Earlier this week, I took advantage of a free morning to take a hike on a new, roughly 2.5-mile trail off Lake Maumelle. Not only was the hike relaxing, there were tons of birds singing along the way. My most exciting find wasn’t actually on the trail but soaring above it. I happened to look up just as the above pictured Osprey was circling above. I’ve never actually seen an Osprey in Arkansas, although these hawks are pretty common in central part of the state. I actually thought this one was a Mississippi Kite until I took a photograph and zoomed in closer to take a better look.
While the Osprey was a first for me, I also enjoyed practicing my bird call recognition. I’ve started using the sound ID section of the Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID app. While it has listed a few birds as calling that I know are not found in Arkansas, the sound ID app has correctly ID’d quite a few birds that I didn’t recognize the calls of. Two such birds on this trip were the White-eyed Vireo and Yellow-throated Vireo.
The above-pictured Yellow-throated Vireo is actually the third one of its species that I have seen period. I found all three Yellow-throated Vireos within the past week – all thanks to the app’s Sound ID. I would record bird calls, the app would ID the bird call correctly as the Yellow-throated Vireo, and the bird would then respond when I played callbacks (each one has come out in the open, allowing me to get a picture). It’s pretty exciting. The Yellow-throated Vireo may be one of the most colorful members of the vireo family, but it can blend it pretty darn well.
I was taking a photo of a Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs (pictured at the bottom of the above photo) when a Sora casually walked out of the rice and began walking around. I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen. I was snapping photos when, all of a sudden, a second one appears.
Soras are a secretive marsh bird that can be found throughout the United States at various points in the year, according to AllAboutBirds.org. They can be found in Arkansas during migration season. However, they aren’t expected to be sighted at the moment in Arkansas.
Today’s a state holiday and we’re snowed in. So, it was the perfect day to birdwatch. We had 23 total bird species visit our feeders today – and that doesn’t include some birds we typically see like the American Crow and White-breasted Nuthatch (both were present yesterday but not today 🤷🏼♀️). Here’s a few of my favorite visitors today:
No, I didn’t spend all day simply watching my feeders. There was also tax work and a walk around the neighborhood. I’ll let you guess which one was my favorite.
I can’t tell you how excited that makes me. It comes after years and multiple attempts of me thinking I finally found one – only for a more experienced birder that I trust to come forward and say, “that’s a House Finch. Good try.” 🤷🏼♀️
The Purple Finch I correctly identified was hanging out with American Goldfinches. It’s was a bird-filled yard. Below, I included another photo of the Purple Finch and American Goldfinches as well as my other favorite photos of the trip: one of a pair of Northern Cardinals and one of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
An Anna’s Hummingbird was reported in Vilonia yesterday. Luckily, the homeowner who reported her allowed me to stop by today to see her! 😍
Anna’s Hummingbirds have iridescent green feathers (males have rose-pink throats although the females have a tiny red throat patch – females of most species have none). They are typically found along the western coast and in New Mexico and Arizona. According to AllAboutBirds, unlike most hummingbirds, they either don’t migrate or migrate a very short distance to find better places to eat. Cool fact: during courtship, the male will fly up to 130 feet in the air and dive down to produce a burst of noise through their tail feathers. This takes the male about 12 seconds to do.
Today marks the THIRD hummingbird species I have seen in Arkansas since Dec. 3! Pretty impressive – and odd – seeing as I’ve only seen the Ruby Throated Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird since I started birding years ago. Hopefully it won’t be the last!
For the past eight years, I’ve had Mississippi Kites nest near my home. In Jonesboro, the kites could be found in trees in my front yard and my neighbor’s back yard. In Little Rock, the kites can be found soaring leisurely above our house. Mississippi Kites are one of my favorite birds – and I look forward to seeing them again in a few months. Cool fact about Mississippi Kites: the oldest one was at least 11 years old. It was banded in Kansas in 1984 and was later found in Texas in 1995, according to AllAboutBirds.org.
Earlier this week, an immature Black-chinned Hummingbird was reported to be in Austin, Ark. Today was the first day I could make the about 30 minute trip. I got lucky: the owners were gracious and let me visit, the weather was nice and the hummingbird was very active. It came to the feeder within five minutes of my arrival.
This was my first time to see a Black-chinned Hummingbird in Arkansas. This species (the male has an iridescent purple throat) is typically found further west, although AllAboutBirds.org reports more are starting to pass through the southeast and winter along the Gulf coast than was once believed. Most winter in western Mexico. For this specific hummingbird, the homeowners told me they just happened to spot it at one of their bushes that currently has yellow flowers blooming. They were quick to put up a feeder once they realized it was definitely a hummingbird in their backyard. A retired couple who travels and birdwatches later confirmed it was a rare species to Arkansas.
On Monday, I visited the Alma Water Treatment Plant to search for the rare Long-tailed Duck (above) that others had reported seeing there for several days. The plant was closed due to the holiday so I traveled the two hours hoping I could spot the bird from the road based off of the locations given by other birders. I started the trip off by spotting a Greater Roadrunner (below) while grabbing a drink at McDonalds in Conway so I felt pretty lucky.
Upon arriving at the Alma WTP, I immediately found my first American Pipit (pictured below). American Pipits are not rare to Arkansas – just me. All About Birds reports that they can be found in the state during the migratory and no breeding seasons. They are actually among the few American songbirds that nest in both Arctic tundra and alpine meadows.
I stayed for an hour looking among the various ducks for a white headed one. No luck. I was just preparing to leave when a fellow birder arrived. (Side note: this birder, who lives nearby, and I actually met on an international birding trip we both went on that was arranged by the Arkansas Audubon Society Trust.) Within minutes of her arrival, she took me to the corner she had spotted the bird in before and we immediately found the bird. Yes, I realize how lucky I am that she showed up when she did.
Long-tailed Ducks breed in the high Arctic and spend winters mostly along ocean coasts, according to AllAboutBirds.org. Fun fact: they are divers and can feed on small fish and invertebrates as deep as 200 feet. They actually spend 3-4 times as long underwater as on the surface.
I recently visited Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area for the first time. Located just west of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Rattlesnake Ridge consists of 373 acres in the Ouachita Mountains and the ridge is the watershed divide between the Big Maumelle and Little Maumelle rivers.
It is also home to three species of state conservation concern: the southeastern bat, the western diamondback rattlesnake and the Wright’s cliffbrake, a western desert fern. While I didn’t spot any of the above species, I did photograph my second Winter Wren. The only downside to my hike: I didn’t have enough time to hike to the top of the ridge.
I previously worked as a news and sports photographer. Recently I have been enjoying wildlife photography. My approach toward bird photos is similar to sports photography. I attempt to capture mostly action and hopefully a unique perspective.