July 28, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal
If the dogdays are getting you down, consider shorebirds or sandpipers. I know this may sound strange, but by late July it is possible to find around a dozen different species of sandpipers making the transit south through western Arkansas. Even non-birders know at least one: Killdeer. If you aren’t an active birdwatcher, names of some of these will sound exotic: Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, etc. They nest well to the north of us, taking advantage of the brief, but energetic, summer in northern Canada and Alaska, then head back south, with stopovers in western Arkansas. You look for them where there is open shallow water, like edges of lakes, ponds, and even rivers.
One of our favorite places to find them is at the Arkansas Game and Fish hatchery at Centerton in Benton County where there is a lot of this type of habitat.If this interests you, you may also be interested in a free, everyone welcome type field trip to the hatchery sponsored by Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society. The field trip will be on Saturday August 13, with folks gathering there at 8 AM. You don’t have to be a member or even be a birder to participate. All you really need is to be interested. All ages are welcome, too.
It’s not just shorebirds that are migrating south. Many birds that nest in forests north of us are finished rearing young for the season, and they head south, too. All kinds of interesting birds, many of them at least partially yellow, begin a slow movement south. Roger Tory Peterson once referred to them as “confusing fall warblers.” Unless they are adult males or females, and still wear their distinctive nesting season dress, they can be difficult to identify. There are some really good field guides to help with this, including a book devoted to nothing but warblers.
But maybe this all sounds too esoteric for your tastes. Well, enjoy all the hummingbirds beginning to crowd our feeders. Almost all of these are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and these include mainly the adult females and young of the year. But keep your eyes out because occasionally a hummingbird of a very different type may show up. We now have good records for a total of four species of hummingbirds, though all are rare except for Ruby-throats.
Goldfinches may be coming to coneflowers and other seed-producing flowers in the yard. Unlike other nesting birds in the Ozarks, goldfinches are very late nesters, with first nests around mid-July. There are several possible reasons for this – more seeds now, thistle down is available as nest material, and Brown-headed cowbirds are about finished laying their eggs, which means goldfinch nests will be less impacted.
So there is lots to see and do on the bird front, even in the dogdays.