Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Our Mad Dash to Missouri: Anhingas at Big Oak Tree State Park April 25, 2009

The boys and I just got back from our Mad Dash to Missouri: 1030 miles in 49 hours. We found 3 life birds (Ruff, Swainson’s Warbler, and Barn Owl), thanks to some very helpful Missouri birders who showed us the way to these special birds through the Missouri e-mail list, in person, or by e-mail. We also got about 40 year birds and about 105 trip birds.

But our most surprising find was seen overhead while we were walking the metal boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park. We looked up through the trees and saw a flock of at least 15, maybe as many as 20 Anhingas. This helped us realize just how far south we really were. Previously we’ve seen Anhingas only in the Florida Everglades, although Sibley shows their range extending north and west to the Missouri Bootheel.

The flock circled over the board walk at least twice, giving Ethan time to take a few photos with his Sony DSC-H50 camera (15X zoom lens). Here’s one of the photos:

Part of an Anhinga flock flying over the boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park, Missouri.

Part of an Anhinga flock flying over the boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park, Missouri. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

This enlarged view from the above photo shows the field marks that identify it as an Anhinga: Long kinked neck, pointed bill, and broad tail:

Enlarged image of an Anhinga. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Enlarged image of an Anhinga. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Apparently there are relatively few recent records of this species. A 2003 reference cited on this page says of Anhingas,  “Originally a summer resident of the Bootheel lowlands, but disappeared by the early 20th century and has been casual in MO in recent decades.” Of course, seeing a flock this big at this time of year makes us hope some Anhingas will find suitable nesting habitat in the Bootheel. So we’ve posted these photos and will make the originals available as needed.

By the way, we heard the Swainson’s Warbler at Big Oak Tree State Park at the same place it was reported from last week.

We’ll post some more about our trip on Sunday or Monday. Now it’s time to go to bed!


Note added Sunday, April 26, at 10:25 a.m.: We just got e-mails from Josh Uffman and Charlene Malone, Missouri birders. Josh said that another birder had seen an Anhinga earlier this month at Otter Slough. However, it seems that the flock we saw was the largest group of Anhingas reported for Missouri in more than 100 years! That may be a tribute to the strong south winds we’ve been having the past few days. However, we’re still hoping some Anhinga stick around the Bootheel and nest. Big Oak does have some really great habitat — we’d love to have another excuse to go back.