The places we bird…

On October 28th, I helped lead a bird walk at a park around Fourche Creek (some say “fush,” I say “foosh,” who knows) in Little Rock.  The walk was part of a discovery day/clean-up day put on by the Friends of Fourche Creek.  This park, known as Interstate Park, is a wonderfully birdy, yet terribly neglected park.  It lies between Interstate 30 and a series train tracks, so it can be quite noisy and discouraging to those who want to immerse themselves in nature.  However, there are trails, both hiking and water, that will lead you out of civilization and into the wild.  On the walk we took one of these trails and saw several different species and got great looks at some of the more shy ones.  Several of the participants were beginner birders and were able to add several species to their life lists.  We got great looks at House Wrens, Winter Wrens, Hermit Thrushes, and others.  We glimpsed an Eastern Towhee and had a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly over.   This place exceeded everyone’s expectations of birdiness.  At the end of the walk we talked about some of the unconventional places we had birded.  When we brought up one of my favorites, Boyd Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, some were a little surprised.  They couldn’t believe that people would eagerly walk around sewage ponds.  We explained that we went where the birds were, which sometimes was a landfill or a burrow pit or a settling pond.  These aren’t necessarily social hubs for humans but are inviting nonetheless to the birds.

With Boyd Point on the brain, I figured I’d give this gem a visit on this first Monday of November.  I hadn’t birded this locale since early September and I wanted to see if any uncommon gulls, grebes, or ducks (mainly scoters) were moving through.  Bird migration seems to be temporally stratified, more so than I had originally thought.  In late summer you have movements of shorebirds and waders, the plovers, sandpipers, herons, egrets, ibises, and storks.  In early fall you get your peak of passerine migration.  By mid-October most of the winter resident songbirds have arrived.  In mid-November you start seeing the ducks, loons, grebes, and gulls moving in and passing through.  I have gotten in on the first two legs but as we enter mid-November I’m hoping to capitalize on some wayward ducks.  I arrived just before 10:00 and was greeted by tons of songbirds at the entrance.  Most of these birds were Yellow-rumped Warblers flying to and fro.  American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Cedar Waxwings were in the trees calling loudly.  White-throated, White-crowned, and Song Sparrows were all singing from the under brush.  I pushed on past this first wave to get to the ponds.

Just before signing in at the office, I took a quick look at the first pond.  Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks were what I saw in a quick take.  After signing in  I drove in between the first two ponds.  There were hundreds of shovelers, as it turns out.  There were at least 70 ruddies on the first two ponds.

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Northern Shoveler group

Among these two dominant species, there were about 50 Canada Geese, dwarfing their adjacent cousins.  Ring-necked Ducks and Gadwalls can congregate in large flocks, but were vastly outnumbered on this outing.  Another lowballer was the American Coot.  They were scattered throughout the rafts of shovelers.

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American Coot

The banks are lined with rocks, rip-rap, which held Killdeer, over 20 Least Sandpipers, and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers.

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Least Sandpiper

Toward the end of the first two ponds were Great Egrets and American White Pelicans.

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American White Pelican

I made my way to the back ponds and was able to pick up some woodland birds.  The main focus at Boyd is the ponds but the perimeter habitat features some bottomland hardwood and agri fields which can combine to create a very speciose day.  At a section of woods at the northeast corner of the facility I came across a small flock of American Robins and flushed them into a fencerow.  Stopping to investigate, I heard a few Northern Cardinals and a singing Orange-crowned Warbler.  I see a lot of Orange-crowneds in the winter but have never heard one sing.  I picked up both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets a little on down the road.  On my approach to the last pond I looked down to the roadside to see a Savannah Sparrow.  When I looked back up to the pond I saw a group of gulls flying away from me.  In my moment of distraction, I had flushed up some gulls.  I watched nervously as the group of gulls flew away.  Just before they cleared the facility grounds they circled back and sat on the pond.  They were too far away for the binoculars, so I got out the old scope.  The gulls sat low on the water with heads down.  They had remnants of a black face but had white necks.  All signs pointed to Franklin’s Gulls.  Their leader was different.  It had a gray mantle and mottled brown head.  This gull was a first-winter version of a more familiar species, the Ring-billed Gull.  Throughout the pond are pylons, their function unknown to myself, that make great perches for gulls and terns.  This day was no exception, as another Ring-billed sat atop one with two Forster’s Terns occupying two more.  I rejoiced, for this was one of my best Larid days (a little pun, even if in error, for the Latin lovers).

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Ring-billed Gull (front) and Forster’s Tern (back)

I often emphasize the last bird of the outing in my posts and this outing had a lovely end.  As I drove away, I passed a neighboring agri field which had a male and female American Kestrel together on the power line.  Until next time.

I ended up with 48 species at a place that many would consider gross; albeit the smell wasn’t, nor is it ever, great.  Several were new on the season and the Franklin’s Gulls were new on the year.  I hate to play favorites, but I love the winter birds.

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