Wapanocca NWR I

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My aunt has lived in Marion since I was a little girl. My sister and I would stay with her to make cookies at Christmastime and to visit the Memphis Zoo. I have tons of memories of visiting her house, however, none of them include Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell.

Wapanocca is about 15 minutes north of her house and, apparently has a long history with my family. My grandmother and dad both visited the refuge from time to time. I was just introduced this year.

Previously the site of the Wapanocca Outing Club (a hunting club), the 5,485-acre refuge was established in 1961 to provide habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl and consists of mainly agricultural land, bottomland hardwood forest, reforested hardwoods, open water and flooded cypress/willow swamp.

My first visit there was with fellow birders. I spent the night with my aunt and slowly made my way to the refuge to meet the others. I knew it was going to be a great trip when I spotted the below coyotes (oddly, my first viewing) just outside of the refuge.

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Coyotes

Here’s some more of my non-bird sighting:

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Drumroll … New bird visitor at my home

I’ve lived in Stuttgart for three years this August. During this time, my main feathered visitors have been house sparrows, cardinals, doves, American robins and blackbirds. And, of course, the occasional cedar waxwing.

Now, I love having these constant birds. Don’t get me wrong, but I decided late last summer I wanted for more variety. And I finally took action after months of just thinking about it. I actually kept my feeders full, switching to a more fruitier blend to attract another variety of birds (which my usual crowd still likes) and put up my first hummingbird feeder.

The results were slow. I received my first hummingbird late last summer. This spring, I woke up to a rose-breasted grosbeak singing at my feeder. And I recently discovered the below American goldfinch. Today, I finally had what I believe was a House finch.

I see most of the birds first thing in the morning, around 7 to 7:30. And honestly, the finds are a great energy boost for my day. So, hopefully the birds will keep on visiting.

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First day of spring

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Northern Cardinal

Spring, which officially starts today, is my favorite season. To celebrate, I spent my early Tuesday evening working in my backyard. OK, it was mostly lazy yard work. I cleaned up, made plans for a proposed project and put up new hummingbird feeders.

After I finished, I just happened to glance over in time to see a bird leaving my hummingbird feeder. I. Was. Excited! Could it be a hummingbird, already? Nope. I sat by my window for an hour watching house sparrows, northern cardinals and American robins come up to feed. I’m now positive that it was a sparrow that went to the wrong feeder.

Whatever happened, I enjoyed my time outdoors and watching the birds. It’s not a bad way to pass the time. Here’s some of my visitors:

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House Sparrow
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American Robin

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House Sparrows

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House Sparrow

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Northern Mockingbird

 

Photo essay: Cooperative birds

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Killdeer

Arkansas birds were out in force this past weekend when I participated in my first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). I’ve just completed entering the 26 bird species I viewed into the GBBC database.

The GBBC only calls for at least 15 minutes of birdwatching. Well, I decided to spend my birdwatching time on Saturday in Wynne at Village Creek State Park. Later, I visited my grandparent’s farm to walk their woods. I got lucky in both spots, however, my best find was when I drove from Wynne to Stuttgart on Hwy. 306. (See pictures below).

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Greater Yellowlegs

I say Hwy. 306 was my best find because I discovered the above Greater Yellowlegs and the below Northern Pintails. I also discovered a lazily circling Northern Harrier (third picture below).

In all, my weekend list had American Kestrels, American Robins, blackbirds, Blue Jays, Canadian Geese, Crows, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds, Gadwells,ย  Greater Yellowlegs, Hermit Thrush, House Sparrow, Mallards, Northern Cardinals, Northern Harrier, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Red-tailed Hawks, Slated Juncos, Tufted Titmouse, White-Fronted Geese, White-Throated Sparrows, Yellow-bellied Woodpecker and Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Here’s some more pictures:

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Northern Pintails

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Eastern Red-tailed Hawk flying above mallards and northern shovelers.

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Northern Harrier
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Eastern Bluebird
7-2-15 Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
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Gadwells

 

Photo essay: In search of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

A retired Arkansas National Heritage Commission employee was kind enough to take me and a fellow birder out to the commission’s Pine City Natural Area to find the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.

We searched the western part of the Pine City Natural Area, which was created in 1988 and has 1,043.21 acres overall. According to the commission, it “provides vital habitat for the only known population of the federally endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain of Arkansas.”

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The natural area also includes the “Lost Pine of Arkansas” โ€” the loblolly pines. According to the commission, the pines are now an isolated population within the plain and, as a result, are now genetically distinct from the loblolly pines found elsewhere in the United States.

Mature southern pine forests are the main home to the Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers โ€” one of the few bird species endemic to the United States, according to allaboutbirds.org. The birds’ “extreme habitat specificity and loss of breeding habitat” has since caused it to be listed as federally endangered.

State workers now help maintain this area to sustain the Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers’ population. The birds prefer longleaf pines, and only nest in cavities ofย  live pines.

The commission’s work includes placing wire around the bottom of trees with nests to keep snakes away and placing metal around the nests (below) to ensure other types of woodpeckers will not takeover the cavities.

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According to allaboutbirds.org, trees infected with red heart fungus are often selected since the fungus softens the wood, allowing the woodpeckers to dig out a cavity. The live pine tree then leaks gum around the nest hole, helping to keep tree-climbing snakes away from the nest.

The woodpeckers live in small family groups with only one breeding pair. The area we visited had about 10-15 woodpeckers living there. The commission had marked each tree with nests, and we even found an additional tree (below) that was not yet marked.

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We arrived about 4 p.m. to walk the area, find the nests and get in place for when the woodpeckers arrived. Apparently, the woodpeckers leave their nests just after dawn, have a morning rally of sorts and then head out to forage for food as far as a mile away. They head back to the nest around sunset.

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The first bird we saw was the above pictured Pileated Woodpecker, which our guide was delighted to see flying in the opposite direction. Apparently the Pileated Woodpecker wreaks damage on the Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers’ home.

Eventually, the first round of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers arrived.

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The five to six Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers called out to each other, climbed up and down the trees with nests, and finally swooped into their nests for the night.

Their arrival, greeting and turn-in for the night was actually pretty quick. We decided to stay there a little longer just to be sure they wouldn’t come out again. For the next 20 minutes, all we heard were geese and more geese.

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We were about to head back to the car when we heard a second group of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers arrive. Thankfully, there were no geese overhead. This group stayed out for a while, allowing us to get a pretty good glimpse of them.

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Our guide kept a record of how many birds we saw, the time they arrived and the time they went to bed to give to his old coworkers. He plans to update them on the unmarked tree we found as well as information about which birds. Most of the birds are banded โ€” you can see the band in the above picture.

It was also interesting to learn that the commission does occasionally relocate one of these of woodpeckers to other nearby colonies, such as in Louisiana or Texas. In the past, woodpeckers were taken from these sites to help populate the Arkansas colonies.

If one of the birds are relocated, our guide said its done while the birds are young to help them adjust better to their new home. These birds are taken after they arrive home to nest at night. Workers place a soft cage next to the cavity, lightly scratch the bark and then close the door once the bird flies into the cage. The bird is then driven all night to be placed in its new nest before dawn.

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We ended up spending three hours at the Pine City Natural Area. It was fascinating โ€” I really enjoyed the visit, which ended with a splash. I was crossing a ditch when my left foot sank deeply in mud.

For a second or two, I figured the Pine City Natural Area would gain a left boot. I was luckily able to get de-mudded without getting too wet. My boots were about knee-high and the water came to just about an inch below the top of the boots. I ended up having only my left sleeve wet. Not bad at all!

Photo essay: 1st CBC

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

I participated in my very first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Saturday. It was pretty fun, especially since it allowed me to tour the restricted areas of the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

My group did not discover any rare or unusual birds, however, I was able to view two firsts for me: The Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Wild Turkeys. We also viewed thousands of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Ruddy ducks, and geese in the refuge’s sanctuary.

Here’s some more pictures from the day:

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey
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Bamboo, an invasive species that is spreading on the refuge.
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There were plenty of Mallards as well as Ross, Snow and Speckled Bellied Geese.
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There were plenty of Mallards as well as Ross, Snow and Speckled Bellied Geese.
White-Throated Sparrow
White-Throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow โ€” I saw plenty at the refuge, however, this particular one was at the Stuttgart airport late Saturday afternoon.