After a brief (if three months can be called brief) hiatus, I return with a summary of summer birding, concluding with some really awesome late summer birds. The latter part of this blog will focus on some fairly harsh realizations that I am coming to terms with.
I think my last post featured the International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), which took place in mid-May. Let my blog activity be indicative of my birding activity. Working at Arkansas’s first environmental education state park is awesome and it places me in a rich, gulf coastal plain ecosystem every day. However, many of those days are dealing with guests, day campers, or school groups. All of which I love, but I don’t get to bird as much. So, this recap will be short. I have visited Boyd Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in Pine Bluff several times throughout the summer with mixed results. On my latest trip on August 12th I was able to come across several Least Terns. Arkansas has the interior subspecies of the world’s smallest tern and it is endangered. Its endangerment is primarily due to habitat loss (click here for a PDF from the USFWS). They like to breed on sandbars of rivers, for instance the Arkansas, Red, and Mississippi Rivers. I always enjoy seeing terns and whenever I see these it is an especially joyful occasion. I was also able to find my first of year Semipalmated Sandpiper and a Pectoral Sandpiper, along with dozens of Spotted Sandpipers.
A few trips to Lake Columbia yielded some interesting birds but only one new county tick for the year, a Little Blue Heron. Logoly State Park features a vast supply of common breeders. This is a very reliable place to get Wood Thrush, White-eyed Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wild Turkey, and Great Crested Flycatcher all in the same day. These aren’t necessarily cohabitants. Lorance Creek Natural Area yielded many Prothonotary Warblers over the summer and has given me my only Yellow-crowned Night-Heron for the year. I got my Great-tailed Grackle fix on a mid-July trip to the Tulsa area of Oklahoma. Not much else was seen on that trip as it was spent mostly indoors.
Late Summer Antics
Very recently, August 29th to be exact, I went to Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge. If you have read this blog in previous years you may have noticed that I like to go to this refuge during the late summer and early fall season. I am not the only one as birders from around the state and surrounding states enjoy seeing shorebirds, waders, and ducks fill the ponds around the refuge. Recently, birders have been reporting all kinds of great birds from the refuge: White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Marbled Godwit, Piping Plover, Black-bellied Plover, and others. I missed the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas’s field trip on the Saturday before but decided to go out and get whatever was left. I missed most of the aforementioned species but had a really good day at an awesome locale (another shoutout to the US Fish and Wildlife Service). One of the first birds I noticed as I was driving down Coal Shute Rd was a distant pair of Wood Stork flying by. These were my first Wood Storks for AR and for the ABA area.
Driving to the first pond I found it covered in Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. The stilts were new on the year. Looking closer at this large grouping of birds I found Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Baird’s Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Snowy Egrets. Several of these were new on the year.
I drove to the next pond and found more of the same. There was a higher percentage of yellowlegs on this second pond. On the third pond is where I found on of my favorite species of birds, Roseate Spoonbill. It was in a great grouping of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Little Blue Herons. It was either an immature bird or it was going through a molt because its pink was not as bright as I’ve seen.
This third pond featured strafing swallows. I found this group to be comprised mostly of Barn Swallows but there was at least one Bank Swallow, a first of the year. The Bank Swallow provides an interesting metric of personal and birding growth. For years I kept lamenting about not seeing this species. Then, about three years ago, I stopped and studied a group of swallows that were migrating through. I was patient enough to pick out several species of swallows where as, in the past, I would have seen a majority consisting of Barn Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow and assumed that the group consisted of only these two species. Patience is a skill that I am deficient in and it hurt me on this outing, for both Red-necked and Red Phalarope were present and I missed both of them. I did not patiently sift through the endless hordes of Pectoral, Least, Stilt, and Semipalmated Sandpipers with a dusting of Killdeer and Black-necked Stilts. Instead, I took a few sweeps with the scopes from only a handful of vantage points and then left. I spent less then two hours on this outing and I missed some good stuff. I kick myself at times like these but I am very happy with the birds I did see.
When I first started this post I wondered why I was ending on a sour note. But, I realized there is still hope, so bear with me. At the beginning of the year I had forgotten the dedication that my job required when I set my “moderate” goal of 175 species for the year in Columbia County. Over the summer I believe that I added no more than one species to my year count. With that said, the harsh realization is that I may not get my total of 175. I believe that I am currently at 113. There is the bad news that I was originally going to end my post with. Following is the good news and recently found hope. I had a dismal spring migration overall. Also, I’m missing several wintering species for this county, as I’m only here from late February to mid-November. If I can find some sweet spot for sandpipers and waders (I’m thinking Lake Columbia is holding out on me) than I would be sitting pretty (at least better than I was). Also, Magnolia and Lake Columbia share a Christmas Bird Count Circle which would get me some much needed winter species. This hope is far fetched but there is still a chance of achieving my goal.