Delta Heritage Trail State Park & Mississippi River State Park Field Trip

Sept. 15, 2018

The Sept. 15th field trip sponsored by the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas was an exploration of Arkansas’s Delta state parks, an AGFC Wildlife Management Area, and a National Historic Marker.  Our stops took us through Monroe, Phillips, and Lee Counties, areas not often visited by birders.

Our first stop was in Monroe County at the Louisiana Purchase State Park, Arkansas’s 18th State Park.  The granite monument, marking the Initial Point from which all surveys of property acquired by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, is located at the end of an elevated boardwalk that snakes through the headwater swamp.  Only a few birds were present, with the loudest a vocalizing Acadian Flycatcher.  It’s a great place for Prothonotary Warblers in the spring and summer.  The stop was a fascinating window into our nation’s early expansion.  Baseline Road in Little Rock is part of the initial survey line, hence the name.

Second stop was in Phillips County at the Delta Heritage Trail State Park. This rail-to-trails conversion was acquired by the Arkansas State Park system in 1993.  Twenty-one miles of trail near Helena is completed and open to the public.  When finished, it will extend 85 miles south to the Louisiana border.  The section we walked is packed gravel and level, easy for birders, walkers, and bicyclists.  A lovely canopy of native hardwoods shaded us from the morning sun.  The birds also enjoyed the trees and we spent well over an hour sorting through mixed flocks of fall migrants.  One faded yellow warbler stumped everyone until photos confirmed it was a Blacburnian Warbler.  Other good birds were American Redstarts, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warbles, plus Philadelphia, Red-eye, and White-eyed Vireos, all transitioning into winter plumage.  Two Barred Owls put on quite a show, flying in quite close, then vocalizing several times, much to everyone’s delight.

Continuing south to Lake View, we stopped at Old Town Lake WMA, an ancient oxbow lake full of Bald Cypress trees. From the boardwalk and covered fishing pier, we spotted Great Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, and an adult Bald Eagle. The lake looks like great habitat for ducks in the winter.

Since it was past noon, the flock demanded feeding so we stopped at Cypress Corner BBQ, a favorite with the locals.  BBQ plates and sandwiches to go, we headed for the picnic tables at Bear Creek Trail at the Mississippi River State Park outside of Marianna in Lee County. While eating our lunch, a Belted Kingfisher flew back and forth across the inlet, Red-headed Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern Kingbirds, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo worked the area.  After lunch we walked the Bear Creek Trail, which winds through the unique topography of Crowley’s Ridge.  Carolina Wrens, Acadian Flycatchers, and Pileated, Red-bellied, and Downey Woodpeckers were spotted. The Park operates through a Special Use Permit within the St. Francis National Forest. It was authorized by legislation in 1973, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the State Park began its operation.  The new Visitor Center is a must see with great exhibits. The grounds around the Visitor Center are planted in native vegetation and included over 15 hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds were zipping around everywhere!

Many thanks to Park Interpreters Maggie Howard, Delta Heritage Trail SP, and Tara Gillanders, Mississippi River SP, who were so helpful leading the walks and providing wonderful insight into the unique features that make each park special.  The trip gave our twenty-eight participants the opportunity to explore the Delta, visit new state parks, collect park patches, and add new birding locations and new counties to their birding lists.  A most enjoyable day.

Karen Holliday

ASCA Field Trip Coordinator