I ended 2015 with a couple of Arkansan Christmas Bird Counts (CBC): the Little Rock count and Pine Bluff count. Both were solid counts but with nothing spectacular seen. I began 2016 with two more AR CBCs: Lonoke and Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge/Dardanelle. At Lonoke our group found scores of Savannah Sparrows and Snow Geese, with a handful of Ross’s Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese to boot. Even though the count circle is called Holla Bend NWR, the refuge was closed due to extreme flooding, so we birded the rest of our area (area G) which had parts of Dardanelle and a little bit of Russellville in it. The highlights from that count were a male Merlin and a Greater Roadrunner. I did some more first of year birding but have missed several of the rarities that have shown up, such as BRAMBLING, Thayer’s Gull, Cinnamon Teal, Pacific Loon, Neotropic Cormorants, Common Mergansers, and several others. However, I was able to successfully chase/find Inca Doves, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Loon, and Sandhill Cranes. I will again put up a list of year birds in my “lists” page.
I got an opportunity to visit some family, also members of this blogging team, in Oklahoma in the middle of January. We were able to bird quite a bit but the most outstanding day we had was when we visited Mary Oxley Park and Lake Yahola. The park itself features an open, wooded tract with a golf course and other park features. We were able to pick up a lot of the woodland birds in this part, such as Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Common Grackles, Red-tailed Hawks, Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, Cardinals, Ring-billed Gulls, and others. In a little pond we found some Mallards and Gadwalls hanging out with a chorus of sparrows mingling in the shoreline vegetation. Among these sparrows were Song and Swamp. A Red-headed Woodpecker favored the golf course and we watched this immature bird fly from cottonwood to cottonwood. If someone comes up to me and asks where they should look for the RH Woodpecker I will promptly direct them to the nearest golf course. Driving around the main park let us see at least a dozen Northern Flickers that we flushed from the ground. We stopped at a spot where about 20 Am. Goldfinches gathered in the mid story and looked around. I spotted a small nuthatch briefly and could have swore I saw an eyeline but lost it and never found it again. I kick myself for not getting a better look at this bird as it was most likely a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a highly erratic bird I haven’t seen for a couple of years. However, a White-breasted Nuthatch swooped into view which partially satisfied my nuthatch need.
We moved on to Lake Yahola which is a major source of drinking water for the area and also part of the park, kind of. We immediately noticed hundreds of Mallards and several Northern Shovelers in the distance. An occasional Pied-billed and Horned Grebe popped up giving us quite a variety. I nearly knocked my scope over when a Common Merganser flew into view. It was a beautiful male with a clean breast and slicked back hairdo, which helps distinguish it from its similar cousin, the Red-breasted Merganser. This was a lifer for me and I celebrated quite ecstatically. My uncle was forced into the car for the wind was bitterly cold but I dragged him out so he could see his lifer Common Merg. We moved on to another part of the lake and found Common Goldeneye to add to the list. I watched another Common Merganser fly over and land among a large raft of ducks. As I kind of zoomed out I could see that this raft had more Commons in it but was mostly comprised of Red-breasted Mergansers. I hadn’t seem them in over a year and did an inward leap for joy as the cold had limited my ability, or motivation, to manipulate limbs in such a way.
From there we moved back into the park but headed to the Oxley Nature Center and walked some of their trails. We first hit a field that held several individual sparrows, however, most of them were Song and Swamp. We did encounter a couple of White-throats and flushed one Lincoln Sparrow from tall grass. The nearby woods held Brown Creeper and several RH Woodpeckers along with Red-bellied and Sapsuckers. Bluebirds hunted the field from the wood’s edge and the males flashed their brilliant blue. Along one of the trails a Hermit Thrush showed off for us and got within a couple feet. This was a great view of its plumage and behavior, as we saw it throw up its tail then slowly lower it. After the trails we watched the feeders of the nature center and found a few Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds trying to vie for position with House Sparrows and finches. Near the center we spotted some flooded woods where a group of Rusty Blackbirds were foraging. I wasn’t expecting to see the Rusties but was quite glad when we did.
It was a great trip that yielded several good birds and a couple of surprises.