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Frog Bayou Friendly to Birds, Birders

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September 6, 2010 by wcobserver

By Joseph C. Neal

Frog – that’s what we are calling a relatively new (since 2005) Arkansas Game & Fish Commission Wildlife Management Area. It’s actually Frog Bayou and located right along the Arkansas River east of Van Buren. It’s an easy drive down 540. Frog has been created in part to mitigate for the loss of natural wetlands in the Arkansas River Valley.

Clear Creek rises on the south slopes at Winslow. It gathers enough steam (or maybe I should say water) that it takes on the name Frog Bayou by the time it reaches the area around Chester and Lake Fort Smith. On and on it flows, out of the Boston Mountains into the floodplains of the Arkansas River south of Kibler. The Corps of Engineers created Clear Creek Park right where it joins the Arkansas.

Fertile bottomlands all along the river have been converted to production of soybeans, with loss of the original wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests. I know soybeans are useful and have great value – I’m not running down soybeans here — but we also need wetlands for many kinds of wildlife.

I have long wanted a really good place to go birding in the broad bottomlands of the Arkansas River. Frog fits the bill. They’re re-creating wetlands at Frog. There’s no threat to soybean farming: there are still plenty of soybeans all over the vast bottomlands along the river.

It’s just fair to note that the chief purpose of a wildlife management area is to provide the public with quality hunting opportunities. Blue-winged Teal and many other duck species, for example, use the created wetlands in migration. I assume that during the teal migration lots of duck hunters find their way to Frog. The additional benefit in a project like this is creation of quality wildlife viewing opportunities, including an excellent public space for birding.

Just a few examples here: there are excellent places to view the mighty Arkansas from Frog. During the summer it’s easy to spot Least Terns, a Federally-listed Endangered species that nests on sandy islands in the river. All kinds of herons and egrets use Frog as a place to loaf and seek food. In recent weeks I have seen Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Green Herons, and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. They all nest nearby and forage in the moist soils of the wetlands.

A few weeks ago I found two ibis species: a juvenile White Ibis and a White-faced Ibis. Ibises have long, down-turned bills that they use to probe into soft mud. They are often depicted on the tombs of ancient Egyptians. Neither of these ibis species nest anywhere near Frog. Since many long-legged wading birds wander north after their nesting seasons, I assume these birds are late summer visitors from the south. They have been around for several weeks, so I also assume the food available at Frog suits their needs.

Frog also suits my needs, too.

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