Birding local farms in May: Recap of Columbia Audubon Society field trips

We organized and led two birding field trips this May to central Missouri sustainable farms whose land management integrates a wide variety of wildlife habitat into their food production. Unlike monoculture cropland, the right kind of farmland can actually increase bird habitat and biodiversity, and such private farms host interesting landscapes that might not be represented on public lands. We hoped to give Columbia Audubon Society members, and other birders, a chance to visit and interact with some new locations and landscapes they might otherwise not have access to. Read on for details of each trip.

We began on May 3rd with a trip to our own Chert Hollow Farm in northern Boone County. The group recorded 41 species over 3.5 hours of exploring our riparian corridor, vegetable fields, mixed pastures, upland and bottomland forests, and orchard. Everyone got a nice look at our Scarlet Tanagers, which are extra abundant this year. Warblers included the Kentucky Warbler, Golden-Winged Warbler, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Northern Parula, and Common Yellowthroat. View a complete eBird species list here.

We continued on May 17 with a trip to two more farms. Overnight storms moved off by dawn as we’d expected, and we enjoyed an overcast and comfortable morning, though wind seemed to subdue bird activity a bit. The trip began at Goatsbeard Farm, a goat dairy near Harrisburg whose rotational pasture management encourages diverse habitats; they have also preserved an attractive riparian corridor. Of the 36 species we recorded here in a couple of hours, a true highlight here came with a Prairie Warbler perched in the open top of a pasture cedar, giving perfect views of its coloration and movement as it sang away only a few tens of feet from its appreciative audience. One minor disappointment was that we missed some species that we noted during our scouting trip, such as Red-Headed Woodpeckers and Blue-Winged Warblers. The favorite habitat of the latter was on the far side of a stream that was too high to cross from the 3″+ of rain in the prior 48 hours. View a complete eBird species list here.

By late morning we’d moved on to Sullivan Farms in Howard County, which raises pastured pork & chickens along with diverse vegetables. When scouting this location the Wednesday before, we’d seen over a dozen quail. The Sullivans are familiar with two different coveys, which appreciate the mixed habitat created by the rotational grazing of the happily rooting pigs. Though the quail were less evident during the official trip, with only two making a brief appearance, we enjoyed 17 species including Blue Grosbeak, Harrier, abundant Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Kingbirds, and Killdeer. A Killdeer nesting among the vegetable beds showed off with a broken wing display as we passed by and admired her four eggs. View a complete eBird species list here.

We’re grateful to those birders who joined us and the farmers who hosted us. We hope to continue leading such trips next fall & spring to farms whose attention to sustainable land management promotes conservation and creates interesting birding possibilities for all of us.

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