One of central Arkansas’ top birding locales is Two Rivers Park. As the name suggests, this park sits between the Arkansas River and the Little Maumelle River. This park is huge and offers a lot of non-birding activities. There are community gardens, boat ramps, pedestrian/bicycle trails, and equestrian trails. A variety of habitats can be found, which makes it so birdy and favored by birders.
This park offers something for every season. In the summer, the water is the birding focal point. There are the two rivers, with their marshy inlets and such. Then, there are the bottomland hardwood that flood during wet times. In the spring and fall, birders hit the forests, looking for songbird migrants. In the winter, the whole park is hopping, but the special spot is a grassy/scrubby field that holds all manner of winter gems. On the second of December, I decided to chase a few of these sparrows and hit the fields.
I didn’t get past the parking lot before realizing that this was going to be a birdy day. I had several Eastern Bluebirds in the sycamores and American Robins in the field. An Eastern Phoebe sang its namesake from the bathhouse rafters. In the nearby defoliated trees were Yellow-rumped Warblers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. A distant “kee-yir” was heard from a Northern Flicker as I approached the wooded trailhead. This edge held several White-throated Sparrows and a chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I came across a little inlet of the Arkansas River which held several, vocal birds and a fellow wildlife photographer. This gentleman was more of a generalist and had been patiently waiting for something to happen near this water. He had been awarded as a family of White-tailed Deer waded across the shallow inlet. I tried not to be rude and listen to his story, but he had a Winter Wren literally at his feet. This little inlet had historically held overwintering Virginia Rails and other Rallids. However, they built a park around it and developed the area. Even though this area is thick with emergent vegetation, it is highly trafficked and I doubt too many Virginia Rails choose it to spend their winter. I have seen a Sora visit this area in spring migration, though. I didn’t get any rails on this day but there were several songbirds in this marshy section.
I emerged from the swamp and found the open fields. They had mowed the first section of fields but it still held its fair share of Northern Mockingbirds, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and an Eastern Meadowlark.
These fields have islands of wild plums. If you walk towards these islands, you can flush up birds from the tall grass into the shrubs. I did that with a few Song Sparrows and gobs of Northern Cardinals.
A taller tree in this island (maybe a young sweetgum) held sentries in the form of mockingbirds and Blue Jays. Farther down its branches was a lone Mourning Dove. After circling the island and moved on toward the Arkansas River, the edge of the field. Behind this first island was a patch of broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus). This grass was a nice brown orange in contrast with the tans and grays of the other dead grass species. This patch was incredibly thick and surprisingly tall. I walked along the edge of it and could hear more Song Sparrows and an occasional Swamp Sparrow. I placed a foot down and saw slight movements come from a clump of bluestem right beside my leg. I froze and watched as a tiny little bird moved up and down this stem. It was giving a cough-like call, subtle enough to not give away its location. Even though the bird was less than three feet away, I only caught glimpses of it. I was surprised that the bird didn’t bolt to the other side of this quarter-acre patch of bluestem. Fortunately, my binoculars can focus on things only a few feet away and I could see that this was a former nemesis, the Sedge Wren. I found my lifer Sedge back in October of this year. I was unfamiliar with this coughing call, but after a while a second one flew in to its location and gave a more familiar call. While watching these two, or watching the grass move as they moved, I had another species fly in. This one was slightly larger, though possessed an equally cryptic plumage. This was the bird I was chasing and had missed it so far this year. The orange face and gray nape let me know that I was looking and the reclusive Le Conte’s Sparrow.
Two birds that had often eluded me were within the same 9 square-foot area. After admiring these species, I walked away and flushed another Le Conte’s in shorter grass.
I walked across the field and picked up the equestrian trail that winds around the fields and makes its way into a scrubby area. After entering this area I immediately found robins and Carolina Chickadees galore. House Wrens called from around almost every corner. I worked my way deeper into this area and started hearing the songs of Fox Sparrows. Hermit Thrushes called from the mid-story where Pine Warblers foraged. Overhead, there were several flocks of Cedar Waxwings flying back and forth. Deciduous Hollies and Eastern Red Cedars were in full berry which attracted the waxwings, warblers, sparrows, thrushes, and many others.
I exited the scrub and turned an eye towards the Arkansas River. I could hear a lone Canada Goose and a distant Belted Kingfisher. I saw a mass of white lift up from the water and watched them circle overhead. These were overwintering American White Pelicans that seem to love the Arkansas River. An occasional Double-crested Cormorant joined this group of pelicans, seeking an aquatic snack. I looked above the river and found a soaring Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture. I looked away for a second and heard a coarse squawk. I looked to see a Great Blue Heron chasing the hawk, which had dropped in altitude much to the heron’s chagrin.
This was a very birdy day indeed. Getting a new year bird in December is always great. Seeing that new year bird right beside a former nemesis is even better.