Unfortunately, my birding time (and consequently, blogging time) has been reduced these last couple of weeks. In the past couple of weeks I’ve chased several Long-tailed Duck records (for there have been many this winter in Arkansas), Cackling Geese, Sandhill Cranes, plethora of quasi-rare doves, and a Pacific Loon. Out of all of those I got the Pacific Loon at Lake Maumelle outside of Little Rock. I’ve also picked up a few common First of Year (FOY) birds along the way including: Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Canvasback, Field Sparrow, Herring Gull, and a few others. I have decided that this has been the winter of the Orange-crowned Warbler in Arkansas for I am beginning to see it wherever I go out. This has also been the winter of the Sandhill Crane and Long-tailed Duck for there have been multiple records of both.
Holla Bend NWR
Possibly the best place to bird in Arkansas, Holla Bend has recorded 262 species (according to eBird.org’s hotspot explorer). I go there quite often and am never disappointed. Monday (27th) was no exception.
I started listening as soon as I pulled onto the drive, entering the refuge. White-throated Sparrows called and flew from thicket to thicket. Male Cardinals chased females and they gave their “cheek” calls all the while. As I pulled in to pay the $4 entrance fee I saw 3 bluebirds hanging around the parking lot. Most of the forest is bottomland hardwood and the first tract is no exception. In these cottonwood infested tracts I could hear several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Blue Jays and Titmice hollered while a Downy gave its typical whinny. A subtle “chup” of the Yellow-rumped Warbler could be heard among the cacophony. I drove on into a scrubby field where a Red-tailed Hawk sat on a limb and Turkey Vultures soared.
I followed the main road until I came into some fields. While watching a medium-sized (comparatively) flock of Red-winged Blackbirds I noticed a large white bird in the distance. I put my binoculars on it and saw that it was a Trumpeter Swan (FOY). Most Trumpeter Swans found in the refuge are part of a Trumpter Swan restoration program and are from Iowa but release here in hopes that they will migrate to Iowa thus rehabilitating their migration. The released birds had neck bands and were released in 2010. We’ll come back to the swans later. In a half-flooded field next to the RWBL flock were several Mallards and Gadwall. Some foraged in the water but others preferred to forage along the fringes of the former corn field. In the wooded edges and thickets surrounding the fields were several Savannah, Field, Song, and White-throated Sparrows. I kept hoping to stumble upon a Lapland Longspur or Vesper Sparrow but no luck. A female Northern Harrier soared over a field and the sparrows began to play things a little safer. To add to the threat level, a male American Kestrel flew into a sapling and stood watch of the other end of the field.
I continued on and the terrain turned to bottomland hardwood forest. Here I picked up several different woodland species. Chickadees and Titmice were abundant. Hermit Thrush and Robins flocked to deciduous holly bushes that still had their bright, red berries. In thickets I heard a sharp “wick” and turned to see the utterer of this call; none other than the bird of the year, so far: Orange-crowned Warbler. While I watched a group of WT Sparrows and a thrush, I looked ahead and saw what looked like a log on the side of the road. When the log turned its head I put my binoculars on it to see that it was actually a Bobcat (mammalian lifer). Once it new it had my attention, it slyly scampered back into the woods.
I came out of the woods and was met by a pond. I walked down to the pond and flushed up what I think may have been a Short-eared Owl (not uncommon on the refuge in the winter). However it flew away and was never seen again for a positive ID. I moved past the pond to some wet, grassy fields where I flushed up a very disgruntled Wilson’s Snipe (it made a call which I’ve never heard). A Winter Wren called from a half submerged thicket and several White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows took branches to check me out. I follow the trail/levee to an oxbow of the Arkansas River where I saw several more Mallards and around 15 Northern Pintails. I returned the way I came and noticed several Canada Geese on the pond with some other ducks. I got in my car and drove closer to check out the mixed waterfowl flock (since waterfowl will form mixed flocks I feel compelled to check every bird). As I approached the raft swam away from the banks and out of the emergent vegetation to where I could see all of them. Among the aforementioned crowd, I saw miniature Canada Geese that were the same size as the surrounding Mallards and Gadwalls. These were my previously missed Cackling Geese (FOY and state first). As I was rejoicing the CACG, a Greater White-fronted Goose flew overhead and gave a few “honk-a-lonk” calls (another FOY).
I continued along into scrubby fields and more agricultural fields. Soon I came upon a circling flock of Snow Geese (FOY). They began circling a field and some would even land but they never settled on a spot and they would all pick up and begin circling again. I wanted to go over all of them (approx. 500) to look for any Ross’s Geese but they had other plans. While scouring nearby fields, I relocated the Trumpeter Swan from before and 12 of its buddies. They were huddled around a small puddle in a field and I counted 9 adults and 4 immature birds; none had neck bands. This is the highest number (to my knowledge and according to Audubon Society records) reported here.
I moved on to the boat ramp which is on a section of the Arkansas River. Along this road, I always see a Brown Thrasher and this time did not disappoint. When I got to the boat ramp I immediately saw hordes of ducks on the water. Unfortunately, the vast majority were fleeing my presence. I was able to see several Mallards and Green-winged Teal before they moved farther on down the river. I walked a levee to a small dam and saw several Common Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds feeding in a flooded tract of woods. On the water, at the dam, I saw a few Ring-billed Gulls, American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and a Belted Kingfisher that would perch on the dam to fish.
Driving out of the park I picked up a last minute Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, and flushed a mature Bald Eagle from a freshly killed armadillo.
As always, it was a great day at Holla Bend resulting in a year best count of 49 species.