Arriving just before dawn at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, my friend and I were greeted by a flock of greater white-fronted geese, traveling northward through the Missouri River Valley. Within the refuge itself, mallards dominated the scene, occupying every lake, pond and slough of the floodplain. Though joined by an excellent variety of waterfowl, including gadwalls, northern shovelers, northern pintails, green-winged teal and hooded mergansers, mallards easily outnumbered the combined population of the other ducks.
Sightings also included six bald eagles (two on their nests), a large number of Canada geese, four red-tailed hawks, a dozen American white pelicans and, to my delight, about 250 snow geese. As usual, red-winged blackbirds were abundant, joined by sizable flocks of common grackles and European starlings. A dozen Wilson's snipe foraged with killdeer on the mudflats and the woodlands were alive with various woodpeckers and songbirds.
Of note, not a single great blue heron was encountered during our tour of the refuge. Usually common (if not abundant) at Eagle Bluffs, the stoic waders had abandoned this portion of the Missouri River floodplain. Despite the gorgeous weather and widespread shallows in which to feed, the herons were inexplicably absent. While I have long become used to the fickle nature of birding, today's experience will likely remain one of the most notable mysteries of my forty-year career.