21 May 2017

Early After All This Time

The Glacial Heritage Preserve and the Black Hills
on Prairie Appreciation Day 2017.
The seemingly contradictory claims that "good things come to those who wait" and "the early bird gets the worm" came together at the Glacial Heritage Preserve in southwest Washington state last week to make one special experience.

Every year in early May, the preserve opens to the public for Prairie Appreciation Day. Offering wildflowers, educational booths, and a chance to catch up on all the work done to protect the important prairie environment near Puget Sound, the event celebrates spring and environmental preservation.

My mom and I used to go before I began my doctoral studies, but because of school and work commitments, I've had a long wait between chances to enjoy Glacial Heritage. Last year, I stopped in for the first time since 2008, but I could only stay for about 30 minutes. To make things worse, most of the wildflowers bloomed out before Prairie Appreciation Day last year because of an abnormally hot April.

My long wait to immerse myself in the prairie ended this year on May 13 though, and thanks to the Black Hills Audubon Society, I made it to the prairie before almost everybody else and before the rain. Most of the day's festivities began at 10 a.m., but the Audubon Society hosted a birding event at 7:30 a.m., giving those who participated early access and an exceptional experience of the preserve.

As I walked with the other birders, I reacquainted myself with the prairie in a whole new way. With the wildflowers in full bloom this year, the morning sun glistened off fields of wet camas, blue-eyed Mary, and golden and harsh paintbrushes. Years of restoration work, which still continues, showed in the colorful, lively landscape.

In the middle of this sea of flowers and Mima Mounds, birds sang, chattered, buzzed overhead, and landed on the informational signs set up for the public. I had never birded the prairie before, and the group of birders helped me identify three species I would not have confirmed on my own. Two (the willow flycatcher and the western wood peewee) proved quite difficult to distinguish without great expertise, and the third (an orange-crowned warbler) was only identified by its song, which I wouldn't have known by myself.

All told, the birders received three hours of good birding before the rains came at 10:30 a.m. As the majority of people were just arriving, we walked out having seen more than 40 species. Personally, I added eight new species to my 2017 total, and I left with a special feeling of having seen the prairie again after a long absence and before most everyone else this year.

My 2017 Prairie Appreciation Day proved that the early birder gets the good weather and a memorable experience even if it means waiting nine years.

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