Holla Bend NWR 11/27/12

Last Wednesday, I went to one of my favorite birding spots:  Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge.  I’ve had extreme success at this locations at most times of the year.  A variety of habitats can be seen at Holla Bend.  Flooded fields, ponds and Oxbow lakes accommodate waterfowl and other aquatic species, including a variety of shorebirds.  The woodland troupe can be found in several patches of deciduous woods.  Acres upon acres of open fields are good for Larks, Meadowlarks, Blackbirds, and many other open field birds.  The refuge encompasses part of the Arkansas River and a lot of open water birds (Cormorants, Pelicans, Grebes, and Gulls) can be seen here.  There is also a lot of scrubby fields or large plots of land with young trees which is a habitat all to itself and can attract a wide variety of birds.  Some of the land is used in planting crops (mainly corn) that are beneficial to different species like waterfowl, deer, game birds, and others.  There are a couple of trails and an observation tower that are user friendly which is a nice touch to an already stellar place.

This particular excursion, was another success.  I will herald this particular outing the Day of the Raptors.  Going into the refuge, I expected to see several Red-tailed Hawks but I wasn’t sure about the others.  I wasn’t disappointed by the Red-tails and ended up seeing at least 14 total.  This was an estimation because most of the ones I saw were soaring and I traveled in a circle, so I probably doubled up on a couple.  Another raptor I usually see is the Harrier and once again I wasn’t disappointed.  These were about as common as the Red-tails.  My first Harrier of the day was on the side of the road and I got good looks at it.  It was a male and the males are a nice rich gray color with a white breast and a white rump (all Harriers have a white rump and this is a valuable field mark to use in identification).  I don’t usually see males.  Female Harriers are a lot more common in Arkansas (in my opinion).  I don’t know if this is well documented or if my opinion is skewed but either way the males are always a treat to see.  The females are a pretty rust color (no sarcasm intended) with a white rump.  Another surprisingly common raptor was the Red-shouldered Hawk.  I will sometimes see one but on this trip I saw at least three.  Two Kestrels were seen.  One chased a group of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds around.   Several Turkey Vultures were seen soaring.  The most unexpected of the raptors was the Sharp-shinned Hawk.  While watching the two Kestrels I just happened to look to the sky.  Among, but separate, a sky full of soaring raptors was a soaring Sharpie.  Sometimes they are hard to distinguish from a Cooper’s Hawk but this one had a square tail and its wrists were out in front of its head, not to mention the size of the birds which was the same as the two kestrels if not smaller.  Some of these were expected but several were a delightful surprise in my Day of the Raptor.

Female Harrier

Female Harrier

Raptors weren’t the only birds I saw.  Several species of sparrows were seen as well.  Right of the bat I saw a Fox Sparrow, which isn’t usually the first that comes to mind.  I went on to see a couple more Fox Sparrows in several locations.  White-throated Sparrows were seen throughout and a large count of Juncos (not as common in the refuge as they are outside of it) was taken.  Savannah and Song Sparrows were seen in their respective habitats.  The surprise was a photogenic Swamp Sparrow.  The actual sighting of the Swamp Sparrow wasn’t a surprise but the fact was that it let me get extremely close to it.  Another well represented group of birds was the waterfowl.  Mallards, Shovelers, and Gadwall were the only ones seen but they were out in good numbers.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

In closing I would like to reiterate, from an earlier post, my affinity for large flocks of birds.  A large flock of birds was seen at Holla Bend.  Probably close to 1000 Red-winged Blackbirds moved about in a field a couple hundred yards away from me at one point in the trip.  I watched them move together throughout the field and tried to locate any other species but could only see a bunch of Red-wings.  The flock mentality is very interesting to me and the fluidity of this flock was outstanding.  Red-winged Blackbirds are considered to be the most abundant birds in the U.S.



Species seen:

  • Gadwall
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Mallard
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Horned Lark
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren
  • Winter Wren
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Common Grackle
  • American Goldfinch

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