glade.

So, I'm attaching pictures of the dolomite glade, an Eastern collared lizard, ground plums, these tasty little morsels that burst in your mouth like a grape, and finally, this exquisitely colored grasshopper. Notice the incredible blue flashing on the leg. Underneath he's orange. I trust one of the fine entomologists I know will let me know who this is...I was surrounded by botanists and birders, with not an entomologist in the bunch.

I took almost 100 pictures at this site, which was a good thing because I spent the rest of the week, barring an hour, at really lousy sites where my camera stayed in my pack for most of the day. Yay for this site, indeed.

1 comment:

Ted M. said...

I'm not so good with grasshoppers, but I did recognized it as one of the bandwinged grasshoppers (a subfamily of the Acrididae). I figured the orange/blue femora should be diagnostic and quickly came up with orangewinged grasshopper (Pardalophora phoenicoptera). This grasshopper is unusual in that nymphs overwinter (rather than eggs), so adults are present in spring rather than later in summer. It is also the "official grasshopper" of the Florida Gators ;-)

Fantastic looking glade - I love the picture of the lonely, gnarled post oak.