This morning we met up with a friend in Pine Bluff at the wastewater treatment facility. This is located on Island Harbor Rd. off of Hwy 79. Our friend is a bird enthusiast who has spotted some interesting early migrant shorebirds at this location the last couple of days. Besides the fact that sewage plants and water treatment facilities are aquatic bird magnets the location of Boyd Point makes it irresistible to birds year round. The facility is adjacent to the Arkansas River and has an oxbow lake on the other side. Some of the birds seen in the last couple of days include Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Least Terns, and Least Sandpipers.
We got down there at a little after eight. On Island Harbor Rd. we stopped and watched a male Painted Bunting sing from a power line. Red-wings, Meadowlarks, Dickcissels, Indigo Buntings, and Doves also were seen in the fields leading up to the facility. We got in and stopped at the main pond. This pond was around 5 acres and had been partially drained. Because of the draining there were exposed mudflats around the banks of the pond. Here is where some of the shorebirds were seen. We pulled up and immediately saw dozens of shorebirds. We noticed many Killdeer and handfuls of Least Sandpipers. Among the Killdeer I noticed a long-billed and long-legged sandpiper probing in the mud. The behavior and long bill made me think of a Dowitcher but the long legs, which were emphasized in flight as they dangled behind the bird, led me to the conclusion of Stilt Sandpiper (a lifer). Our friend took several pictures of it and agreed with the identification. As we were talking a pair of Black-necked Stilts circled above us but decided not to land and took off. An immature Green Heron foraged among the shorebirds as well. With my new spotting scope I eagerly scanned the group of shorebirds over and over again looking for other species. Fortunately, this tactic paid off. As I watched a couple of Least Sandpipers I noticed one was a little different: lighter colored, black legs, different overall structure, and the bill was thicker and more blunt. This was a Semipalmated Sandpiper. While scoping I heard a familiar call overhead and later our friend informed me that I had Least Terns flying right over my head. One last scan revealed another target bird, the Sanderling. These birds are very common on their breeding grounds and on the Gulf Coast during the wintering months but I have never seen one in migration, or inland for that matter. This was in non-breeding plumage and was whitish gray with a mottled grayish brown back. Bill and legs were black, similar to the Semipalmated. The Sanderling was significantly bigger than the Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers and was closer to Killdeer size.
We looked away from the mud flat for a while and our friend went around to check on some of the back ponds. We looked up to observe hundreds of dragonflies and swallows- the midges were emerging and a feeding frenzy ensued. We saw Cliff, Barn, and Tree Swallow as well as a couple Purple Martins. The dragonflies included Pondhawks, Great Blue Skimmers, Wandering Gliders, Four-spotted Pennants, and Widow Skimmers. A Cobra Clubtail made a special appearance when it flew into our car and became trapped for a few minutes. As we traveled along the rocky banks we flushed several Spotted Sandpipers from the shoreline. We stopped to watch a Spotted Sandpiper walk around on a spillway when we noticed a floating group of birds in the middle of the pond. We trained the scope on them and got a distant look at a Black-bellied Whistling Duck family: 2 parents and 3 kids.
It was a great day and we saw a lot of great birds. The Whistling Ducks and Stilt Sandpipers were two lifers and the Sanderling and Semipalmated Sandpipers were year birds. 41 birds were seen total.