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‘Outdoors’ Category

  1. A Little Place Called ‘Heronton’

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    March 15, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

    Great Blue Herons are standing on nests in the Illinois River bottomlands rookery west of Tontitown, on the road to Siloam Springs. Number of nests, about 35. Number of adults perched improbably atop mature trees, about 39. Nests are in tall white sycamores, forming picturesque contrast with winter grays of Wedington Ridge in the Ozark National Forest. I call the place Heronton. It’s one of the oldest “towns” in Northwest Arkansas. It’s the place where Great Blue Herons come to nest. You narrowly catch the festivities even at 65mph on Highway 412 as you cross the Illinois. Narrowly, because we’re dashing across that efficient bridge — with one eye on busy herons, another on that thunderous onrush of our times — 18-wheelers, pick-ups, my Toyota  — and with that active third eye, the mind, simultaneously sorting affairs of family and business — and probably on the phone  — our destiny . There seems no place to stop and take in the whole, including Heronton. I am reminded of how fast we travel, how restricted our space, like we’re astronauts in a capsule, cowboys and cowgirls blasting through 14 billion years of matter. A Great Blue flies toward the sycamores, providing us …

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  2. Loon Fever

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    February 24, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

    bird_notes_logo-150x150

    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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  3. White-Nose Syndrome Still Threatening Bat Population

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    February 13, 2012 by Devils Den

    DDD bats

    By Rebekah Penny, Interpreter, Devil’s Den State Park Although there have been no confirmed cases of White-nose Syndrome in Arkansas, all federally and state-managed caves have been closed since 2010, including the caves of Devil’s Den State Park. The closures resulted from the threat of an extremely deadly fungal infection that has been wiping out large population of bats across the northeastern half of the United States and Canada. As researchers have only been following the disease since it was first noted in the winter of 2006 in a cave in New York, there are many more questions than answers. However, new evidence suggests that the repercussions of this deadly disease could affect us all (Consider that this fungal pathogen has been compared to the Potato Famine of Ireland). At this time, White-nose Syndrome is not believed to be a direct threat to hu- man health. However, it is wiping out bat populations. And whether you recognize the importance of these furry, flying mam- mals or believe the many misconceptions about them, there is no denying the vital and beneficial role they have to humans and ecosystems across the country. It has been estimated that bats provide over $22 billion …

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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. Animals That Hibernate

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    February 8, 2012 by Devils Den

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    Many of us are familiar with animals that hibernate. Squirrels, opossums, chipmunks, skunks and bats are among some of the mammals that hibernate. These animals enter hibernation in the winter to conserve energy by going into a deep sleep-like state. Hibernation can vary widely lasting several weeks or several hours a day. This is called a torpor or temporary hibernation. With a slowed heart rate and lowered body temperature, these animals have adapted to survive cold winters with little or no sustenance. The dormant state means that the animals function minimally to conserve energy. Many times these animals come out of hibernation to snack on harvested food. In the months leading up to hibernation, the animal has stored fat by eating more than usual. No one knows exactly what triggers hibernation in various animals. It might be the cooler temperatures, a change in light exposure, or the lessening of the food sup- ply. As the days begin to grow shorter and the trees are dropping their nuts and leaves, the animals at Devil’s Den State Park scurry around getting the last of their food sup- ply stored away for the winter. So before our furry friends disappear into their holes, …

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  7. The Snowy Owl’s Occasional Southern Trip

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    January 20, 2012 by Joseph C. Neal

    snowy owl

    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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