Saturday morning fourteen birders met at the truck stop south of Dyer at 8:45am before heading to the Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area. All weather reports had promised a less than 20% chance of rain, which turned out wrong. By the time we got to the boat ramp on the Arkansas River, it was raining steadily with misty fog. Barely visible on the river were several Great Egrets and a couple of Cormorants. No birds were singing. At the moist soil units the rain was still coming down. Knowing that Frog’s clay mud is notoriously slippery when wet, I recommended we skip walking the units and go to the Alama Sewer Ponds, which is on a much firmer dirt road. The group voted for the sewer ponds, which was a good decision because our cars fish-tailed in the mud as we drove out of the refuge.
At the sewer plant located on Orrick Rd. a few Tree, Barn, and Rough-winged Swallows were spotted. Across the road in a small field pond were two Snowy and two Great Egrets, and one Great Blue Heron, our lucky trip bird. Seeing the heron turned our luck to the better. The rain stopped and at the King Ranch property we found sixteen Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, life bird for several! The ducks flushed and flew up and circled the pond several times. They kept whistling as they circled, which is rare sound to hear!
We headed back to the truck stop where people bought lunch food to go. We then drove into Mulberry, turned south towards the river and stopped at the Corp of Engineers campground and boat launch. At the comfortable covered pavilion we ate our lunch and planned our afternoon strategy. If I could get Joe Neal on the phone and they were seeing Red Crossbills at Shores Lake, we would head there. If I couldn’t reach Joe, cell phone service is almost nonexistent in the Ozark National Forest, then we would head to Lake Dardanelle to try for the Great Black-backed Gull. Our luck was still holding. Joe answered his phone, said they had Crossbills and he would sit on them until we got there. A 25 minute drive from Mulberry up Hwy. 215 took us straight to Joe. The first group out of the cars got to see the Crossbills perched at the top of a dead snag before they flew. We then relocated them in the short-leaf pine trees feeding on pine cones. The first one seen in the scope was a female, the second was a male. Life bird for most of the group! A big thank you to Joe, Pooja Panwar, Anant Deshwa, and Joan Reynolds who were at the site making additional recordings of the Crossbills and helped us find them. Recorded vocalizations of these same Crossbills were submitted in early September to Matt Young at Cornell Lab. He has determined they are the Appalachian (Type I) Red Crossbills, which have not been recorded before in Arkansas.
Next stop was Lake Dardanelle. It was now almost 4:00pm and our luck was still holding. We pulled into one of the picnic sites below the dam on the Russellville side of the river, parked, grabbed our scopes and walked to the edge of the bluff, where it overlooks the sandbar island in the middle of the river. A brief scan and there was the juvenile Great Black-backed Gull sitting on the sandbar with Pelicans and Ring-billed Gulls. The RBGU’s gave a great perspective as to how large the GBBG is. It flew a couple times giving us nice looks at that huge wingspan. Life bird for several! Since it was now 5:00pm, we headed back to Little Rock very pleased with our adventures and thanking the many Great Blue Herons we had seen that day who brought us such terrific life bird luck!
ASCA Field Trip Coordinator