Photos: Revisiting Old Stomping Grounds

Vesper Sparrow

On Monday, I got up early to visit the Stuttgart Municipal Airport in hopes of seeing Barn Owls. I didn’t spot the Barn Owls by their known roost, but I did find this Vesper Sparrow that was singing from a hiding spot within tall brush. I was searching for a while before I got lucky: the sparrow flew up to a nearby power line where I was able to get a good look at it.

Vesper Sparrows are typically found in Arkansas from late September through mid-May, according to eBird. According to All About Birds, they are often hidden from sight in grasslands and fields. There are two unique features on the streaky brown sparrow: a thin white eyeing and flashes white tail feathers inflight. It also has a small chestnut patch on the shoulder.

I also spotted a Say’s Phoebe, a rare find in Arkansas, although many have been spotted in the state recently. Another birder had spotted this bird at the airport a few days before me so I was curious to see if it was still hanging around. It was.

Say’s Phoebes are typically found more west of Arkansas. They differ from the common Eastern Phoebe in having a cinnamon-colored belly. Both phoebes are brownish gray above, although the Eastern Phoebe has a pale belly.

Besides visiting the airport, I also traveled to the nearby Bayo Meto Wildlife Management Area. Here are a few other birds I saw:

Ross Goose (left) and Snow Goose

Photos: Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

For the past few days now, a Red-necked Grebe has been spotted at the city park in Jonesboro, Ark. Today marked my fourth visit to find this rare-to-Arkansas grebe. It was actually becoming frustrating because people would see it right before and right after I was there – I just wouldn’t see it.

This visit started off on a good note. I parmed near the entrance to the park with the plan to walk around the lake and not leave until I saw it or it got dark. With minutes, I found Eastern Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers flinging in the trees overhead while Mallards, Canada Geese and American Coots scrambled after the food a family was tossing to them. I walked the gravel trail along the water for a minute or two to discover Ruddy Ducks in the water and a Red-breasted Nuthatch in a nearby tree.

Ruddy Ducks
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Immediately after these sightings, I found a Horned Grebe. This grebe is common in the state during its non breeding season especially in October when it’s migrating, according to All About Birds.

Non breeding Horned Grebe

I sat and watched the Horned Grebe for a little bit before deciding to move on. But, I only took a few steps before I saw a water bird fly in just ahead of me. It was the Red-necked Grebe and it swam along the shoreline toward me so I just sat back down.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebes are not common to most of the United States – their range crosses a little over the nation’s northern border, according to All About Birds. They typically are found in Canada and Alaska. The last time one was found in Arkansas was two years ago, and this is probably the 11th time one has been spotted in the state.

I was at the park for 30 minutes max, but it turned out highly successful.

Spotted Towhee

I’ve spent the past few days trying to get a better glimpse of a male Spotted Towhee that’s been found at a local park in Little Rock. The above photo is the best photo and look I’ve gotten so far, although I know it is the bird in question since it responded to call backs I played and other birders got better glimpses of it right before I arrived.

The Spotted Towhee is not as commonly found in Arkansas as it’s relative, the Eastern Towhee. The male of both towhees are robin-sized. They have black heads, throats and backs with a white belly that has brown streaks along each side. The Spotted Towhee has white streaks along it’s wings and back while the Eastern Towhee has a white bar on the edge of its wings but not as many white streaks.

The range of the Spotted Towhee is typically more to the west of Arkansas with the non breeding season range including parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, according to All About Birds.

Photo: Wood Stork

Wood storks have been hanging out in a field near Augusta lately. The large wading bird is typically found along the coast, although in Arkansas, it is often found in south Arkansas. It’s not too often that I hear reports that they are in Northeast Arkansas. This stork was part of a larger group hanging out near Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area in White County. Up to 75 Wood Storks were spotted together.

Acadian Flycatcher

I’ve been hearing Acadian Flycatchers for a while at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge, but I haven’t been able to spot one until today. This one finally responded to call playbacks and showed up so I could get a good look.

Acadian Flycatchers are sparrow-sized and are olive-green above with a whitish eye ring and underparts. They can be found in Arkansas during breeding season before migrating to Central America and spending their non breeding season in the upper parts of South America.

One cool fact from AllAboutBirds.org: they “are such adept fliers that they sometimes take a bath not by wading into water but by diving at it, hitting the surface with its chest, and then returning to a perch to preen and shake.”

Tricolored Heron

I saw my first Tricolored Heron at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge. It looks similar to a Great Blue Heron except it has a white belly, a stripe down the neck, and a yellow section that runs from the beak to around the eyes. According to allaboutbirds.org, the Tricolored Heron is common in southern saltmarshes although its range is along the eastern and southern coastline of the United States.

Two neat facts I found on All About Birds: “Tricolored Herons sometimes follow behind Double-crested Cormorants and Pied-billed Grebes snapping up fish that they stir up.” The oldest one recorded was 17 years and 8 months old.

Tricolored Herons can be found in Arkansas each year but rarely.

Great-tailed Grackle

I recently stopped at a Prescott truck stop in southwest Arkansas, and found Great-tailed Grackles. These blackbirds are beautiful with sharp yellow eyes, black bills and legs, and a super long tail. Their feathers are iridescent.

Great-tailed Grackles are not as common in Arkansas, although they can be found year-round in the western part of the state near the border by Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.

Mexican Violetear

I was trying to decide how to spend the day when I opened an email about a rare hummingbird in Arkansas. Decision made.

A Mexican Violetear was spotted in Eureka Springs for four days – I saw it on Day 4. These hummingbirds are larger than the state’s more common Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and is bright green with a dark violet cheek and breast patches. They are typically found in Mexico and Nicaragua, although it has been found across the United States over the years. After the Arkansas visitor was found, another one was reported in Oklahoma (more experienced birders than me speculate they are different ones due to coloring).

Either way, the Eureka Springs hummingbird was a beautiful sight although a little skittish and fast moving for good photo taking (at least for me). But, it was definitely a great sighting and trip.

Photo: Limpkin

Limpkin

I’ve heard about Limpkin sightings within the state; however, I didn’t expect to stumble across one myself while birding on the nature trail at Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area in Mayflower. I was walking along a dirt trail between a wooded area and a field when the limpkin just walked across the road with its head down, looking for food.

Limpkins are found year-round in South America. Limpkins look similar to herons and are typically found in tropical wetlands.

Veery

Veery

I discovered a Veery, a medium-sized thrush, in the St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area in Craighead County. I had just left a levee road when I heard birds singing in a swampy patch of woods.

A Veery is a small forest thrush, according to All About Birds. They migrate through Arkansas, and I hadn’t paid much attention to the species until I saw this singing one. Until I looked the bird up on All About Birds, I hadn’t realized that its population declined by about 28% between 1966 and 2019.

Alongside the Veery at the WMA were very vocal Blackpoll Warblers. These songbirds migrate through most of Arkansas from the eastern seaboard to where they winter in northern South America and the Caribbean.

Blackpoll Warbler