Saturday, February 28, 2009

Joe Neal reports on workday at Wilson Spring

I woke up this morning in Fayetteville to gray skies, north wind, and
snow on the ground. Could be a good birding day. Also, a good day for
conservation. Michelle Viney (and her team) from Audubon Arkansas'
northwest Arkansas field office (Fayetteville) teamed up with Sam's
Club for a volunteer work day at the Wilson Springs property here in
Fayetteville, adjacent the Sam's Club. Over the years, Mike Mlodinow
and I have documented more than 120 bird species there (Bell's Vireo,
Painted Bunting, American Bittern, etc). Despite the cold, north wind
& snow, there were 25-30 volunteers to help remove invasive callery
pears -- what is hopefully the opening effort to reclaim this former
tallgrass prairie and Henslow's Sparrow nesting habitat.
The volunteers are women and men, youngish and oldish. All of us here
in NWA have been hauling limbs for a month as a result of the ice
storm. Here were the volunteers from Sam's Club anyway. What a sight
it was.

Michelle asked me to make a few comments before the volunteers set off
on the pear-removal effort. Here's what I offered:

The history of this property is basically lost in the mist of time,
so let me take you back.
Native Americans hunted buffalo here. Buffalo were still seen in the
Fayetteville area by the first visitors in the 1820s.

The City of Fayetteville was established in Prairie Township. Please
note: it was not established in Tree Township, Subdivision Township,
or Mall Township, or Sam's Club Township. It was Prairie Township,
because when the first settlers here looked around what they saw were
tall, native, prairie grass: Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian
Grass, and Switch Grass. The only trees they saw were in scattered
oak barrens surrounded by native grass plus trees along the major
streams, like Clabber Creek.

This is what I mean about being lost in the mist of time. You cannot
look around Fayetteville now and see the buffalo or the native
grasses. But, that doesn't mean history is unimportant.

Clabber Creek and its associated natural springs is an important
perennial stream that runs through what was once an extensive prairie
that consisted of at least 25 square miles, part of which included
Prairie Township. In the Clabber Creek area, open fields were covered
with prairies grasses and prairie wildflowers. The fields included
small round mounds?we call them prairie mounds-- that formed thousands
of years ago. Mounds have been mostly plowed down and paved over. The
native grasses and wildflowers have been mostly replaced with
non-native grasses like fescue. The fields have been invaded by
non-native trees like callery pears.

The Wilson Spring property is important because many aspects of its
status as prairie grassland remain. There are still prairie mounds on
the property, including fine examples near the Wilson Spring run
within sight of Sam's Club. A rare prairie fish, the Arkansas Darter,
can still be found in Wilson Spring. Scattered in nooks and crannies
are small areas that retain the four chief native grasses: Big
Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass. Some very
rare wetland plants have also survived, reminding us of our natural
heritage right under our noses here alongside I-540.

Wilson Spring is still one of the best places in the immediate
Fayetteville area to see and hear more than 120 species of native
birds, many of them strongly associated with prairies. Bell's Vireo,
once a common bird here, still nests in the open field thickets.
Painted Buntings (one of America's most beautiful native birds)
occurs here in summer. Until recent years, Henslow's Sparrow found one
of its only nesting habitats in Arkansas here.

In the heart of the development area of northwest Arkansas,
Wilson Spring provides that rare greenspace where people can commune
with nature on her own terms near where we live the rest of our lives.
Restoration efforts can improve this opportunity by returning more of
Wilson Spring to its original beauty and functionality as a prairie
coursed by perennial springs and Clabber Creek.

This restoration will add greatly to the value of the property to all
visitors, surrounding developments, and it will help rescue from the
mists of time our true prairie origins in Prairie Township.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


  1. I am with the AR Earth Day Festival and we are trying to update our address info for NW AR Audubon Society. Could you send me the mailing address @

  2. A huge turkey vulture was tethered to the gloved hand of Lynn Sciumbato of Morning Star Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. When this condor-relative spread his huge wings attempting to lift off, I felt the breeze. The powerful wings pushed a rush of cool air toward us. Lynn brought four common raptors to the Shiloh Museum for a program sponsored by the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society on Saturday, October 11, 2009. I was sitting front and center with my new digital camera and would like to share the photos! Go to for some highlights of this Audubon event.