Technically they aren’t mine, but I do bird both of these lakes very often.
Lake Maumelle is a favorite locale for birders across the state as it seems to be a magnet for loons and grebes, even rare ones. Last week I went to get my year Common Loon and to chase a Pacific Loon and Red-breasted Mergansers. There are plans to make a trail that circles the lake, which is the major drinking source for central Arkansas. Currently, there are isolated paved trails and a longer, primitive trail that are found mostly on the southern side of the lake. The rare birds were being reported from Vista Point which is a pull-off from Hwy 10 on the western edge of the lake. On this day, I found hundreds of American Coots, about 5 Greater Scaup (a surprise year bird), several Bufflehead, a couple of Horned and Pied-billed Grebes, and several Common Loons. I got the scope out to confirm the Greater Scaup and continued to scan the rest of the immediate lake. I caught a flash of white alternating gray wing fly by. The bird landed and I saw the spikey hair do with a long, slender, red bill: male Red-breasted Merganser. This was my state year bird (I got my year bird at Lake Yahola in Oklahoma). I was excited about the ducks but still anxious about the Pacific Loon. I hit the Hundley Rd. Causeway next. Here, there is a primitive trail that winds from Hwy 10 to the lake that runs along the causeway. I set up the scope and scanned eastward, as I had viewed most of my current west during my last stop. I found a Common Loon right next to the banks and snapped a few pics. There were about 7 more Red-breasted Mergansers about 50 yds from the banks. Farther away, a loon popped up and swam around. This bird was about 200 yds away but I could tell by the extent of gray/black on its neck and crown that it was different from the basic plumage of the Commons that I had been seeing. Then, as if the birds heard my concerns, a Common Loon popped up right next to this odd loon. The differences were made so much more striking with the juxtaposition. The odd one was about 3/4 the size of the Common. Where the Common is at least 50/50 black and white on the neck and head, this bird was about 30/70 black to white. The black of the bird was narrowest on the crown, far exceeding the eyeline. I noticed the bird held its head up a little above horizon but I dismissed this fact and in my excitement called it a Pacific Loon. I reported the sighting and got an email from another AR birder who had seen the Pacific earlier and had concerns about the bird seen from Hundley Rd Causeway. They were confident that this bird was actually a Red-throated Loon. I agreed and cursed my conformity. However, I quickly returned to elation for the Red-throated Loon was also a great find. I moved on to Loon Point to find a yodeling Common Loon that was quite close to shore. It seemed as if it was begging to have its picture taken. Unfortunately, I let it down somewhat for I did not get a great pic.
My next lake is Lake Saracen, formerly known as Lake Pine Buff. Not as famous among the state birders but as birdy if not more than Lake Maumelle. The Pine Bluff birders love it and for good reason. I went down to Pine Bluff and hit this hotspot before church last Wednesday. Local birders had reported a Common Goldeneye, a potential year bird, so I went a-chasin’, or a-twitchin’. This record probably won’t make the ABA blog but it is a good one for the region of southeast AR where shallower waters prevail. I walked the main leg of the trail that runs north-south on the eastern bank of the lake. On the water was the usual suspects: Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads, American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Ring-billed Gulls. There were some Gadwall and American Coots hanging out around the southeast island which were different; although, they are seen more often than not. The late-ish time of day means that the woodland birds weren’t terribly active. However, a puddle riddled field yielded several American Robins and Rusty Blackbirds. The Yell0w-rumps “chup”-ed, the White-throats “tseep”-ed, and the Flickers gave a “keeyir.” The ratio of Song Sparrow to Swamp Sparrow is usually 2:1 but on this day it was the inverse. I found most of each at a small wetland area that also held blackbirds, Cardinals, and Carolina Wrens. I made my way back to the car and drove along the main parking lot, about to end the trip, when I spotted a bobbing bird foraging in the grassy banks. I stopped and recognized a familiar face at an unfamiliar, but not unprecedented, time. It was a Spotted Sandpiper in basic plumage. This is not the first over wintering Spotted but it is still a good sighting. I submitted this record to the Bird Records Committee (BRC) of Arkansas.
I had a blast at my two lakes and plan on visiting them for years to come.
Here are the eBird hotspot pages for each local: