From August 1-2 of this year, I visited two tallgrass prairie locations in southwestern Missouri. Pictured above is the Taberville Prairie Conservation Area, a beautiful refuge with a sweeping view from the parking lot. About an hour to the west, the Prairie State Park also sports wonderful expanses of prairie grassland.
Visiting the Taberville Prairie at the break of dawn, I was both surprised and delighted by the frenzied chorus of Dickcissels (featured above), their excited songs ringing clear from the sumacs and other shrubs near the parking lot. It sounded like the height of spring (I imagine that Dickcissels breed more than once, which would account for the sheer volume of this late summer chorus).
Not much else was going on, except for the constant calling of crickets and meadow katydids. I did, however, come across a lone Henslow’s Sparrow, singing intermittently from tall grass. I managed to record seven songs before he flew away and then fell silent. Here is the recording … he’s loud and close, so you should be able to easily distinguish his high-pitched insect-like song from the more distant songs of dickcissels and crickets.
Henslow’s Sparrow singing at dawn at Taberville Prairie Conservation Area near El Dorado Springs, Missouri. 7:15am, 1 August 2016. © Lang Elliott.
At nearby Prairie State Park, I also had good luck. Arriving late in the evening, I spooked several Great Horned Owls as I drove by their perches along the edge of the road. Returning around midnight, I discovered an immature owl, sounding off a good distance down the road. So I grabbed my parabola and slowly walked closer and closer, until I got the following recording of its harsh screeches, set against a rich chorus of insects (listen also for the calls of a more distant immature):
Great Horned Owl immature screeches. 11:50pm, 1 August 2016. Prairie State Park near Lamar Heights, Missouri. © Lang Elliott.
I drove the park roads, stopping and listening at various locations. Soon I discovered a Northern Mole Cricket, chirping excitedly from a wet area at a bridge crossing. I set up my soundscape microphone to obtain a portrait, featuring the mole cricket at the low end (recognized by its regular chirps) and quite a number of higher-pitched insect songs, providing a rich layering of frequencies right up to the limit of human hearing. I happily began my recording and was even more happily surprised by a sudden interruption:
Coyote barks and howls, along with a chirping Northern Mole Cricket and a variety of other crickets, katydids, and coneheads. 11:50pm, 1 August 2016. Prairie State Park near Lamar Heights, Missouri. © Lang Elliott.
The next morning at dawn, I was greeted by another unexpected surprise … a Summer Tanager singing its special “dawn song” from a fence post not far from the campground. It’s early August, I really didn’t expect to hear a tanager singing so loudly and clearly:
Summer Tanager Dawn Song. 7:45am, 2 August 2016. Prairie State Park near Lamar Heights, Missouri. © Lang Elliott.
So there you have it, five pretty decent recordings from my brief day-long visit to tallgrass prairie habitat. I also gathered various insect portraits and some nice cicada choruses from the campground, but I’ve decided to save those for future podcasts, where I plan interweave narrated stories about my adventures with my sound recordings in order to more realistically convey the quality of my experiences in the field.
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