June 3rd was the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas’s field trip to the Warren Prairie Natural Area in south central Arkansas. Our target bird was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). The birding gods must have been in a good mood because the predicted rain held off until late afternoon. However, they have a sense of humor by providing 80% humidity that day, which meant we were almost as soaked as if we had been drenched by a rain shower. We met Bill Holimon at the Warren Prairie parking area at 9:00 a.m. Bill is the Natural Heritage ornithologist and Chief of Research. Warren Prairie is a unique, saline barrens eco system of plants, soils, and fauna. Bill gave us an in-depth description of this exceptional environment. He went on to describe the combined, long-term efforts by multiple organizations to establish and maintain the RCW colonies. Warren Prairie was the first site west of the Mississippi River where RCWs were reintroduced. Bill has managed the RCW breeding program since its inception in 2010, when RCWs were reintroduced to Arkansas. Warren Prairie is also a global National Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA).
Twenty-three birders put on their knee boots, and walked with Bill to a RCW colony site. The site contained a pair of RCWs with four-day old hatchlings. Both parents spent a fair amount of time in the nest cavity brooding the chicks, so sightings were few and far between. We also kept a good distance away so as not to disturb the pair. It took almost 2 hours for everyone in the group to get good looks at the parent birds through scopes and binoculars. The RCWs were a life bird for most of the group. Big grins and high-fives all around as the sweat-soaked group walked back to their vehicles.
At a second colony site, Bill was able to get us close to the roost trees to point out the anti-predation features RCWs use to protect their nests from rat snakes. This site is occupied by a lone male RCW. Bill said that in spite of the male’s commendable efforts providing an enticing breeding cavity and advertising it to passing females, he remains a bachelor this season. The male wasn’t home at the time of our visit, so we enjoyed Redheaded Woodpeckers and Yellow-shafted Flickers, and studying the numerous plant species. We also got good looks at one Prairie Warbler and heard several others.
On the way back to Little Rock, my carload of birders stopped at Wilbur West Road in south Pine Bluff. Very few birds were present, but we did have one Anhinga sunning itself on a snag. No sight or sound of the American Bitterns.
It was a fascinating day at Warren Prairie. Everyone learned so much about this diverse and special environment and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker population. Many thanks to Mr. Holimon for spending his Saturday with us.
ASCA Field Trip Coordinator