The whip-poor-will started his nightly calling routine with a cough moments after the sun went down. I set up my tent along a stream last week in the heart of the LaMotte sandstone region of the Ozarks. It was only days before when a big storm rumbled through the area, bringing on fallout for migrating warblers. The next morning, bird song began at 5am with one mellifluous call I hadn't heard in months. And then the wood thrush started singing. One bird started the chorus that morning, but by 6am I was surrounded by thousands of singing birds, a surefire way to kick me out of the tent and grab my binoculars while coffee was brewing.
This is the land of regal ferns, moist sandstone cliffs, and high quality fire-mediated pine-white oak woodlands. The little sandstone-loving Saxifraga virginiensis was in full bloom, sharing the space with Tradescantia virginiana. The 26 year old fire program here has worked magic to restore this signature pine woodland site. When the heat of the day escalated to 85 degrees in early May, the pine duff took on the smell of South Dakota's Black Hills, reminding me of travel season, of barely staying inside long enough to chop cucumbers for my daily summer salad.