Saturday, May 30, 2009

Arkansas officials say 'Don't Do Fescue'

Arkansas “Don't Do Fescue" is theme of AGFC public campaign
JONESBORO - Tall fescue is a widely used forage crop. It is insect resistant, tolerates poor soil and climatic conditions well and has a long growing season. Unfortunately, tall fescue also has a downside.

With approximately four million acres of pasturelands planted in tall fescue, Arkansas has a great deal of this crop. According to David Long, agricultural liaison with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the agency is working diligently to help the public understand the shortcomings of this type of grass.

"The AGFC has developed a new tool in its effort to educate landowners about the toxic and negative effects of Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue to farm wildlife. A new bumper sticker entitled 'Don't Do Fescue' is now being distributed to agency employees and others interested in spreading the word," Long said. Tall fescue is a common forage grass that has been planted across Arkansas for over 40 years.

Estimates are that about 70 percent-95 percent or 4 million acres of the pasturelands planted with tall fescue in Arkansas are infected with an endophyte fungus. The fungus causes declines in bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, grassland songbirds and also limited other game populations such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey.

"The fact that the plant is actually toxic to both domestic livestock and farm wildlife species is accepted by agriculture extension specialists and wildlife biologists alike," Long said. "The plant produces chemicals causing the fescue to have very toxic qualities. The alkaloids are found throughout the plant, but are especially concentrated in the seeds and leaves," he explained.

In cattle, the fungus causes excessive body temperatures, elevated respiratory rates, loss of appetite, body weight loss, lowered fertility rates and abortion of fetuses. Dairy cows often show sharp declines in milk production. Horses are affected also with more aborted fetuses, foaling problems, weak foals and reduced or no milk production. The CES estimates that this endopytic toxin cost American beef producers up to $1 billion a year in lost profits.

"It's very important for private landowners who desire viable wildlife populations on their property to know the effects of planting fescue," Long noted. "Many species of wildlife would directly suffer these same negative effects if they were confined to the pasturelands as are livestock. However, since they are free ranging, they simply avoid the fungus infected fescue pastures, but nevertheless, this results in loss of farm wildlife habitat on these acres. You may have deer and turkey travel through tall-fescue pastures, but they rarely find food sources available they can utilize, since the aggressiveness of the fescue usually results in solid stands of the plant," Long concluded.

The grass is a sod-forming turf with thick matted growth that also limits movement of young bobwhite quail, turkey and cottontail rabbits, provides no nesting habitat for wild turkey or quail, and is extremely poor habitat for many declining grassland species of songbirds. "Bottom line, fungus infected tall-fescue pastures offer little food, cover or nesting habitat to a broad range of farm wildlife," he said.

"Tall fescue has been planted in an estimated 4 million acres of the 5.4 million acres of pasture scattered over the state and for all practical purposes is of no value to farm wildlife. With the widespread establishment of tall fescue pastures, a great loss of wildlife habitat for deer, turkey, quail, cottontails and grassland songbirds has occurred.

Many landowners now recognize this problem and are interested in eliminating tall-fescue on some or all of their acreage. However, many landowners continue to plant tall-fescue, not knowing the detrimental effects it will have to wildlife. (There is an endophyte-free variety of tall fescue available for planting but it is less viable and hardy, and still provides very limited habitat for wildlife.)

We want to educate all landowners regarding this fact because there are other planting options to providing livestock forage and wildlife habitat on their farms," Long explained.

Please help spread the word to landowners "Don't Do Fescue!" by requesting a bumper sticker to place on your vehicle. Especially if they have an interest in managing for wildlife on their farm. For more information contact David Long at 877-972-5438 or

Which blue bird is this finding paradise on World Peace Wetland Prairie?

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of blue bird on World Peace Wetland Prairie on May 23, 2009.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Annual War Eagle celebration Saturday near Huntsville

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of Audubon Arkansas invitation to the third annual War Eagle celebration tomorrow at Withrow Springs State Park.

Joe Neal discusses Osage burrowing prairie crayfish and the diet of American bitterns

I found an American Bittern at Stump Prairie (near Siloam Springs)
during the Benton County IMBD May 9; was there today and saw it again.
In the last year, Woolsey Wet Prairie at Fayetteville has also
supported American Bittern(s). Both places are seasonally wet
prairies. They are not wetlands like those on the Gulf Coast, but
rather low ground rich in clay that holds water during wet seasons. So
what's attractive to the bitterns here? I suspect it may be the dense
populations of Osage burrowing crayfish (Procambarus liberorum). These
are terrestrial creatures that survive in the high water tables
associated with seasonal wetlands. Their mud chimneys are abundant in
both places. This crawfish species is endemic to a handful of counties
& can be surprisingly abundant, including in many places where,
botanically-speaking, the Tallgrass Prairies disappeared long ago. I
looked up this possible link in the Birds of North America series &
found that crawfish are important in the bittern's diet. Supporting
crawfish-friendly habitats is probably important to this and other
bird species. Maybe another piece of the big picture.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
The American Bittern is a medium-sized heron with a stout body and a neck, short legs, and a white neck. The upperside of the bird is brown finely speckled with black. The undersides are heavily streaked with brown and white. There is a long black patch that extends from below the eye down the side of the neck.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Painted buntings and such in Fayetteville sighted by Joe Neal

I have found 2 males in 2 spots along the Scull Creek Trail, in
Fayetteville. One place is just northeast of where the trail crosses
North Street, in the regenerating backlot of Tune Concrete. The second
is a regenerating open space immediately southwest of where the trail
crosses Poplar. From a map, it is apparent these two places are fairly
close -- one could easily walk, bike, or roll to both from parking at
either end (or skateboard). Also, note how the creek & trail parallel
the old Frisco tracks, also decent Painted habitat within this urban
context. Painteds have been in this area (including the University
farm) for a long time. As always, knowing the song makes a 500%
difference in outcomes.

If all else fails, Painted have nested for years at the home of
Richard & Martha Stauffacher, in NW Fayetteville, and they are coming
to the feeders there now.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Cave Mountain and upper Buffalo River field trip Saturday June 6, 2009

Y'all are invited to join Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society on a
field trip to Cave Mountain & the upper Buffalo River in Newton
County. Everyone is welcome & you do not need to be a member to
participate. All ages & experience levels welcome. This is mostly
stops at various places with only a little walking -- no extensive

TIME & PLACE: Saturday June 6, 2009, meet at 7 AM, intersection of
highway 21 & Cave Mountain Road where there is a bridge over the
Buffalo. Cave Mountain is south of Boxley on 21. Look at your Arkansas
map: using the intersections of Arkansas 43 & 21 as reference, the
Boxley Baptist Church is 0.5 miles south of the intersection; our
meeting point adjacent the bridge over the Buffalo is 1.2 miles south
of 21 & 43. If you are moderately late, head up Cave Mountain Road &
find us; if you are fashionably late, you may need to find us along 21
somewhere between Cave Mountain Road and the Ponca store (snacks).

Public lands in this area include the Buffalo National River, the
Upper Buffalo Wilderness, and the Ozark National Forest. There are
also private farms. What we will mainly look at are the fabulous
breeding birds -- warblers like Cerulean, Hooded, Worm-eating,
Redstart, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, etc.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Audubon outing on Mother's Day

Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society hosts a field trip to Ninestone
> Land Trust in Carroll County for Sunday May 10 (Mother's Day). Meet at
> 9 AM. Free & open to the public. Mothers are welcome! Everyone is
> welcome! You do not need to be an Audubon member or an experienced
> observer to participate. The field trip will be part of International
> Migratory Bird Day activities; observations will help document
> migration through Carroll County. Lunch will be pot luck style,
> accompanied by the waterfalls, so bring your lunch or something to
> share. Habitats: Piney Creek, classical Ozark upland fields, sandstone
> glades, blufflines, shortleaf pines, etc. and the Ozark birds and
> transients associated (Blue-winged Warblers, etc).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Joe Neal reports on May 6 bird-watching in Madison and Franklin counties

Judith Ann Griffith & I birded in Madison and Franklin counties May 6,
mainly between Brashears (intersection highways 16 & 23, Aka the ?pig
trail?) and Cass (on 23). I met Judith at Brashears. At the start, we
were in our local cloud forest. Through the fine mist we could hear
both Sedge and Marsh Wrens in a big hayfield & soon had both in close
view. I had already seen a first year male Orchard Oriole atop a
brushpile. When we returned in the afternoon, two Bobolinks perched
atop the brush and nearby was a flock of 10 Orchard Orioles.

The main focus was Cherry Bend in the Ozark NF. It?s half-way between
Brashears & Cass and involves about two miles of upper, east-facing
moist, mature hardwood slope. We parked in the small lot where the
Ozark Highlands Trail crosses 23, then walked up to Rock House, which
overlooks slopes below.

We saw bunting flocks along the whole drive between Brashears & Cass,
in both the private farmland and National Forest. Most involved 5-10
Indigos in all plumages, a few had 25 or so, and some included a few
White-crowned & Chipping sparrows. At Cass, we saw a fine male
Painted Bunting along them. We got the red around the eyes, both
greens, etc. I cannot image what the field & thicket-loving
White-crowned Sparrows felt when they awoke midst the shagbark
hickories & pawpaws of Cherry Bend!

In the Cherry Bend area we made several short stops & listens, and the
short hike up from the parking lot to Rock House. The native wild
azaleas are blooming & it?s hard not to stop in full blown admiration
for a fine male Black-throated Green Warbler when you have a flaming
pink bush extending over a high bluff, stream full & screaming below.
At Rock House we caught a crack of sunlight & at eye level a singing
male Cerulean Warbler. For those of us mainly used to butt shots of
Ceruleans high in the canopy, an eye level male in decent light makes
clear the bird?s name & its unique creation. I was just dumb struck &
that?s saying something in my case. We humans have fine sensibilities,
but they can be overloaded.

For the day, we recorded 21 warbler species. In the forests at Cherry
Bend, we had the following: Golden-winged (1), Tennessee, Nashville,
Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green (in 4 spots; they are likely
breeding birds at Cherry Bend now), Cerulean (12+; all along the 2
miles & best place I know in the Ozarks), Black-and-white, American
Redstart, Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Kentucky, Hooded, Wilson?s. These are
mostly common breeding birds at Cherry Bend.

Also at Cherry Bend, our highway workers are valiantly repairing giant
cracks and minislides in the asphalt. Bless their hearts; it?s a
critical road through our neck-of-the-woods. Gravity makes its claims
on highways, just as it does on us. Judith & I made our way carefully
along 23, spotting Swainson?s Thrushes and one Gray-cheeked Thrush
using roadsides. This old ?pigtrail? is steadily heading downhill &
one senses it has chosen return to its pre-1880 state as a pioneer
trail & Native American hunting track. We have smart highway folks &
I?ll bet they can keep it going for us who love birding & botanizing
Cherry Bend, not to mention all the Ozark towns and communities who
depend upon the feed trucks and freighters passing through, below Rock
House, where we are watching Ceruleans & wondering at the many
Hoodeds?and the virtually unimaginable resplendence of Scarlet
Tanagers in spring light.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Joe Neal reports on Saturday's birding trek to Lake Fayetteville natural area

It rained most of the night & well into the morning: it amazes me that
even 12 showed for the NWAAS Lake Fayetteville field trip. We dodged
showers (AKA, liquid sunshine) from above & endured creeping dampness
& cold within. It would rain a while, and we'd walk for cover. We
stood under the eaves at the environmental study center during several
downpours and wonder if our boots could take more of it. Finally we
were all just soaked and took off on a long hike. When everything is
soaking, it's hard to see or feel difference. Between showers, we
found what we'd come for: 17-18 warbler species, 5 vireo species,
transient Gray-cheeked & Swainson's Thrushes, brilliant Baltimore
Orioles (illumination midst general rain glooms)...maybe "best bird"
(?)was Golden-winged Warbler (rare, hence a pleaser in w. AR), but we
exhaulted in good looks at Blue-headed Vireos, even with fogged bins,
even with water streaming down faces, etc etc.

...the coveted endurance our very own SALLY JO GIBSON!!! In
the cold & rain, a few weeks after surgery, long hikes, good cheer,
good girlhood Ivory-billed Woodpecker story, as another shower swept
through, long drive home. Thanks SJ.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Saturday, May 2, 2009

FarmToTable theme of today's program in the Rose Garden of the Walton Art Center with renewable-energy lecture at Night Bird bookstore at 2 p.m.

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of OMNI Springfest poster.

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of poster.

Solar Power Struggle
Professor Richard Hutchinson of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston will speak on "The Struggle for the Solar Future" at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
An inquiry into environmental change and the obstacles and opportunities in the path of the renewable energy transition.
Sponsored by OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology.