Waking up at 5:45am to thunder, lightning, and rain for Saturday’s ASCA’s trip to south Arkansas is a field trip leader’s worst nightmare. A quick check of the radar was encouraging, showing the line of rain only through central Arkansas. Having only five people show up at the departure site was discouraging. On the two hour trip south, passing through several heavy rain squalls, I questioned my rule that trips are only cancelled if there is snow or ice predicted. Finally, a few miles from Hope, the clouds thinned and the rain stopped. Rounding up additional birders at the McDonald’s in Hope, first making sure everyone saw the Great-tailed Grackles, we headed to the AGFC Bois D’Arc WMA. We had nice cloud cover for most of the morning, which kept the temperature down. With the temperature never getting above 92°, that was a nice bonus for July birding.
At the WMA, we met up as arranged with Brad Townsend and Cameron Tatom, AGFC biologists for the WMA. That upped our people count to a total of twenty-two. The biologists were so generous, spending their Saturday helping us find birds and educating us about the WMA. Our first stop netted Purple and Common Gallinules and their chicks. We witnessed a fierce battle among five Purple Gallinules, but there were no casualties. Anhingas, Little Blue, Great Blue, and Green Herons, Cattle and Great Egrets, and one juvenile Snowy Egret were our water birds. We also had a nice mix of woods birds, which included Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-throated Vireos, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanagers, Eastern Wood-peewees, Eastern Kingbirds, Black and Turkey Vultures.
Highlights at the second stop were more Anhingas, Gallinules, and Green Herons, plus Tree Swallows, Black Terns, and a COMMON TERN. We also had a very large alligator, which caused quite a stir with the group.
On the back side of the dam, an adult Bald Eagle sat patiently in a tree next to the gravel road for great looks and lots of photos. Just a few feet further down, we found an adult male Painted Bunting and spent 15 minutes admiring the bird and it’s singing as it moved from bare branch to bare branch for great looks. We also found a second alligator.
On to the Cattle Egret rookery which hosts close to 400 birds. Very busy with lots of chicks in their nests and much noisy squabbling. A Black-crowned Night-Heron and its chick were spotted tucked up in the middle of the rookery. A second BCNH flew in and circled the rookery providing excellent diagnostic looks.
Last stop was the far east side of the lake and our last hope for Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. No BBWDs. Big disappointment. But, we finally found a Least Bittern, who gave us peek-a-boo looks. Plus, we had a fly-over of another Black-crowned Night-Heron.
The group called it a day around 1:30pm with a total of 54 species. We dodged the rain, netted a great list of south Arkansas birds, plus alligators, and met two enthusiastic, bird-loving AGFC biologists. We had way too much fun on a hot July day!
ASCA Field Trip Coordinator