A Grassland in Early March

South of Columbia, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park harbors a large grassland, hemmed in by forest and broken by woods that surround marsh-lined ponds and sinkholes.  On this mild, breezy afternoon, I hiked its wide trail and, as I walked, I heard only the rustle of the dry grass and the occasional raucous cry of a blue jay or red-bellied woodpecker.

However, when I would stop to survey the scene, the chirps and rustle of sparrows could be heard in the dense grass and other open country birds were spotted among the trees and thickets.  Tree sparrows were especially common while the homesick tune of white-throated sparrows made that species more conspicuous; song, white-crowned and swamp sparrows were also encountered.  Chickadees, cardinals and yellow-rumped warblers foraged in the woodland groves while eastern bluebirds, northern mockingbirds, crows and American goldfinches roamed the open grassland.  Overhead, a pair of red-tailed hawks cavorted in the clear blue sky, their high pitched cries echoing across the preserve.

Within six weeks, the look and feel of that grassland will change dramatically as green shoots and wildflowers gradually replace the dry stems, amphibians and aquatic reptiles emerge in the warming ponds, insect hordes rise from the wetlands and a host of colorful summer songbirds arrive from the south.  Following a long, frigid winter, the refuge will host a welcome riot of life.