There are rare birds that seem to be encountered quite often and birds that should be common end up being quite hard to find. Our first “chase” of March yielded both and a lot of good by-catch birds.
The Familiar Rarity
This Saturday a couple of us had some time to bird. My plan was to go to Pine Bluff to go see a large flock (200+ individuals) of Lapland Longspurs that had been reported for several weeks. These are somewhat common winter residents of the state that I have never seen. I have seen the much rarer (ABA Code 2) Smith’s Longspur but none of us has seen the Lapland. This species qualifies as an Unfamiliar Resident. This bird has reached nemesis status for us.
However, late on Friday (March 6) there was a report of a Long-tailed Duck on Lake Conway. Lake Conway is located around Conway and Mayflower, just north of Little Rock. February 2014 saw an invasion of Long-tailed Ducks throughout Arkansas. It took us a while to successfully chase a record but it was worth the hunt. We ended up heading for Lake Conway with the reasoning that the Longspurs will be here a little while longer but the Long-tailed Duck was only passing through.
We took Interstate 40 north to Mayflower and headed east on Highway 89. The duck had been reported from a bridge that crossed over the lake and we pulled off here. We joined other birders chasing this marvelous duck. They pointed us to the duck and we set up the scope. The birders who had been there earlier said the duck had moved from within feet of them to halfway across the lake. We didn’t have any trouble relocating the duck but it was a over a hundred yards away. I took some long distance, documentation shots and felt satisfied enough with the looks we had. We watched the birds closer to us and witnessed a pretty good show. There were groups of American White Pelicans chasing fish with a mob mentality.
Above them were agile Bonaparte’s Gulls diving here and there. The mid-air adjustments they made during a dive were rather graceful and entertaining.
They were joined by their larger cousins, the Ring-billed Gulls, who announced their presence with the typical gull squeal. A few Double-crested Cormorants flew overhead and some mixed with the pelicans. They didn’t seem too interested in joining the ravenous pelicans and mainly fished on their own. Other water birds came in, sensing the success of the pelicans. American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, and Lesser Scaup eventually joined the masses.
We moved further down the bank and snooped around a privet thicket. There were Song Sparrows and Field Sparrows singing despite a Red-shouldered Hawk lurking nearby. A couple of irate Chipping Sparrows chased each other around while a territorial mockingbird did the same to a female cardinal. A couple more birders showed up and we went back over to show them the duck. It had moved a little closer to shore but was still a ways out. I looked away for a few minutes to watch a highly vocal coot meander towards us. When I looked back to where the duck had been I couldn’t relocate it. I asked one of the new birders where it was and she pointed closer to us and I watched as it moved straight towards our spot.
It continued towards and turned broadside of us at about 25 feet out.
The morning sun hit it and we got some really good pictures. It ventured towards the pelicans and dove a few times itself. It was successful, as we could se it gulping something. but it didn’t catch anything near trophy size.
While photographing the bird’s approach, one of the other birders told me how to get to the nest of an Unfamiliar Resident.
The Unfamiliar Resident
I may have stated this before, but we are terrible at noticing owls. So when another birder asks if we want to know where a Great Horned Owl nest is our answer is an immediate “yes.” She gave us the directions and we got there a few minutes later. The nest was in a tall Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) that grew in a grove between two fields. We could see the nest immediately but it appeared empty at first. I moved around to get a better look and could see the downy crown of a nestling peering over the nest. There was a Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead which may have been why the nestlings were hiding. A bird that we never see still remains quite cryptic. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.