On December 28th I joined up with the Pine Bluff Audubon Society to participate in the 113th Christmas Bird Count. Throughout the nation, and now in other nations, states have several “circles” which are usually towns but can be state parks or refuges. The circle of Pine Bluff was a 15 mile radius from the courthouse. I don’t know how many areas the circle was divided into but mine and one other’s circle (Area 1) looked to be about 1/8 of the entire circle. Our area included the southern half of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, most of White Hall, and Dollarway. The day was filled with freezing rain but it didn’t stop the birding faithful.
We spent four or five hours driving around the Arsenal and got close to 45 species there. We started out at a series of ponds that held quite a few ducks: Gadwalls, Shovelers, and 30-40 Hooded Mergansers, as well as several Field, White-throated, and Song Sparrows. A couple of Ring-billed Gulls and several Great Egrets were seen here. As we were leaving the ponds we stopped to look at eagle’s nests and we scared up a Bald Eagle which flew over the ponds. We drove on further and scared up another. Our guide took us to a field that he was planting for deer and turkey management. Here we saw several more sparrows including a lone chipping sparrow and several Juncos and Doves. In a tree (probably sweetgum) sat a lone bird. Through my binoculars I could see that it was a Purple Finch (my first for Jefferson County and the only one for the count). We then drove to the Arkansas River and saw some more Gadwall, several Cedar Waxwings, a couple Thrashers fighting with a couple Mockingbirds, and some Ring-necked Ducks. Farther along the river and we came across some American White Pelicans and a Kingfisher. We drove along some fields and woods and saw a couple of Fox Sparrows, a Harrier, several woodpeckers including Red-bellied, Flickers, and Hairy, and a Red-tailed Hawk. We pulled up to a firing range and immediately saw Bluebirds and several Eastern Meadowlarks. I saw some sparrows in the scrubby field next to the range. I suggested that we have a look and my partner went ahead while I watched to see what was flushed. The first wave of flushees was a couple of Savannah Sparrows and a Song Sparrow into a plum near the edge of the scrubby field. My partner had to go only a few more steps to flush the bird of the day. As he took those steps, several bird were flushed up and we both stopped to watch. Most of them were Savannahs but in a partially hidden plum there was a slightly smaller sparrow. I looked through my binoculars and saw the ochre color and the spindly tail a id’ed it as a LECONTE’S SPARROW. This was a lifer for my partner and only the second one I’ve seen. After this we went to Yellow Lake and brought out the much anticipated spotting scope. With the scope we could see across the sizable lake. Several Pied-billed Grebes and Coots. Near the banks there were several Buffleheads, two Lesser Scaup, and a Ring-necked Duck. We saw a flock of ducks move over the water towards the back of the lake. We settled the scope where they landed and saw a duke’s mixture of waterbirds including Pied-billed, Horned Grebes (the only ones in the PB CBC), and several Canvasback. After the lake we headed out and left the Arsenal picking up two Rusty Blackbirds in the parking lot.
We left the Arsenal, got a quick lunch, and went to the White Hall city park. We started out walking around the parking lot and picked up a Killdeer and saw a mixed flock including Bluebirds, Juncos, and Pine Warblers. We saw a Red-headed Woodpecker on a utility pole and a Red-shouldered Hawk nearby. We walked a trail and picked up several sparrows, titmice, woodpeckers, and an Eastern Towhee. On the way out we picked up the only vultures seen during the PB CBC as we saw two Turkey Vultures soaring over the town of White Hall.
Our plan now was to head to a golf course in Dollarway. We walked up and down the course and got quite few birds. The course was fairly wooded and had returned back to nature in a way. There were several Red-headeds and Pine Warblers up and down the course. A couple of Brown-headed Nuthatches and Brown Creepers were seen on the course as well. Adjacent to the course was a good sized track of woods. We walked along the woods and picked up a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Hermit Thrush among several other things. We moved to the edge of the woods and saw several Juncos and other sparrows including five Towhees.
The rest of the day we moved around our area picking up this and that. Our last destination was the UAPB campus. I wanted to go here to pick up Eurasian Collared Doves and that was the first bird we saw. We also picked up several Canada Geese, Grackles, Red-wings, and House Sparrows. As light was fading, we found a swampy creek on campus and stopped here. We got a Sapsucker, tons of Yellow-rumps, and a lone female Wood Duck.
As darkness intruded and rain kept on, we all met back and ate chili and stew. As we compiled our counts we told stories of our birding conquests. In the end, Pine Bluff surprised us all with 103 species on a dreadful day.
Our own count had 68 species highlighted by the ever-elusive LeConte’s Sparrow.