Date: 5/3/17 3:12 am
From: Joseph Neal <joeneal...>
ARBIRDs has lately been full of discussions about who did, and who did not, see Whooping Cranes in eastern Arkansas recently. I am in the larger group who did not, but yesterday had the pleasure of the other crane species – Sandhill Cranes (2) – at Frog Bayou WMA, or at least a field adjacent, 3 miles southeast of Alma.

Turns out that distance between where I live in Fayetteville and Alma equals 16 fiddle songs, starting with “Sugar in the gourd” and ending with “Danny Boy,” the new CD, “Nothin but fiddle & a Sarcoma Survivor,” by our confederate in birding, Bill Thurman. “Danny Boy” was just wrapping up as I headed for Frog at the Alma exit, escorted overhead by Cattle Egrets (20), and on my way to what turned out to be nuthin but northbound migrants.

Frog Unit 7 on Sharp Chapel Road was the International Migratory Bird Day t-shirt featuring a Charlie Harper print with dozens of migrants. Besides the cranes, there were Short-billed Dowitchers (~30), Lesser Yellowlegs (42), Wilson’s Phalarope (2), Pectoral Sandpiper (~80), Upland Sandpiper (2). I was just trying to count peeps (Least -?) when I spotted White-faced Ibis (4) in the field. Then Swainson’s Hawks (4) soaring overhead. Bobolink flocks kept popping up from somewhere. Plus Blue-winged Teal (35), Snowy Egrets (15) and Little Blue Herons (9).

After Frog, I made a brief stop at Alma Wastewater Treatment facility and had my mind further blown by a compact flock of 93 Wilson’s Phalaropes happily foraging on the surface of the facility’s finishing pond, accompanied by at least 500 swallows of mixed species. Driving out, I had close views in excellent light of a Semipalmated Plover – did you know they have a fine ring of gold around that big dark eye?

Final destination, the sod farms south of Kibler. That whole area of the valley south of Kibler is one enormous former channel of the almighty Arkansas, an old oxbow full of storm water and functionally re-connected to the Arkansas. A mud lump was crowned by peeps (at least White-rumped Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers), Pectoral Sandpipers (20), Lesser Yellowlegs (5), and the day’s only Stilt Sandpiper.

More Swainson’s Hawks (6) were chasing large grasshoppers in fields along Arnold Road. Trees were full of Dickcissels around the UA Vegetable Station on Thornhill. The flocks (500?) kept swarming down into a ripening wheat field. When I got to a decent place to observe, I noticed Yellow-headed Blackbirds (20? 50?) mixed in with Dickcissels.

In terms of Whooping Cranes: many years ago I like thousands of other Arkansans benefited from Professor Doug James’ spring break ornithology field trip to Aransas NWR, including a boat trip out to see the Whoopers. That has made many seekers into lifelong birders, which is the threat posed by those allusive realities called facts.

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