Arkansas Post and Merrisach Lake 7/13/13

I joined a group from the Central Arkansas Audubon Society on their monthly field trip.  Our target birds were Anhinga, Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, and Least Bittern.  We got to Arkansas Post park at around 8:45 am.

As we entered the park we stopped on a bridge adjacent to a lake covered with Lotus and Water Hyacinth, as well as reedy banks.  Red-wings and Common Yellowthroats were in abundance and filled the air with their vocalizations.  Barn and Northern Rough-winged  Swallows flew about.  Great Egrets fished from the banks.  Eastern Pondhawks and Widow Skimmers hunted the waters edge.  Across the water a few duck-like birds flew from the bank to a patch of floating hyacinth.  Our guide yelled out the identification:  “PURPLE GALLINULES!”  I trained my binoculars on the raft of vegetation and saw a couple of birds thrashing about.  I could tell that they were Gallinules but I couldn’t see any purple.  Another shout informed us that among the Purples were a few Common Gallinules.  I scanned the vegetation and saw a few heads poking out.  On a few of them I saw a yellow beak with an all red frontal shield (forehead)-Common Gallinule.  A few other heads showed a yellow beak with a red and purple shield-this was the Purple.  Just while we were getting settled on our Gallinules, a female Anhinga flew low overhead, across the pond, giving us great looks.  Before the Anhinga could sink in, a Least Bittern flew across the pond only about 20 yds in front of us.  The Bittern landed in a nearby section of reeds, albeit thick reeds.  A few of us went over to try to get a view and played a few calls.  The Bittern called back and came pretty close (within 10 yds) but never came out of its reedy fortress.  Four of our target birds were seen in a matter of minutes.  All of these were quickly spotted by our guide with spot on identification.

Moving into the park, we automatically heard Eastern Wood-Pewees, Acadian Flycatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Titmouse, Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers.  These were seen near the office/post where we saw a canon and musket display.  In the pond near the office was an American Alligator and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  We continued on a trail that wound through lawns, woods, and near the pond/canal.  Cowbirds, Kingbirds, Canada Geese, and Bluebirds foraged on the lawn while Warbling Vireos and Yellow-throated Warblers sang from the lawn trees which were mostly Pecan and maybe a few cottonwoods.  We passed the site of a tavern where John James Audubon first described the Traill’s Flycatcher which is now recognized as two different species the Alder and the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii).  We went into the woods and heard Gnatcatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, Prothonotary Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Cardinals.  Near the pond we heard more Common Gallinules among more hyacinth rafts.  We stopped for lunch near the canal in a wooded picnic area.  An Orchard Oriole came around to check on everyone but was chased off by an irate pair of Pewees who also chased away a curious Chickadee.  Several Swallowtails flew by us as well including at least one Tiger and one Zebra.  A couple of us walked to the water’s edge where we saw pondhawks, dashers, and a few widow skimmers.  As we were about to leave a Least Bittern flew out of a reedy area near the band and landed in a hyacinth island.  The Bittern was exposed and gave us several good looks.

We left Arkansas Post and headed for Merrisach Lake and the nearby mounds.  The trip over there led us through several fields and bodies of water where we passed Cattle Egret, Mourning Doves, Killdeer, Meadowlarks, hundreds of Cliff Swallows, Great Blue Herons, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Chimney Swifts, and Mississippi Kites.  We walked a wooded trail to see the mounds and saw several Zebra Swallowtails and the Hackberry Emperors enjoyed our sweaty arms.  Prothonotary Warblers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos were joined by new additions like Northern Parulas.  We came upon a scrubby area and heard a Yell0w-breasted Chat along with a few Common Yellowthroats.  We started to head back when our guide spotted something in the distance flying towards us.  We all assumed that it was a Mississippi Kite, which we had seen several before, but as it approached we noticed that it wouldn’t stop flapping its wings.  Our guide identified it first and as it passed we all saw the bird for what it was:  an immature White Ibis.  We headed back and stopped to look at a few birds and a Spicebush Swallowtail showed up to see us off with a Slaty and Great Blue Skimmer.  We met up with some of our party who had stayed around the cars.  One of them told me that they had seen an Ovenbird.  We were both surprised but our guide told us that they are not uncommon in the area.  I missed the Ovenbird but got the Ibis.  We went on to the lake and when we arrived we immediately noticed the terns over the water.  We got out and saw that they were Least Terns which were only the second group I’d seen this year.  On the water we saw two Double-crested Cormorants.  For a while we wanted to turn one of them into a Neotropic, which seem to be regulars in the state during late summer.  A few of our group were seasoned Cormorant viewers, unlike myself, and told us that they were indeed both Double-crested.

Slaty Skimmer male

Slaty Skimmer male

Great Blue Skimmer female

Great Blue Skimmer female

All in all, we got over 50 species total.  I met a lot of great people and great birders.  The next trip is the 17 of August at Bald Knob NWR.  I met a few listers which encouraged my obsession:  after the trip I currently have 299 life birds (+1 with Purple Gallinule), 229 life state (AR) birds (+2 Purple and Common Gallinule), 209 year birds (+4 White Ibis, Least Bittern, Common, and Purple Gallinule), and 196 state year birds (same +4).  The Ovenbird would have been a new state year bird but I missed it.  I did see several in Missouri earlier this year and there is still a chance to see one during fall migration.

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