The Struggles to Identify

Bay-breasted Warbler

In mid-May, I joined a birding field trip to the David D. Terry Lock and Dam. It was really enjoyable – both in company and birds found. However, I’ve spent the days since trying to figure out the identity of two warblers photographed. I finally broke down and emailed another birder who’s been willing to help me with my identification with needed. While I was correct in identifying the above Bay-breasted Warbler, I learned my other mystery warbler was in fact a Blackpoll. I’m pretty excited to have seen both – especially since it appears I was the only one of the group to have seen them. I snapped the photos while we were looking at some other warblers.

Both warbler species have been migrating through Arkansas for the past few weeks. The Bay-breasted Warbler winters in South America and breeds in northern Canada. According to All About Birds, the Blackpoll Warbler has the longest overwater journey of any songbird – nearly 1,800 miles nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean. It winters in South America and breeds in the boreal forests of Canada.

While common, the Blackpoll’s population is in a steep decline with reports indicating it has lost about 88% of its population in the last 40 years. The Bay-breasted Warbler is of low concern, conservation wise.

Blackpoll Warbler

Photos: Inca Doves

I’ve seen Inca Doves in Costa Rica, but not in Arkansas. I chased reports of this rare dove in the state for years with no success to the point I stopped trying when I saw random reports of one being spotted.

However … I’ve been seeing reports of an Inca Dove being spotted at Lake Atkins in Pope County for over a week. I was piddling around the house Saturday when I saw a report of one being spotted at Lake Atkins roughly an hour before I saw the report. I couldn’t resist – and, well, I wanted out of the house.

At Lake Atkins, I slowly drove down the streets in the reported area for close to 30 minutes with no success (at least with an Inca Dove spotting). I was on my final loop and prepared to leave when two doves landed in the driveway I was passing. It was two Inca Doves.

Inca Doves are pretty common from the southwestern United States to far western Panama. There are reports of sightings within Arkansas each year. Inca Doves are ground doves with red eyes, a long tail and scaly-looking feathers. They blend in well with the gravel roads and lots I’ve always seen them walking on. One interesting tidbit: their call sounds like they are cooing “no hope.”

While searching for the Inca Doves, I also found:

Photos: Lorance Creek Natural Area

Louisiana Waterthrush

I’ve been on the hunt to spot and photograph a Louisiana Waterthrush, a member of the warbler family that stays close to moving water and is among the earliest migrating warblers.

I finally spotted my first Louisiana Waterthrush today at the Lorance Creek Natural Area. It was also my first trip to the this natural area, which has a .5 mile roundtrip trail that starts in an upland pine-oak forest and ends with a boardwalk through an open water tupelo-bald cypress forest. Added in 1990, Arkansas Heritage describes the natural area as primarily a shallow, groundwater-fed swamp that spreads out along both sides of Lorance Creek. It is situated at the transition zone between the sandy uplands of the Coastal Plain and the flat lowlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.

I got there at 7:51 a.m. and spent the next almost two hours searching for birds. I found 31 species and was actually greeted in the parking lot by a Black-and-White Warbler and a Brown-headed Nuthatch.

I’m looking forward to coming back later when migration picks back up to see What other warblers I can find. Until then, I’m happy with my sightings so far, which include an Acadian Flycatcher, Indigo Buntings and Prothonotary Warblers.

Acadian Flycatcher

Photos: Dowitchers

Long-billed Dowitcher on May 7 at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge

This month, I was able to get a better look at long-billed and short-billed dowitchers. I consider that a great feat for me. The two species are very similar in appearance – notes you tell them apart by the short-billed dowitcher having a shorter bill (although there can be an overlap in bill size) and a slimmer underbelly. The best way to tell them apart is by their call.

Short-billed Dowitcher on May 14 at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge

Photos: Birding around Conway/Mayflowers

Prairie Warbler

On Sunday, I decided to revisit the Hendrix Creek Preserve in Conway to find the visiting rare Limpkin, and ended up stopping in Mayflower on my way home to tour through Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area, Lake Conway and Camp Robinson Special Use Area.

It was a birdy trip with my most exciting sight being the above Prairie Warbler. I’ve heard them before but it was the first time I was able to see and then photograph one. Here are a few others found:

Photos: Alcoa Bottoms

Northern Waterthrush

I recently visited Alcoa Bottoms near Arkadelphia to see if the Couch’s Kingbird was still there. It wasn’t. But here’s a highlight of what I did find, including my first Northern Waterthrush.

Photos: Migration Season

Lark Bunting

I’ve been heavily birding the past few weekends to take advantage of the birds passing through Arkansas. And I’ve gotten lucky with my sightings so far. This past weekend, a Lark Bunting was spotted in Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge. Luckily, I was able to head that way about an hour or two after it was first reported. Boy, am I glad I headed that way. I went back the next morning and the bird could not be refound.

Lark Buntings are not common for Arkansas, but more to the mid-west of us. Think Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and moving up from there to parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Canada during the breeding season. Nonbreeding season is spent in Central Arkansas and parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Here are a few other birds – and animals – I was excited to find:

Swamp Rabbit
Western Kingbird

Photos: Lollie Bottoms

Lark Sparrow

One bird I’ve wanted to see this year has been the Lark Sparrow. Lark Sparrows, which have a harlequin facial pattern and white tail spots, breed in Arkansas. I finally saw several Lark Sparrows on Sunday when I joined five other birders to visit Lollie Bottoms near Mayflower and Conway. Lollie Bottoms winds through agricultural fields and the area circling the Conway airport. It’s an eBird hotspot during winter and the spring/fall migration.

The trip turned out to be extremely birdy with us finding 433 birds of 45 different species. Some firsts for me were Brewer’s Blackbirds and Upland Sandpipers. We thought we’d found a Piping Plover, which would have been another first but it later turned out to be a Semipalmated Plover instead. I also saw some birds I don’t see often like a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a Sedge Wren and a Warbling Vireo. The Warbling Vireo was actually found in a spot that we typically don’t expect to find one so that was interesting. The Warbling Vireo is typically found in deciduous forest, and we found our bird in a patch of trees/brush on the corner of an agricultural field.

Warbling Vireo

Photos: Kibler Bottoms

Swainson’s Hawk

Saturday marked my first time to Kibler Bottoms in Crawford County. Kibler Bottoms is a roughly loop drive that goes south into agriculture fields in the bottoms of the Arkansas river Valley.

While there, I got my first glimpses of Swainson’s Hawks. The three Swainson’s Hawks we found were in adult light morph, meaning they had darker heads, white on the upper part of the underwings. The underwings were darker moving down and out. Typically found in grasslands, range maps on show they are typically found in the United States during breeding season. Their breeding season range is more west of Arkansas, but I’m told Kibler Bottoms is a great place to spot them around this time in Arkansas.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Another rare bird found was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper that foraged in a field alongside American Golden-Plovers, a Horned Lark. A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was also sitting in the field nearby. The migration range of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper just passes through western Arkansas so we didn’t expect to see one Saturday. This sandpiper is typically found in dry, grassy habitats according to They nest only in the High Arctic of northernmost Alaska and Canada and then migrate to South America.

Overall, we found 218 birds of 24 species. Here’s photos of some of the other birds spotted:

Photo: Forster’s Tern

We recently discovered 19 Forster’s Terns at Boyd Point Water Treatment Plant during a recent birding field trip with a local Audubon society. Forster’s Terns are found in Arkansas during the migration season, and are medium-sized terns with a longer tail and, in nonbreeding plumage, a black eye patch (which we saw during this sighting). The terns were mixed in with Bonaparte’s Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls.

Forster’s Tern along with Bonaparte’s Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls