The big hotspot for birds in Columbia County, Arkansas is Lake Columbia. This is a man-made lake that is managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It is a fairly shallow lake and some years it can dry up significantly. In 2015, I birded this lake a couple of times but didn’t come away with much. During that stretch I only birded the northeastern part of the lake. On March 18 I birded the southern part of the lake and was not disappointed.
I got to the lake around 5:30 pm which is not an ideal time for birding but that is the time I got off work. When I arrived it was partly sunny but rainy severely. My first find was a group of American Coots that were braving the deluge. Some of them were in the water but several were foraging on land. The coots were present throughout the park and near the shore.
Since the park has an abundance of pine trees I was able to hear Pine Warblers singing their ringing song. Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and Yellow-rumped Warblers joined the Pine Warblers in the trees as they foraged. A Northern Mockingbird asserted its dominance over a specified territory as it chased off other birds. A Northern Flicker called from among the woods as Fish Crows and Blue Jays hollered from the canopy. About three Red-winged Blackbirds flew overhead perhaps looking for a nice spot among the reeds that dominated parts of the bank.
I stopped at a nice day use area that was near the lake and immediately found a small raft of Lesser Scaup. A closer look revealed an interloping Pied-billed Grebe. This raft was very close to shore and seemed to like the area around the swim beach.
Another diving bird popped up about 20 yards beyond this raft and I nearly shouted for joy once I found out what it was. The new, large diver was a Common Loon, which is actually called a “diver” in some parts of the world. Even though this is a good sized lake, I did not expect to find this bird here. In fact, if you look at my projected list for this moderate goal on my page entitled “lists,” you will see that the Common Loon was not a projected species. It can take the place of another far-fetched species that did actually make the list (like a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher).
I stayed in this area a while and scanned the lake with my binoculars. I found recently arrived Purple Martins flying about and Double-crested Cormorants hanging out on dead cypress trees. I looked for a potential Neotropic Cormorant but didn’t see any that fit the bill (they’re like small DC Cormorants, at least that’s the impression you would get if you saw one among their bigger cousins). Feeling satisfied with the area I left for another nearby spot on the south shore of Lake Columbia.
Less then a 1/4 down the road was a turn in for the Southshore Landing. This is area features a couple of boat ramps, a large parking lot, and a nice fishing pier. I headed for the pier to see what this section of the lake had to offer. I was greeted by another Common Loon. Apparently my estimation of the County’s capacity for loons was way off. I scanned the lake again and found the mother lode of newly arrived swallows. Not only were there Martins, but also Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows. There were over 100 swallows out there and many went unidentified. I always tell people that I could sit and watch swallows fly about all day. They are hypnotic. I wasn’t there all day but I did spend most of my time watching the swallows, even if it did hurt to leave several without a conclusive ID. I turned to leave and found a mixed flock on the shoreline rip-rap. Dark-eyed Juncos moved about on the rocks while a Pine Warbler hunted spiders on the fishing pier. An Eastern Bluebird found a nice perch on a nearby rail as a Yellow-rumped Warbler flycatched from a shortleaf pine. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker surprised me from a sapling as I left.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. It was a delightful surprise to find all of these species on the lake. My faith is restored in this lake’s bird potential. In total I added 6 species to my year Columbia count; several of these were Columbian lifers.