Tuesday, June 03, 2014

In the Flatwoods

The instructions I gave the group were simple: hike up the hill to where the land flattens out. In the Niangua Basin, these broad flat hilltops are ubiquitous, and, in many cases, still in wonderful ecological condition. The Upland Flatwoods here are characterized by a clay fragipan that allows for pooling water and stunted canopy growth; so, the scattered blackjack and post oaks that populate the area are short enough that one can easily see yellow-throated vireos up close in May.

A lovely day in late May awaited us with spiderwort in full bloom in the flatwoods. These perched water table-based landscapes tend to harbor different suites of sedges and, in some of the wetter areas, some different rushes than normal dry woodlands host. We were there to look for birds, but noted every few moments the passing of massive butterflies, at least thirty woodland and tiger swallowtails, along with some little falcate orangetips (host plant: a spring wildflower, pussytoes) hanging on this late spring day. Bird diversity was high, which was expected in an area that is surrounded by a landscape treated with regularly occurring fire for the past 30 years. Among the highlights were the Acadian flycatchers and yellow warblers. I am so fond of yellow-breasted chats with their silly calls and intonations, hanging out in shrubby areas that are par for the course in these fabulous woodlands.

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