December means Christmas Bird Counts. Gearing up for these, I have been doing some scouting. I am registered for the Little Rock and Pine Bluff circles so far. Although scouting areas before the count presents a bias, I think most compilers encourage it. This past week I went to Lake Saracen in Pine Bluff and Harper Rd/David D. Terry Lock and Dam in Little Rock. I probably won’t be in any of those areas in the actual count but can provide information to those doing that area.
I was originally drawn to Lake Saracen because of the recent reports of Red-breasted Mergansers there. In fact, Red-breasted Mergansers have been appearing all over the state of Arkansas in large numbers recently. I went first in terrible weather. I didn’t even consider the trail that day. The rain ranged from heavy to mist and in the few breaks in the deluge I got pictures of a large raft of mergansers. The lighting was terrible and they were a couple hundred yards off. They would all dive at once and come up a few seconds later. They hung out with coots, cormorants and diving Bonaparte’s Gulls. The pictures showed that they were Red-breasted Mergansers. This was a second state record for me.
The next time I went to Saracen the weather was a little better but it was overcast and cold. I took the trail this time and found several sparrows there along with an assortment of other woodland birds including Cardinals, Winter and Carolina Wrens, Flickers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and many others. The lake contained a lot of birds but the raft of Mergansers were not to be seen. I checked several of the rafts and found Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads, Gadwalls consorting with cormorants, pelicans, grebes, and coots. On the banks were egrets and herons. I flushed a Spotted Sandpiper from the rocky shore. This was an uncommon, unseasonal one that would be a good addition to the Pine Bluff CBC 2014 list. The reeds contained Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. I played Virginia Rail and Sora calls to see if any had decided to overwinter as they had last year. There was no response and I moved on. The whole time on the trail I watched hundreds of Snow Geese fly over. I have never had a Snow Goose in my Pine Bluff count. Last year me and my partner chased a flock that we thought were geese but they disappeared. While walking back I passed by a White-tailed Deer doe that was only about 15 feet away from the trail. She seemed unfazed by my presence and let me take a few pics.
I went to the Lock and Dam via Harper Rd. mainly to see if the Inca Doves were still there. We got started a little late but the weather was nice. The fields were full of doves, pigeons, and Horned Larks. We saw at least 7 Kestrels. A male Northern Harrier flew low over the ground looking for prey (my first of the season). White-crowned Sparrows sang and called. Outside of Canada I have never heard a White-crowned sing. I was equally unfamiliar with their call. I was a little upset with how unfamiliar I was with such a common bird’s vocalizations but I was glad to hear them. Farther down Harper we flushed several doves from a roadside puddle. At least two were Incas but there may have been as many as 6. The dam yielded little. There were dozens of Ring-billed Gulls and coots but not much else. Probably the biggest surprise was the appearance of an Eastern Comma.
I am eager to participate in the Christmas Bird Counts and highly recommend them to everyone who’s interested.