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.
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.
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.