Thanksgiving Break at Willow Beach

Last Wednesday, on Thanksgiving Eve, a couple of us went to one of 0ur favorite birding spots, Willow Beach Park.  This locale usually yields a lot of different species.  I set a pretty ambitious goal of 60 for the day.  During the Great Backyard Bird Count of 2012 we recorded 64 species here; one of our highest counts for an individual site (I think 73 is our highest for David D. Terry Lock and Dam).  Our goal species were a Redhead and a Northern Harrier which would both be first of season.

As we crossed the Arkansas River on I-440 we saw a few Great Egrets on the banks.  We pulled out on exit 7 and drove down England Rd toward the park.  On England Rd we saw several House Sparrows and a few Rock Pigeons.  We turned off England and on to Willow Beach Rd.  This road runs along an oxbow of the AR River called Willow Beach Lake.  On the lake were several Ring-billed Gulls and more Great Egrets.  The road then runs along agri fields and orchards.  An American Kestrel sat on a power line, Savannah Sparrows hopped up from the fields, Robins and Starlings huddled around a puddled in an orchard, and a Loggerhead Shrike sat on another power line at the entrance of the park.

The road to the park goes through a little neighborhood first.  In this neighborhood were Mockingbirds and Starlings.  Sometimes you can see Meadowlarks in the yards.  I’ve always wanted to have Meadowlarks in my yard and am somewhat envious.  But, we saw none this day.  Around the fields and open areas is usually where we see Harriers this time of year.  Unfortunately, they were also absent on the day.

The park itself is cut out of riverside bottomland hardwood.  Our first stop was a fishing pier on the end of the oxbow lake.  Here we had plethora of birds.  It was almost sensory overload.  We had the oxbow on one side of the road and a small, wooded pond on the other.  The wooded pond held several ducks that we didn’t see until we got out of the van and flushed them.  Most of them were Wood Ducks with a few Mallards and Wigeons.  Although this is ideal habitat for the American Wigeon, I don’t see them much at all.  My lifer American Wigeon was ironically seen in British Columbia, Canada.  This small pond had willows and buttonbush throughout it and surrounding it.  Among this brush were several Brown Thrashers and Hermit Thrush.  A Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua) was full of berries and the reason for the prevalence of berry eating birds.  At the wood’s edge were Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Flickers, Cardinals, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  The interior woods held Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and a call was heard from a distant Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  We flushed a large hawk from the canopy but couldn’t ID it before it was lost in the woods.  However, we heard a Red-tailed give its fierce call a little later on.  On the other side, we flushed a Great Egret from the fishing pier as we pulled up and a Great Blue Heron flushed from a little farther along the bank.  A Winter Wren gave its rattle of a call from inside the woods that lined the oxbow.  We saw large flocks of Double-crested Cormorants fly by in make-shift V’s and flocks of grackles move from tree to tree.  Belted Kingfishers flew to overhanging perches and gave their rattling call.

Great Egret on pier

Great Egret on pier

Brown Thrasher in thicket

Brown Thrasher in thicket

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

On our way to the other side of the park we passed a series of small ponds.  One was very secluded and we could only glimpse a few eclipse plumaged Shovelers.  The other pond was much more exposed and consequently did not have as many birds.  The only bird on the water was a lone Pied-billed Grebe.  Another Egret and a few more Great Blue Herons lined this pond.  We stopped by the river but saw very little.  We had a Bald Eagle fly over the far bank and a small group of Pelicans fly overhead.  About 7 Pied-billed Grebes were on the river.  We stopped at the other end of the oxbow and walked to the banks.  Among the shoreline vegetation we found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, and an Eastern Phoebe.  A few Buffleheads were on the water with a couple of dabbling ducks that I think were Gadwalls but I was never sure.  A Cedar Waxwing was heard from the canopy and a Fox Sparrow called from a privet bush nearby.

Great Blue choking down a bass

Great Blue choking down a bass

We left the park and traveled to a nearby pond on Theo Rd.  This pond can hold almost every common species of duck in the state during the winter.  I usually use this pond to pick up my only Redhead and Wigeon of the year.  On this day, there were several species represented but not a lot of ducks/geese total.  Gadwalls and Lesser Scaup were the most prevalent with a smattering of Ruddy Ducks, Shovelers, and Buffleheads.  Nearby fields held dozens of American Pipits and a few Killdeer.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Bluebirds were seen in the surrounding woodlands.  Another Kestrel was found on a power line.  As we turned to leave we noticed another species of waterfowl around the pond.  We saw several Canada Geese lining the pond.

A great time at one of our favorite places yielded another great number of species.  Here they are listed in no particular order.

  1. Great Egret
  2. House Sparrow
  3. Ring-billed Gull
  4. American Kestrel
  5. Savannah Sparrow
  6. Loggerhead Shrike
  7. European Starling
  8. Northern Mockingbird
  9. White-throated Sparrow
  10. Northern Flicker
  11. Great Blue Heron
  12. Northern Cardinal
  13. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  14. American Goldfinch
  15. Brown Creeper
  16. Winter Wren
  17. Double-crested Cormorant
  18. Carolina Wren
  19. Common Grackle
  20. Hairy Woodpecker
  21. Downy Woodpecker
  22. Carolina Chickadee
  23. Dark-eyed Junco
  24. Mallard
  25. Wood Duck
  26. Song Sparrow
  27. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  28. Brown Thrasher
  29. Bald Eagle
  30. Hermit Thrush
  31. Blue Jay
  32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  33. American Wigeon
  34. Tufted Titmouse
  35. Blue Jay
  36. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  37. Pied-billed Grebe
  38. Bufflehead
  39. Fox Sparrow
  40. Cedar Waxwing
  41. American White Pelican
  42. American Crow
  43. Northern Shoveler
  44. Swamp Sparrow
  45. Turkey Vulture
  46. American Robin
  47. Eastern Phoebe
  48. Rock Pigeon
  49. Belted Kingfisher
  50. American Pipit
  51. Eastern Bluebird
  52. Killdeer
  53. Gadwall
  54. Ruddy Duck
  55. Lesser Scaup
  56. Canada Goose

Only 4 away!



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