Since I will be spending 9 months out of the year in Columbia County, AR, I decided to do a county big year. Sorry, a moderate goal. A Big Year suggests that I will try and see more bird species than any one else in this county throughout a year. The main problem I encounter with doing a county big year is a reference point. The only year counts of individual birders that I know of are on eBird, and the majority of eBirders for Columbia County the past decade are casual observers in the county. After spending a lot of time sorting through historical records for the state I realize that this county and surrounding area were much more frequently birded during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. So there may be a huge list of birds compiled during a single year that I don’t know about and that isn’t in eBird. Another problem is the uncertainty of how long I will be in Columbia County. My job which puts me here may also take me away. For these reasons I will not call this endeavor a Big Year, but rather a Moderate Goal. My Moderate Goal is 175 species during the year 2016. Last year I dwelt in this county from mid-March to mid-November and saw 111 species of birds. This year I start earlier and have already added to my county life list (see below).
About the county…
Columbia County is one of the most southwestern counties in Arkansas. Its southern border is the state line shared with Louisiana. As per the 2010 census the population of the county is 24,552, with a land area of 767 square miles, or 1,987 square km (data from wikipedia), so its a small county. The county is in the biogeographical region called the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The habitats include Loblolly/Shortleaf Pine-various hardwood forests in the uplands and bottomland hardwood forests in the lowlands. The main man-made habitats include city (small scale but good for a few urban birds) and open pastures. The main birding hotspots are Lake Columbia, Logoly State Park (where I work), and Southern Arkansas University. So far I have birded these locales and the many county roads. This should be a very birdy county but I have yet to find the mother lode.
The road so far
As mentioned earlier, I have started about a month earlier than last year. This means that I have more exposure to overwintering birds. There are a lot of overwintering sparrows that I don’t have for this county including common ones like Swamp, Fox, Savannah, and White-crowned. I hope to use this time to increase my waterfowl list as well. So far I’ve spent most of my birding time in the park and have accumulated several “good” species (I use the term “good” to designate a species that is not a guaranteed; I think all birds are great). I have been able to pick up species like the Barred Owl and the Pine Siskin in the park, which has helped a lot since the siskins don’t seem to be having an overly irruptive year. A lot of the woodland denizens are quite common in the park, these include: Brown Creeper, both Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, and Eastern Phoebe. A trip to Southern Arkansas University (SAU) farm and corral yielded new county birds such as Wilson’s Snipe and Loggerhead Shrike as well as a few year birds such as Mourning Doves, Killdeer, Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons.
Hopefully I will keep this going and reach 175. Look for posts with “Moderate Goal” in the title. Also, I will attempt to put up a page of my progress. At the end of February I was at 42 species.