Fall Migration at Bald Knob NWR 2014

Killdeer

Killdeer

If you are in the state of Arkansas during the months of July (mostly latter part of the month), August, and September, and are wanting to do some good birding, go to Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge.  This refuge is a great place for migrating shorebirds, wintering waterfowl, wading birds, and field/shrub birds.  There are several tracts of bottomland hardwood that feature at least two species of owls and several other common woodland species.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

After a very successful fall migration last year, I decided to hit this refuge several times this year.  My first foray this year was in May where I saw some last minute spring migrants (including breeding plumage American Golden Ploves) and a few pairs of nesting Black-necked Stilts.  I started my “fall” series of visits on July 28.  This was a partial bust.  However, I did get great looks at a pair of Northern Bobwhites, several herons/egrets, and a lone, aptly named Solitary Sandpiper.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

I journeyed to the refuge four more times throughout August and September.  On August 23rd the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas took its monthly field trip to the refuge and I met them there.  Our target birds where waders and shorebirds.  A marshy area of the refuge was a popular roosting spot for herons and we checked it for any night herons.  When we arrived we flushed up several Wood Ducks and Green Herons.  Great Egrets were everywhere, all the time in this refuge.  Great Blue Herons were common but not in as great of numbers.  We watched a small dark heron flush and fly into a distant cypress.  We got poor, but diagnostic views.  It was an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron.  My first ever for the state.  We ventured from there to The Ponds.  During the late summer/early fall they harvest rice which leaves flooded, muddy fields.  These are great for waders and shorebirds.  They will be referred to as The Ponds.  This year there were only three that were significantly used by birds.  The first pond was utilized by mostly egrets: Snowy, Great, and Little Blue Herons.  The second had a reported Black-bellied Plover which would be a first of year and only the second state bird for me.  This second pond was nearly dried up but did have several remnants of mud.  We found several Least and Pectoral Sandpipers as well as many Killdeer.  Two Upland Sandpipers were spotted among this second pond; my first fall record for uplands.  We moved to the third pond which had lots of water but a few mudflats near the banks.  On these mudflats were Leasts, Pectorals, and a few Semipalmated Sandpipers.  While viewing these, two immature White Ibis flew over us; first of year for me.  On August 29th I went up to look for a state rarity that had been debated.  I got there and met up with several other birders and started scanning the first pond.  It was less flooded and had more exposed mud which led to less herons and more shorebirds.  Stilt Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers foraged in the deeper water while Leasts, Semipalmateds, and Western Sandpipers foraged in the shallower water or in the mud.  Killdeer and Semipalmated Plovers ran up and down the mudflats, picking here and there.  A lone Caspian Tern sat on a mudflat while Black Terns flew around the water.  We found our rarity, a Hudsonian Godwit (lifer) in non-breeding plumage.  We studied this bird for a while then moved to the third pond for another uncommon bird.  At the third pond we found four immature Roseate Spoonbill standing on an island of mud.  I had not seen a Roseate since 2010.  Definitely a great bird to see.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwit

In September I visited the refuge twice.  Both visits were not spontaneous but were planned to chase certain species.  The first time I went to see a Piping Plover, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover, and Wilson’s Phalarope.  One of the first birds I saw was the Sanderling; a first on the year for me.  I met up with some birders looking for the Godwit and they showed me the Wilson’s Phalarope which was a lifer.  This is actually a somewhat common migrant in the state and the fact that I had never seen one was a little upsetting.  But we all have our nemesis birds.  In the third pond I saw the Spoonbills again but this time there were a couple of American Avocets and a Short-billed Dowitcher as well; both were first of the year for me.  The usuals were all seen as well but I did miss the Black-bellied and Piping Plovers by minutes.  My last visit to the refuge was on September 22nd.  On this visit I went specifically to see a Snowy Plover.  This is only the 5th record (I think) for the state.  Its identity was somewhat debated because its legs were fleshy colored which would lead more towards a Piping Plover.  However, it shared no other characteristics with the Piping and was probably an immature bird.  On this trip I also saw several shorebirds being chased by a Peregrine Falcon.  There were three dark ibises (Plegadis sp.) among the herons and egrets.  I couldn’t identify them for there faces were non-descript and I couldn’t make out the eye color.  This time of year it is very difficult to distinguish White-faced and Glossy Ibis.  White-faced Ibis are much more common in the state but Glossy are seen with some regularity.  Either Ibis would have been a lifer for me.  Unfortunately I never could ID them.  Leaving the refuge I got to get the Black-bellied Plover and American Golden Plover.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

I will definitely make this an annual tradition.

See if you can find the Snowy Plover.  It was hard to find when it was in the drying mud because it was the same color as the mud.  Photo was taken on my IPhone through a scope.  Hint:  its the only dirt clod with eyes.

Mud-colored Snowy Plover

Mud-colored Snowy Plover

Here are the species of birds that were seen over these 5 fall visits:

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Wood Duck
  3. Mallard
  4. Northern Shoveler
  5. Blue-winged Teal
  6. Northern Bobwhite
  7. Pied-billed Grebe
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Great Egret
  10. Snowy Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Green Heron
  13. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  14. White Ibis
  15. Roseate Spoonbill
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Cooper’s Hawk
  18. Red-tailed Hawk
  19. Red-shouldered Hawk
  20. Black-necked Stilt
  21. American Avocet
  22. American Golden Plover
  23. Black-bellied Plover
  24. Snowy Plover
  25. Semipalmated Plover
  26. Killdeer
  27. Greater Yellowlegs
  28. Lesser Yellowlegs
  29. Solitary Sandpiper
  30. Upland Sandpiper
  31. Hudsonian Godwit
  32. Stilt Sandpiper
  33. Sanderling
  34. Least Sandpiper
  35. Pectoral Sandpiper
  36. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  37. Western Sandpiper
  38. Long-billed Dowitcher
  39. Short-billed Dowitcher
  40. Wilson’s Phalarope
  41. Wilson’s Snipe
  42. Black Tern
  43. Caspian Tern
  44. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  45. Mourning Dove
  46. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  47. Chimney Swift
  48. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  49. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  50. Downy Woodpecker
  51. Northern Flicker
  52. Pileated Woodpecker
  53. Peregrine Falcon
  54. American Kestrel
  55. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  56. Acadian Flycatcher
  57. Eastern Phoebe
  58. Great Crested Flycatcher
  59. Eastern Kingbird
  60. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  61. White-eyed Vireo
  62. Blue Jay
  63. American Crow
  64. Fish Crow
  65. Horned Lark
  66. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  67. Purple Martin
  68. Barn Swallow
  69. Tree Swallow
  70. Carolina Chickadee
  71. Tufted Titmouse
  72. Carolina Wren
  73. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  74. Eastern Bluebird
  75. American Robin
  76. Northern Mockingbird
  77. European Starling
  78. Prothonotary Warbler
  79. Common Yellowthroat
  80. Field Sparrow
  81. Summer Tanager
  82. Northern Cardinal
  83. Blue Grosbeak
  84. Indigo Bunting
  85. Dickcissel
  86. Red-winged Blackbird
  87. Baltimore Oriole
  88. Eastern Meadowlark
  89. Common Grackle
  90. Brown-headed Cowbird
  91. American Goldfinch
  92. House Sparrow
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