My birding trips have picked up recently. I’ve found a birding buddy to go on weekly birding trips to different parts of the state, and we’ve been taking advantage of the current bird migrations to see as many birds as we can. Here’s a few of what we have seen so far:
Earlier this year, my winter bird to find was the Prarie Falcon. It look me months but I finally spotted the above one on February 11 in Atkins Bottoms. Prairie Falcons are typically found more west of Arkansas; the non breeding season has them in the states bordering Arkansas to the west. Several are still typically found in Arkansas each year – with the one photographed being reported at Atkins Bottoms off and on for weeks.
I got lucky. I just happened to spot it flying toward me before it disappeared. A fellow birder who was just minutes away from me could not relocate it.
My next goal was to find a Peregrine Falcon. No such luck. That is until May 16 when I got an email from an eBird reviewer. A person looking through eBird photos had reported my photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk taken on May 1 at Alcoa Bottoms in Clark County. What was wrong with the photo? Well, it wasn’t a Red-shouldered Hawk. It was a Peregrine Falcon.
So, basically, I found my target bird without even realizing it. Peregrine Falcons are found in Arkansas during migration season. Did you know they can fly up to 25-34 mph when traveling and up to 69 mph when pursuing prey? The falcon can be found on all continents except Antartica, and was also eradicated from eastern North America due to pesticide poisoning. Recovery efforts have allowed the falcons to make a incredible rebound, according to AllAboutBirds.org/guide/Peregrine_Falcon/overview.
The American Bittern has been my goal bird for 2023. And for weeks I kept missing it despite other birders seeing it just minutes before or after I visited a spot. Heck, a person I bird with spotted one flying across the road while in the same car as me. I saw it land in the field but I did not get a good enough view of it for the sighting to count (at least for me). That bittern landed by another vehicle of birders who confirmed its identity.
I finally spotted the above American Bittern earlier tonight. It was an especially great sighting because it happened on my 500th day of submitting a daily eBird checklist.
American Bitterns are heard more often than seen, and pass through Arkansas during migration, according to AllAboutBirds.org. Another birder actually told me to not expect to get a photo of one because they are hard to spot, much less photograph. The American Bittern is found in marsh areas, and typically are found with their necks stretched and bill pointed upward (which helps them hide better among the reeds they are usually found in). Mine was found on the edge of a ditch at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge in the same spot that other birders reported finding one in several times over the past few weeks.
Now that I’ve found and photographed an American Bittern, I haven’t decided what my next goal bird will be.
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:
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.
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 allaboutbirds.org 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.
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 allaboutbirds.org. 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:
This winter, I began visiting the Atkins Bottoms area in Pope County. My goal was to find Tundra Swans. While I haven’t found a Tundra, I did come across a Western Meadowlark during a recent trip. I’m more used to the Eastern Meadowlark, which have darker head stripes. It helped that the Western Meadowlarks were very vocal, making identification easier. Recent trips have been filled with birds, including Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and even a Merlin. I especially excited to see Lapland Longspurs – a first for me.
We started the day off at the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn more about the genocide and what the people of Rwanda went through. In April, Rwanda commemorated the 28th anniversary of the 1994 genocide and I’m thinking of my friends in Rwanda.
One term I learned there is ubumuntu or “humanity – goodness, generosity and kindness.” The memorial used it to refer to the people who risked their lives to help those being persecuted. A sign out front reminded visitors that “we can all be champions of humanity by standing against division wherever we live.”
We made our way from Kigali to just outside of the Volcanoes National Park where we were staying at Ingagi Park View Lodge.
After getting settled at the hotel, we visited the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to learn about Dian Fossey’s work to save the gorillas and continuing efforts to protect the endangered gorillas. It was nice to learn about the gorillas since we would be visiting the gorillas the next day at Volcanoes National Park.
Afterward, we went back to the hotel to settle in for the rest of the rainy evening. I enjoyed a hot drink near a window overlooking the front of the hotel. A farmer worked in his field across the road from the hotel, while birds fluttered in the trees nearby. I enjoyed spotting the sunbirds visiting the flowers on my walk back to my room.
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.