Date: 9/25/17 7:06 am
From: Joseph Neal <joeneal...>
As they said in aftermath of that slaughter of civility called World War I, “All is now quiet on the western front.” That is, now concluded in northwest Arkansas is the vast Harley rally called Bikes, Blues, and Barbecue. All is now quiet on the northwestern Arkansas front. Party bikers have gone home, departed from a town once mainly famous for its educational institutions.

Faced with the civic disruption of Bikes, Blues, and Barbecue, a few of us birders escaped in and around The Nature Conservancy’s Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. We call our party Bison, Birds, Botany, and Butterflies. While my fellow Americans revved it up at beers and roaring parades, we escapees drank our fill of Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Cross Timbers of northeastern Oklahoma.

Red-heads are now a big deal in ancient post oak and blackjack oak forests of the Cross Timbers. Post oaks especially have a heavy acorn crop, a matter of no small interest to Red-heads.

Cross Timbers range through parts of eastern Kansas down to central Texas, forming a boundary between eastern forests like those in Arkansas and the treeless Great Plains. There are millions of post oaks and blackjack oaks 200-400 years old, with a prairie growing under. Oak trees and Indian Grass, a combination hard to beat.

Escape Day 1 (September 20), we drive from Bartlesville to Osage Hills State Park. The first mile or so goes right through ancient Cross Timbers. We walk the modern, lightly-traveled asphalt park road. Our eyes and ears take in the ancient forest, now full of rattles, taps, and QUER QUER calls of Red-headed Woodpeckers. Plenty of adults with red heads, but many more fledglings with brown heads.

I get up to 50 and stop. It’s useless to count. If you look at a google image, you see thousands of such acres of ancient forest. I would hate to say how many Red-heads we are talking about. Numbers rendered meaningless. But maybe they are only in Osage Hills SP?

We drive on towards Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, passing through the same ancient Cross Timbers with similar Red-headed Woodpecker abundance. Some among the dozen or so of us escapees actually begin laughing when I say “red-head overhead.” They are watching brilliant yellow sulphur butterflies and deep purples of “prairie pineapples,” known to botanists as Eryngium leavenworthii. Consider how often folks on a field trip are so satiated they stop looking at Red-headed Woodpeckers.

On Tallgrass Prairie Preserve proper, Bison are crossing the road. Watching them watching us -- a good respite from our revved-up Homo sapien version of universe. Time to think as this herd of ancient wisdom passes through tallgrass in front of us. We wait and subconsciously check our phones.

Maybe the best statement about our supposed dominance is that Bison stop briefly to look and walk on. Red-headed Woodpeckers flying south pass overhead.

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