Inaugural Goose Day at Saracen

I may have stumbled upon a new potential holiday: Goose Day.  February 4th will be the date for this special day because it was on this day, year 2015, that I stumbled upon as many, if not more, goose species in one location than I ever have I done before.

So far, Lake Saracen in Pine Bluff, has been my go to in the early months of 2015.  When I got a notification on February 5th that there was a Cackling Goose I had to plan yet another stop.  Since I have declared a big year for Jefferson County, AR, I had to make the trip since I had never seen one in Jeff County.  Plus, I had yet to see one on the year.  I got down to Pine Bluff around 8 am and headed straight to Saracen.  I first birded the Northwest corner of the lake to listen for rails.  A few had been reported back in December and I have tried for them, unsuccessfully, for the past month.  This day was a failure as well.  I will try for them again at either dawn or dusk; no more of these midday searches for rails.  However, there were several species out and about including a large amount of Song and Swamp Sparrows that favored the reed beds.  There were multiple species of Woodpeckers (Hairy, Downy, Red-bellied, Flicker, and Sapsucker) and woodland passerines (Fox Sparrows, Thrasher, Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet) about.  There were several Red-winged Blackbird males that had staked out a section of reeds/thickets and were singing to defend them.  I didn’t walk much of this trail but did stumble upon my first species of goose here.  In the agri fields just north of Lake Saracen I found about 200 Greater White-fronted Geese foraging.  They gave their “honk-a-lonk” calls and when I flushed them up they became deafening.  In amongst were Killdeer and Great Blue Herons that were foraging among the wet areas of the fields.  As I turned back to the car I heard my second species of goose: Canada.

Rock PIgeon

Rock PIgeon

I drove to the main parking lot and started the main segment of the trail.  I could see more Canadas but amongst them was little Canada.  As I got closer I could see that this little Canada Goose was barely larger than a nearby Northern Shoveler and was in fact a Cackling Goose.  I approached even closer and flushed the Canadas.  The Cackling, although not originally scared by me, flew away with his surrogate flock and gave a much higher pitched call.  This flight call was the final confirmation of identification and the reason for its name.  I turned my attention back to the area where the Canadas and Cackling once were and saw a lone, white goose remaining.  This bird was even smaller than the Cackling and about the same size as a Gadwall.  As the Cackling looks like a little Canada, this looks like a little Snow Goose.  This is the diminutive Ross’s Goose.  He joined rafts of Shovelers and Buffleheads but never quite fit in.  It was fun to see so many geese and I was surprised to miss the Snow Goose which is more commonly seen in this area than all but the Canada Goose.

Cackling Goose (center) with Canadas, Shoveler (right), Bufflehead (background), and Killdeer (foreground)

Cackling Goose (center) with Canadas, Shoveler (right), Bufflehead (background), and Killdeer (foreground)

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

Ross's Goose

Ross’s Goose

After Saracen I headed to another good waterfowl spot on Hwy 425.  This highway runs along several fields that are flooded during the winter.  So, it is ideal for field birds and ducks.  I got my target in the first pond I looked in.  In this pond were several species of dabbling ducks.  Among them were Shovelers, Gadwalls, Mallards, Green-winged Teal, and my target:  Northern Pintail.  Throughout the fields were other birds as well.  A large group of starlings were by grain bins with a handful of House Sparrows.  Power lines held several Kestrels, one of which I tried to turn into a Merlin.  A house along this highway held a Loggerhead Shrike on a holly bush.  I would love to have a yard Shrike except for the fact that I would lose an occasional goldfinch.  Meadowlarks and Killdeer scampered about in the fields.  This stretch is kind of the forgotten gem of southeast Pine Bluff.

Northern Pintail male

Northern Pintail male

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