Saturday several of us went to Bald Knob NWR. This is located next to the town of Bald Knob located on I-40 Northeast of Searcy, and even farther away Little Rock. Since we’d observed several early shorebirds already we thought that this would be an ideal locale for more. Also, several American Avocets had been reported here all summer.
We turned off onto Coal Chute Rd which ran right into the refuge and passed into fields. In the fields we saw tons of Swallows. Almost all were Cliff but there was a Barn or two. Because of a rash of Cave Swallow intrusions into the state I took several picks of the Cliffs to see if there were any Caves. The insects were out in droves as well. Several horseflies wanted to hitch a ride in our van but eventually flew out. Carolina Saddlebags, Spot-winged Gliders, and Wandering Gliders filled the expanse a couple feet above the ground. Several Dickcissels sang out and as we approached a scrubby field we hear a Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Buntings and a Bell’s Vireo. Field Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Mourning Doves were abundant here and throughout the refuge.
The refuge turns into wet rice fields and soy beans. In these fields were white heads poking up. Sometimes these head were barely poking out and others were towering. Some heads were clean white and some were white with brown caps others were maroon. These were Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Little Blue Herons. Puddles revealed Killdeer and Green Herons. We passed the grain bins and turned right heading for either a shallow pond or a flooded field. Either way it was filled with waders and and shorebirds. Great Blue Herons were everywhere along with Snowy Egrets. American White Pelicans lined one corner of the pond. We moved past this pond and went to a pond filled with vast mudflats. This is were we saw our shorebirds. We first noticed the dozens of Black-necked Stilts. I put the scope on the Stilts and in the midst of them was an American Avocet in beautiful breeding plumage. On ahead, I noticed a couple of other birders celebrating. I approached and recognized them. They said that they saw a female Ruff (a Reeve). This is a sandpiper from Europe that occasionally migrates (rarely breeds) in the U.S. There is about one record a year in Arkansas. I looked at it through my scope and agreed that it was a Ruff (I have literally no experience with this bird so my opinion is less than useless). Someone sent the picture off, from their phone, to a more experienced birder who agreed with the identification. I scanned across the bird filled mud and was in a state of shock. There were both Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Dowitchers (probably both long-billed and short billed but I only noticed Long-billed), and several others. Unfortunately I missed several species that others later reported including Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, and probably many more. This was my personal epitome of sensory overload: multiple members of a family of birds that are the bane of my bird identification existence. As of right now the Ruff has not been seen again and some have said that it was just a Lesser Yellowlegs. Oh well. I did get to see a Forster’s Tern resting on a mudflat between a Great and Snowy Egret. This is the first confirmed sighting of this bird I’ve had in Arkansas (I seen several birds that I thought were Forster’s but were too bad of looks to confirm).
In the wooded areas we were able to hear Carolina Wrens and Eastern Wood-Pewees. In wetter woods we had Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Common Yellowthroats, and White-eyed Vireos. We skipped the true swamp area because we were in a semi hurry. I learned later that those birders saw a Black-crowned Night Heron in this swamp. I have only ever seen one and that would have been my first for the state. Oh well.
I went back to my pictures and looked at my Cliff Swallow pics. No Cave Swallows but there was a different species among them. Right next to a Cliff was a diminutive (comparatively and in size only) Bank Swallow (lifer). Dark brown back, cheeks, and crown with a striking white throat and flanks. Differentiated from female/immature Tree Swallow by size.