Today was a cloudy, somewhat rainy, day throughout Arkansas. I spent most of the day in Pine Bluff. I birded at Boyd Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, Lake Saracen, and Wilbur West Road. My goal bird was a Least Tern. The Least Tern is mainly a coastal species but the interior subspecies breeds along sandbars on the Arkansas River. The interior subspecies is federally endangered but I usually get at least one record a year.
I started at around 1 pm at Boyd Point. This treatment facility is located right next to the AR river. Its geographic positioning and habitat make it ideal for migrating terns, gulls, shorebirds, herons, and swallows. I immediately saw a Great Egret in a slough as I pulled in along with some powerline denizens such as Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, and Dickcissels. I signed in at the office in the Arkansas Audubon Society book as all birders should. I drove less than 50 ft and achieved my target bird. A lone Least Tern dove into the nearest pond and caught a small fish. I looked out across the far pond and saw several other terns (all were adults) on posts that were partially submerged. I drove along, hearing Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Carolina Wren, Summer Tanager and other forest birds from adjacent bottomland hardwood. In the grass of the levees were multitude of Canada Geese while tons of Wandering and Spot-winged Gliders patrolled the bugs emanating from the grass and ponds. As I rounded the far pond I saw the first shorebird of many to come. I flushed a Spotted Sandpiper from the rocky shore. Spotted Sandpipers are very common throughout migration at Boyd Point and some may even overwinter. I moved on to other ponds and flushed up countless numbers of Spotteds. Every now and then I would notice a different species of sandpiper that would flush and a different flight call would be heard. Typically, the Spotteds would fly across the pond to another bank or farther up the same bank that they were flushed from. I finally flushed a different one that flew back and landed on the levee/road. I quickly got out my scope and watched foraged among the grasses growing along the gravel road. Its longish olive legs and slightly decurved bill with a brown, puffed out chest told me that it was a Pectoral Sandpiper. Just a little bit down the road I flushed up another different species. It didn’t fly very far and I was able to watch it forage along the rocky banks. This was a very small sandpiper (in fact it is the smallest in the world): Least Sandpiper. While scanning the upcoming banks, I looked to the upcoming road and I surprisingly found it covered with birds. Mourning Doves and Killdeer were too numerous for a quick count. An occasional Spotted foraged among the vegetated gravel. Off to the side there was a Brown-headed Cowbird female. Above the road and ponds were dozens of swallows. The majority of the swallows were Barn. Just like with the sandpipers I would notice a different species here and there. A Northern Rough-winged Swallow would fly by and then a Cliff Swallow. There was a smaller, white-bellied swallow with a brownish back that flew by. At first I passed it off as another Rough-winged but I got a glimpse of white that looped around the back of the head. I took several pics of it in flight and ended up calling it a Bank which I confirmed later with the photos. This is a migrant through most of Arkansas that I have terrible luck with. I moved on and found a recently reported raft of Ruddy Ducks with males in breeding plumage. We only get the Ruddies in the winter and very rarely see them in their breeding plumage so this was another uncommon treat. I made my way back to the exit and drove by the same ponds. I picked up another sandpiper on the rocky banks. It was similar to a Least but bigger, the Baird’s Sandpiper. This is another common species that I don’t pick out too often. On final leg I got Purple Martins and Green Herons to see me off.
After Boyd Point, I went to the nearby Lake Saracen. This was just a quick stop but yielded a couple interesting birds. I didn’t move around but just scanned the lake from the parking lot. Partially emerged limbs held Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Double-crested Cormorants. A perpetual sand bar in the middle of the lake held all of these and 20 or so American White Pelican. I watched a couple Spotted Sandpipers fly into the rocky bank from an island close to shore.
While eating an early supper I looked on the Arkansas birding listserv and saw where some local birding friends had reported an immature Tricolored Heron from a nearby hotspot. I had only seen one ever and never seen one in the state. The spot was less than a mile away so I had to go. I drove out to the spot described in the email and found it immediately. It was reddish on the wings and neck and white on the underside. It walked around with its wings slightly outstretched to flush potential prey. It would chase fleeing prey items and strike at them in a very erratic display. It was chased around by an immature Little Blue Heron for a while and was later joined by Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. Other birds heard and seen around the ag fields and marshes were Common Yellowthroats, Dickcissels, Barn Swallows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Cliff Swallows and others.