Lake Dardanelle 11/26-11/28

The last couple of days I’ve driven by Lake Dardanelle near Russellville.  There are three theaters/habitat regions of my birding around Lake Dardanelle/Russellville:  Urban areas of Russellville near the lake, Illinois Bayou, and open water parts of the lake.

Lake Front Drive comes right off of Highway 7 before you get to downtown heading south.  This road is the epicenter of my Russellville/Lake Dardanelle birding this past week.  There is some urban developed areas on this road where urban (mainly introduced) birds are seen.  This is where I get the majority of my starlings, House Sparrows, Canada Geese, Grackles, and others.  Next, Lake Front goes by a good sized portion of Lake Dardanelle.  This is phase 1 of the open water part of my journeys.  You drive until you come to a light and there I take a right, onto Highway 64, which leads me to phase 2 of the open water.  Here, there is water on both sides.  I follow 64 until I get to Illinois Bayou Public Use area.

I will start with Illinois Bayou.  This little park consists of a boat ramp/dock, a large parking lot, and a walking trail that is in progress.  This is a hot spot for boaters but not necessarily birders.  When they finish the trail I assume birders will appreciate it more.  Here there are sheltered bays of the lake, scrubby fields with a lot of sumac, and mixed woods.  For being rather small, one can get a large amount of birds here.  Over the last two days I have seen two Red-shouldered Hawks hunting the scrubby fields and many of the woodland birds foraging among the field and the woods.  Juncos, Song Sparrows, and Yellow-rumps call incessantly from about every location.  Today I heard a Hermit Thrush burst out in calls.  Cardinals, Chickadees, and Titmice also are seen every time.  The bays harbor Cormorants, Grebes, an occasional Gull, Coots, and Kingfishers (although I didn’t see any Kingfishers this week).  Large amounts of water birds can be seen from the banks here including gulls, cormorants, ducks, coots, grebes, herons, etc.  When birding, I like to get out and walk around.  Staying in the vehicle limits your senses and you won’t observe as many birds and may miss interesting bird behaviors.  This little area allows you to get out and look at the lake and the habitats near the lake.

Finally, the open water.  Just like open fields, I don’t bird open water too much so nowadays when I get a chance to bird areas like these I take it.  With that said, the parts of the lake that I’m talking about are fairly small, confined sections (phase 1=approx .24 square miles and phase 2 is about twice that), but they do attract open water birds (cormorants, grebes, gulls, pelicans, and an occasional loon).  I will set today’s scene for you (I choose today since this excursion is most recent in my memory and I actually took the time to sit and observe):

 I am driving to Illinois Bayou and am on phase 2.  I can see parts of phase 1 and I see a lot of gulls (more than usual [although there is a lot of variation in gull abundance from day to day]).  I assume that these are Ring-billed Gulls, since they are the most common gull we have and are usually seen here.  One phase 2, I see cormorants, Pied-billed Grebes, Coots, and Lesser Scaup (chalk those up on the waterfowl challenge).  I go to Illinois Bayou and return.  On my way back, on phase 2, I see the gulls and notice there are some size disparities in the gulls but assume them to be illusions created by bland landscape and disparity in distances.  I turn onto phase 1 and pull into one of many convenient turn in points along Lake Front.  In front of me lies the lake and I instantly notice the following things:  large volume of gulls, Aythya sp. (most likely Lesser Scaup), Double-crested Cormorants swimming and diving, and American Crows on the guard rails and on partially submerged branches on the lake.  I notice again the disparity in sized of some of the gulls.  The majority of the gulls are smaller than the minority.  I get out my binoculars and confirm my suspicions:  the majority of gulls are Bonaparte’s Gulls.  The moment I rolled down my window I hear high pitched Jay like calls, not at all similar to the scream of the Ring-billed Gulls.  The Bonaparte’s Gulls were out in full force and outnumbered the Ring-billed by quite a bit.  A 3rd year Ring-billed came in and landed on the water next to a grouping of Bonaparte’s Gulls and the size difference was very noticeable.  The Ring-billed swoops in to try and steal a meal from a Bonaparte’s while the Bonaparte’s try to steal a meal (in mob like fashion) from a Cormorant.  The Cormorants were popping up and immediately being bombarded by Bonaparte’s.  The action frightened the two ducks that I had almost forgotten about.  They were two male Lesser Scaup and they didn’t care too much for the commotion caused by the gulls.

Its been surprisingly good birding right outside the town the last couple of days.  The Scaup were first of season and the Bonaparte’s Gulls are just the second group seen this season and always a treat to see.

Here are the birds seen:

  • Canada Goose
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Coot
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Mourning Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • European Starling
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Song Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Grackle
  • House Sparrow
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