We got up to Petit Jean Thursday (10/23) and left Sunday (10/26) morning. We set up the camper in the dark and were serenaded by dueling Barred Owls. Above us we could hear the high-pitched calls of multiple Southern Flying Squirrels. Even the Canada Geese cackled in the distance. Although that first night was cold we got a good feeling about the upcoming weekend on Petit Jean.
Petit Jean State Park is located on top of a mountain west of Morrilton (Conway Co., AR). This park has several trails and a lot of interactive programs. There is a small lake, Lake Bailey, and large, wooded campsites. Although this is a birding hotspot in itself, there is other big birding spots nearby like Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge and Petit Jean Wildlife Management Area. We didn’t go to any of these but did do a lot of walking around the park.
Friday morning I got up around 6am and listened. Wood Ducks flew over, headed toward the lake. They gave their yell of call as they passed over. After them a Greater Yellowlegs flew over, calling. I wasn’t expecting this one and I assume it was headed to a similar destination as the ducks. First of Season Hermit Thrushes called from the nearby understory. They gave their “quop” calls and their “shay” calls; no songs, unfortunately. As the morning progressed more birds piped up. American Crows, Chickadees, Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches are probably the most common, year round, State Park bird fare in the state. They were joined in the mid story by Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Brown Creepers and a variety of woodpeckers including Downies, Red-bellieds, Flickers, and FOS Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. A couple of Fish Crows joined the American Crows towards noon.
Walks around the park revealed White-throated Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in privet thickets. A hike into a ravine yielded the season’s first Winter Wren. Cedar Creek runs through the ravine and we were able to get out onto it where it was just a wide trickle. Small herbs grew up where the water had deposited soil on the rock substrate. Perched on these plants were several American Rubyspots. Some where copulating and others were ovipositing into the shallow water. This was a lifer damselfly for my and despite the terrible lighting, we I got some OK pictures. All weekend long I kept trying to get a good look at these small Satyr butterflies to see what species they were. After following one for about 100 yds through a pine/hardwood forest, it landed on some dead leaves. I got some pics that were good enough for an ID. It turned out to be a Gemmed Satyr which is pretty uncommon, I think.
Trips around the lake revealed a few unexpected water birds. Besides the incessant geese, there were groups of Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots. While sitting on the banks a Double-crested Cormorant flew in. Along the banks were a few Buckeyes and a Blue-fronted Dancer eating a spider. Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs were found along the banks but were the only herp we saw all weekend.
Eastern Screech-Owls joined the Barred Owls in their nocturnal hollerin. We did hear the flying squirrels every night but we never got to see one. Mockingbirds and Bluebirds were added to the weekend list as we passed by fields.
It was a fun weekend at one of our favorite state parks in Arkansas.