The Birds of an Arkansan Summer

As we pass the midpoint of August I see that there have not been as many exciting birds seen.  During this time of year, birds are recuperating from child rearing, beginning a molt, and/or starting a migration.  All of these factors mixed with environmental conditions, such as heat and quasi-drought, make the birds less apparent.  On the other hand, a lot of migrating birds are moving through the state at this time.  August is a great time, in Arkansas, to look for wading birds and shorebirds.  Working 40 hrs a week is not terribly conducive to finding these birds.  However, I do get to work outside and see a wonderful variety of wildlife and wouldn’t trade my job for anything.

In previous years, when I’ve been a student, I could take several days in August and wander up to Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge or to Holla Bend NWR to check on waders or shorebirds.  Now I’m stranded in the southwest corner of the state in unfamiliar territory.  I have yet to find a great place to seek out these late summer stars.  Lake Columbia (a few miles west of Magnolia in Columbia Co.) is a shallow lake that is filled with emergent vegetation.  This is a good place to find waders as I have seen Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets already this year.  I would have expected to see gallinules and a Least Bittern but neither have appeared as of yet.  I’ve only been to Bois D’arc Wildlife Management Area (a few miles south of Hope) once, back in June.  When I went the levels were extremely high and access to the lake was minimal.  I did get my first of year (FOY) Little Blue Heron on that day.  Recent trips by other birders have yielded Least Bitterns, Common and Purple Gallinules, American Alligators, and Night-Herons; all of which are absent from my year list.  This upcoming week provides me with opportunities to check out both locales which I have every intention of doing.  Driving through Miller County on highway 82 usually yields several different waders.  On a trip to Texarkana last week I was able to see Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Green Heron, and two Anhingas.

Although I cherish these spots, I would like to diversify my local haunts.  I would like to find a good shorebird spot that is nearby.’s hotspot map is an incredibly handy tool for birders in a new area.  I’ve hit several of the nearby hotspots and scouted around to create a few of my own.  The biogeographical region, West Gulf Coastal Plain, has a lot of unique, natural features but does not seem like a great draw for migrating shorebirds.  This makes sense, since there are no major geographical landmarks, like the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, to guide the migrating birds.  The Ouachita and Red Rivers are impressive and probably draw in localized groups of shorebirds, but the surrounding area doesn’t seem to hold vast treasure troves of these migrating birds like the Mississippi Alluvial Plain does.  With all of that said, I am still new to the area and there aren’t a lot of other birders in the surrounding counties.  This means that there may be vast reservoirs of shorebirds that no one has keyed in on yet.  Also, I haven’t spent a lot of time driving up and down the levees of the Red River which would be where the localized groups would be.  Coming upon a sandbar filled with shorebirds would definitely change my knee-jerk reactionary opinion.  Another thing is that the season for shorebirds hasn’t even peaked yet so I still have time to find the mother lode of SW AR.

Even though my bird outings are less frequent this year, I have still seen some cool stuff.  In late July I got to take some family down to Pine Bluff and we visited the Wasterwater Treatment Facility (WTF).  On the way down, we made a list of target species which included Spotted Sandpiper, Least Tern, Black Tern, Willet, and Bank Swallow.  We ended up flushing several Spotteds from the rip rap that lined the ponds.  This bird was put on the list as a confidence booster for I knew we would find them.  Least Terns were found on semi-submerged posts in the ponds.  One juvenile and about four adults were seen.

Least Tern juvenile

Least Tern juvenile

Least Tern adult showing off that distinctive white forehead

Least Tern adult showing off that distinctive white forehead

No Black Terns or Willets were seen.  Usually there is floating sewage in the southwest ponds which is sturdy enough to hold peeps.  On these floating mats we have found Leasts, Semipalmateds (Sandpipers and Plovers), and Sanderlings.  There were no large rafts on this day so no peeps were seen.

From 2014: Least (left) and Semipalmated Sandpiper (right) on floating material

From 2014: Least (left) and Semipalmated Sandpiper (right) on floating material

Over one of the northern ponds was a large, mixed flock of swallows which held Barn, Northern Rough-winged and Bank.  We were surprised by a singing Painted Bunting that may have stole the show for the day.

Hopefully my next post will feature an outing with innumerable shorebirds but for now I cherish the “backyard” birds.

One of my favorite backyard birds of the month: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

One of my favorite backyard birds of the month: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


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