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‘Bird Notes’ Category

  1. Loon Fever

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    February 24, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

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    Loons migrate through Northwest Arkansas during spring and fall. But Common Loons, scientific name Gavia immer, are never common. A productive November day is 10, and in winter, a single bird or two. It was a big deal when a single loon wintered on Lake Fayetteville last year. I’ve seen zero on Beaver Lake this winter. Tenkiller Ferry Lake, Okla., is in the Ozarks, an impoundment of the Illinois River that rises near Fayetteville. It does not have this problem. Common Loons are common at Tenkiller. I expect to see 100 a day without special effort. Common Loons are joined by much lower numbers of Pacific Loons, Red-throated Loons, and the occasional Yellow-billed Loon. Distance wise, it’s like a run up to Beaver dam. Tenkiller’s winter birding fun-o-meter is activated in big open spots like Snake Creek Park. Fifty Common Loons parade on Feb. 1, but a single bird far away on the other side swims with its neck extended and bill sometimes pointed up, rather than on the level. It could be a Red-throated or even a Yellow-billed Loon. It is almost a half-mile away. My operational rule of thumb is that the further away the bird, the more …

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  2. Don’t Forget the Herons ​

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    February 13, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

    Great Blue Heron and American Coot

    The annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) begins Friday, Feb. 17 and goes through the weekend. I’m going to Devil’s Den State Park on Friday to get things started. Y’all Observer readers are mighty welcome. I’ll meet anyone interested in the parking area adjacent Lee Creek bridge in the park at 9 a.m. This is a user-friendly event. You are welcome to come for as little or as much of the day as you want. Yes, it’s OK to just stay 30 minutes. You can even come late and join us after the “official” start, but in that case you’ll have to hunt us up. You don’t need to be some kind of smart alecky bird expert to be a “citizen scientist” on Friday or for that matter, anytime through the weekend. Just being interested and having a little time is enough. It’s also almost too easy to be real. In terms of effort and inconvenience, this will rival having to heft off the couch in search of the channel changer. That is, you will have to shake a leg to participate on Friday, but not too hard. And best of all, it will be fun. Everyone’s effort for GBBC will help …

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  3. White Rock in Mid-Winter

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    February 8, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

    120126 Hermit Thrush Slate Gap

    White Rock is way out in the middle of the Ozark National Forest and the Boston Mountains. Birding is good with Hermit Thrushes and Golden-crowned Kinglets in a stand of native shortleaf pines. Male Purple Finches are enjoying coralberries and tree buds right alongside Forest Service Road 1505. Flocks in scattered weedy openings include juncos, gold- finches, and cardinals. Field Sparrows decorated twigs poking out of an old rock wall in the ridgetop farming community of Bidville. Despite a record-breaking ice storm, a forest-decimating outbreak of borer beetles, and relentless cutting of the Federal budget, the Forest Service has managed to keep difficult, mountainous, winding roads to White Rock safe, open and even improved in places, including attractive road signs. From Combs in Madison County, I drive along Mill Creek, where in early January Hamamelis vernalis, Ozark Witch Hazel, is covered with rather elegant reddish blooms. Unfortunately, off-road vehicles are damaging Mill Creek bottomlands. Freshly eroded tracks and huge mudholes are visible without effort. Fresh nobby tracks go right past “Road Closed” signs. From Mill Creek, the forest road ascends toward White Rock. Along some of those high ridges another Hamame- lis species, American Witch Hazel with cheery yellow flowers, …

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  4. The Snowy Owl’s Occasional Southern Trip

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    January 20, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

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    This is a winter when Snowy Owls that nest in the far, far north, come south for at least part of the winter. It’s not every winter, either. There are Snowy Owls in northern Missouri and north-central Oklahoma. For the past few weeks, I have included the Snowy Owl pursuit as part of my routine around Northwest Arkansas. These are big owls, mostly white with dark accents. At a distance, lots of com- mon things can make this impression: Walmart bags in brush, bleached cow bones in a pasture, white Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission boundary signs around Chesney Prairie Natural Area, a white five-gallon bucket in weeds next to a pond, a light-colored ball of baling string hung up on a fence, a big white stump, Walmart bags in trees, even a very pale, young Red-tailed Hawk with its head tucked. I’ve never seen a Snowy Owl except for an injured bird in the Portland zoo. Back there someplace in my mind that I don’t know well — the expansive terra incognita from which wells the magma of so many hard-to-describe feelings and desires – from that place, I feel the swells and exploratory energies of desire. Then comes the …

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  5. ‘I Don’t Like People Taking Pictures of My Cows’

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    December 10, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal

    Common Grackles and European Starlings appear to be the main components of large blackbird roosts developing in my Fayetteville neighborhood. This is an annual event, as soon as we begin to have nighttime freezing. The birds roost together for various reasons, but a key one is that they are warmer in mass than individually.

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  6. The Eagle Has … Returned

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    November 24, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal

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    We have Bald Eagles every year in Arkansas, including nesting birds. But there was a time, 25 years ago, when Bald Eagles were all but extinct in the state. Just to remind everybody: these eagles plus many other kinds of large birds, including many hawks and pelicans, were hard hit by the widespread use of certain chemicals on crops. The most infamous was DDT. When DDT began to show up in human mother’s milk, protective laws were finally enacted. What was designed to protect mother also protected big birds, like Bald Eagles. They bounced back from a single nest in the entire state in the early 1980s, to over 100 now. There are at least three known nests around Beaver Lake. ​ The take home message: sensible laws that protect our health and well-being can also protect the health and well-being of creatures with whom we share earth. Well, this is a long-winded introduction to the arrival in Northwest Arkansas of eagles that nested up north. They have come south for winter. Folks who spend a fair amount of time watching water birds in Arkansas know that as American Coots begin arriving here in big numbers, eagles come in on about …

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  7. ‘Ducks on the Pond’

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    November 12, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal

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    ​The above is a phrase that Arkansas native — and in past days, an extremely famous and highly successful St. Louis Cardinal pitcher — Dizzy Dean employed in reference to runners on the base. He also stated, among other things, “The Good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong right arm, a good body, and a weak mind.” Ole Diz is long gone, but there are still ducks on the pond, especially this month, when the feathered type that nested up north are now migrating through western Arkansas. There are now ducks on every large pond and lake in western Arkansas. Of course, green head Mallards are everywhere. They must be out on your pond, even now as you read. So too perhaps are the less famous but also numerous Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers. These are all referred to as dabbling ducks, because they feed in shallow waters by tipping bottom up for food in the shallows. As we begin to have colder weather – which means much colder weather north of us – it’s like November’s heavens have suddenly opened. Claiming for avian royalty a new land as young-of-the-year ducks make their first trip south. Masses of Polar air add …

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