Picking Up the Pieces in Columbia County

I have yet to figure out Columbia County, AR, and its birdy-ness.  One day I’ll condemn this as a bird-less county and the next day I’m experiencing a minor fallout of migrants.  This fall has been back-and-forth.  As with years past, my blogging gets super erratic during busy times.  I try to have at least one, big birding excursion a week.  Unfortunately, I neglect to post about these outings.  This post will sum up the fall season (so far) in this enigmatic county located in the southwestern part of Arkansas.

The Invasion

First, although not in any order whatsoever, I must discuss an exciting event taking place in the southern United States.  We are experiencing an irruption year of Red-breasted Nuthatches, or so it seems.  I have recorded 4 individuals so far in Logoly State Park.  This includes 2 that were heard “toot”-ing to each other.  Other birders in the state have reported seeing up to 16 individuals in one spot.  These reports come from areas in central Arkansas that feature mixed pine-hardwood forests.  Our park features this exact same habitat, so I am interested to see if we can get these same numbers.  These pine-lovers have eluded me since 2013, which may have been a mini-irruption.  They were also first for me in Columbia County.  Looking back through Arkansas’ historical records, the last RBNU reported in this county was in 1968.  This is a woefully under-birded county, which probably explains this gap.  Hopefully as the years goes on we will see more and we can get some pics.

The Migrants

Towards the end of September I tried to look for some migrants around Logoly State Park.  My plan was to go out during the day and pick up some birds.  This plan was only slightly successful as I was able to get an American Redstart foraging in a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) near the park’s southern vernal pool.  It wasn’t until the last couple days of the month that I realized I was missing out.  On September 29th, I was walking back from our visitor center just before dusk.  I noticed a large, mixed flock moving through the loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) and post oaks (Quercus stellata) that fill the day use area.  I did not have my binoculars with me so I had to make a mad dash to my camper and retrieve them.  When I came back I could see that some of the original flock, although a much smaller percentage than I would have liked, were still there.  At this time the lighting was quite atrocious, but occasionally one of the birds would slip into a small pocket of fleeting sunlight.  I would say about 90% of this flock was Pine Warblers.  I love these warblers, they’re among my favorites, but I see them everyday.  As far as I know they are the only year-round resident warbler in the park.  I don’t think we have overwintering Common Yellowthroats; at least not every year.  The other 10% was a duke’s mixture.  There were Summer Tanagers here and there but they were easy to distinguish from the other warblers by size alone.  They were also quite vocal.  One of the first birds I ID’ed besides the two aforementioned was a Nashville Warbler.  This was my first Nashville of the year.  I generally have terrible luck with them in the spring.  The next bird I noticed was a Black-throated Green Warbler.  Soon after that I noticed a Northern Parula hopping about in the canopy.  I had not observed either since the spring.  After observing these it became too dark to see anything.  There were several small birds that I had to let go because the light was poor.  That hurt.  The next day, September 30th, I tried the same thing but got out a little earlier.  There were several birds out but all that I could make out were Pine Warblers, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Summer Tanagers, and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  Just before dark I glimpsed a woodpecker fly across the road and land in a nearby tree.  It didn’t make any identifiable sounds in flight so I thought I’d take a look.  The bird turned out to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  This was the earliest by more than two weeks that I have seen this bird in Arkansas.  I ran back to my car to get my camera, because I’m always forgetting something, and when I returned there was no sign of the bird.  The field checklist of birds for Arkansas (put out by the Arkansas Audubon Society) shows that we should expect to see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from the first week of September to the first week of May.  So, I’m actually a little behind.  This was my first of the winter residents to arrive.

The Lake

On October 14th I met up with some family and we birded around the park and then headed to Lake Columbia.  We tried to make a big day out of it but only saw 31 species on the day.  We did have a good day at Lake Columbia.  We hit the lake at about 16:00 and it was just about pour.  After watching a Belted Kingfisher fly around a northern cove, we flushed a Bald Eagle from its perch on a cypress snag.  The eagle was first for me in the county.  We watched as the bird soared to the southern end of the lake.  It is a wonderfully majestic sight to behold a Bald Eagle soaring over the water.  It is even more exciting to see this predator snag a fish from the water.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to observe the latter.  When the eagle had vanished the sky decided it was time to rain.  We birded from the car for a while and picked up some Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Pied-billed Grebes, and Wood Ducks all kind of mingling in the shallow waters of the lake.  We scanned the lake with the scope and picked up a few Ring-billed Gulls (also a first for my Columbia County life list) and Double-crested Cormorants perching on partially submerged stumps.  Towards the end of our excursion, the rain let up a bit and we decided to duck into a highline right-of-way.  I pished out some birds from a bordering woodland area and was able to find titmice and chickadees in abundance.  Yellow-rumped Warblers chased each other over some shrubs, giving their “chup” call.  Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers commuted to-and-from a little island of trees near the right-of-way.  Among this island was a different bird.  It didn’t call and moved differently than the surrounding birds.  I put the binoculars on it and was elated to see that it was a Blue-headed Vireo.  This bird, which I had earlier hypothesized to be a winter resident in the county, had eluded me all year.  I hope to find it more this winter to see if it is actually a winter resident but I have not seen it since.    Of interest, other than birds, we saw several ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes sp., I’m thinking either Sodorata or S. cernua) in the right-of-way.


Ladies’ Tresses Orchid

I love orchids and am always delighted to see them.  I haven’t figured out which species it is, as we have several, but the bloom date may help narrow it down.  As we left the lake we were treated to a family group of Brown-headed Nuthatches that seemed to say “y’all come back and see us real soon.”


Blue-headed Vireo

The Numbers

This last little part of the post will list where I’m at on my moderate goal with the recent fall additions in the county.  I will also list arrival dates as of November 3rd of our migrants.  These arrivals will be for the state as a whole, not just Columbia Co.

Recent additions to my “moderate goal”:

  • Little Blue Heron 7/31
  • Anhinga 9/1
  • Nashville Warbler 9/29
  • Bald Eagle 10/14
  • Ring-billed Gull 10/14
  • Blue-headed Vireo 10/14
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch 10/21

AR arrivals (winter residents, mainly):

  • Eared Grebe, Jefferson Co., 9/9
  • American White Pelican, Jefferson Co., 10/10
  • Osprey, Jefferson Co., 10/10
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk, Pulaski Co., 10/29
  • Ring-billed Gull, Columbia Co., 10/14
  • Forster’s Tern, Jefferson Co., 9/9
  • Yell0w-bellied Sapsucker, Columbia Co., 9/30
  • Blue-headed Vireo, Columbia Co., 10/14
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch, Columbia Co., 10/21
  • Brown Creeper, Columbia Co., 10/11
  • House Wren, Pulaski Co., 10/18
  • Winter Wren, Columbia Co., 10/24
  • Sedge Wren, Pulaski Co., 10/5
  • Marsh Wren, Jefferson Co., 10/10
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet, Saline Co., 10/19
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Faulkner Co., 10/4
  • Hermit Thrush, Pulaski Co., 10/28
  • Cedar Waxwing, Saline Co., 11/1
  • Orange-crowned Warbler, Pulaski Co., 10/28
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, Jefferson Co., 10/10
  • Dark-eyed Junco, Pulaski Co., 10/28
  • White-throated Sparrow, Columbia Co., 10/26
  • Song Sparrow, Pulaski Co., 10/28
  • Swamp Sparrow, Jefferson Co., 10/10

House Wren

There are still a few sparrows to get, like Fox, White-crowned, LeConte’s, Lincoln’s, Savannahs, and others.  There are some raptors and gulls/shorebirds that are missing as well.  Hopefully, the upcoming weeks will be slow at work which will be more conducive to birding.


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