Today we went to Willow Beach Park. This is located east of Little Rock on Highway 165. This is a Corps of Engineers park that has access to the Arkansas River. There are several ponds and fields located near the park. The river provides open water for diving ducks and other deeper water birds and the sheltered bays and ponds provide habitat for dabbling ducks and wading birds. The fields have open area birds and the woods house the woodland favoring birds. The campground comes with its own ecosystem as well.
In the campground and woods were found a plethora of woodland birds. Goldfinches and White-throated Sparrows were seen throughout. Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Flickers were abundant. Red-shouldered Hawks hunted around the campgrounds along with Phoebes. Several Fox Sparrows were heard from dense brush around the campsites and one came right out and posed for us.
The open fields yielded less song birds than usual but didn’t let us down with raptors. Harriers, Red-tails, and Kestrels were seen commonly. Loggerhead Shrikes and Meadowlarks frequented the fields. A large flock of assorted blackbirds moved about. This group included Grackles, Cowbirds, Red-wings, and Starlings. There may have been a few Rusty Blackbirds but they were lost in the sea of Grackles.
The ponds and sheltered bays were littered with Gadwalls, Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Canada Geese and Buffleheads. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Kingfishers hunted from the banks. On the open water there was quite a bit more activity. The first thing noticed was the large rafts of birds. As we got closer we noticed that 90% of these rafts were Pied-billed Grebes. There were close to 70 Pied-billed Grebes on this part of the river. American White Pelicans were on the water as well as a handful of Ring-billed Gulls. Among the Pied-billed Grebes were a few Horned Grebes. While surveying the grebes, I saw a white snake-like neck and a white throat. This particular bird was significantly taller than the Pied-billed and Horned Grebes. We took several pictures for I had an inkling that this was a bit rare than Pied-billed or Horned and even rare than an Eared Grebe. My suspicion was that this bird was a Western Grebe. We followed this grebe for an hour. It moved quite a bit and went from grebe raft to grebe raft. At the end of our observing, the grebe tucked its head under its wings and took a nap. Viewing hours were over. Fortunately, some of the pictures turned out (just barely) and we could make out the bird.