Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Local Expedition

After reading and writing about the journey of Lewis & Clark over the past few days, I decided to conduct an expedition of my own along the Missouri River.  So, this morning, I headed south from Columbia, dipping across Gans Creek at Rockbridge State Park, crossing wooded hills and rolling farmlands to its south and then dropping into the broad valley of Bonne Femme Creek.  Nearing the mouth of the latter stream, I parked my pickup and took a walk along the Katy Trail, a Missouri State Park that parallels the Missouri River for much of its course in the State.

Crossing the Bonne Femme bridge, I stopped to look for mink or otter along the creek's muddy banks; no success in that regard but I did spot a green heron hunting in the flotsam and a flock of red-headed woodpeckers in dead trees along the stream.  Woodlands along the trail were full of summer songbirds, including yellow warblers, yellow-breasted chats and blue-gray gnatcatchers.  Returning to my pickup, I drove out to the banks of the Missouri, just in time to see two bald eagles alight in the cottonwoods that line the river; red-tailed hawks, eastern kingbirds, great crested flycatchers and Baltimore orioles were also observed in those trees.  Cropfields and the brushy floodplain borders attracted a mix of sparrows, dickcissels, American goldfinches and indigo buntings while transient pools drew leopard frogs, snapping turtles, killdeer, spotted sandpipers, great blue herons and small flocks of migrant shorebirds.  Swallows (tree, barn and cliff) gathered on powerlines or strafed the fields and river, preparing for their journey to South America.

Gazing upriver, I realized that the landscape still looks very much like it did to Lewis & Clark in 1804; as if to strengthen that impression, a canoeist paddled down the river, his craft loaded with fishing and camping gear.  Though I did not encounter massive herds of bison, grizzlies or packs of wolves on my brief expedition, I did see at least forty species of birds on this bright summer morning, creatures that were all but ignored in the Journals of Lewis & Clark (at least in the edited version).  Sadly, most modern Americans are oblivious of this avian diversity as well.