Thursday, January 7, 2010

Joe Neal describes birding trip in Maysville area on January 6, 2010

The Ozarks in western Arkansas had a short interlude in winter yesterday. The fields are all still covered with a glaze of snow & ice, and much more so just north of Fayetteville. But, temps got into the 40s and Benton County road crews managed to plow gravel roads. So I tried a trip up to Maysville. There are lots of old prairie fields along Arkansas 102 from Decatur toward Maysville. I saw my first Horned Lark flock in Decatur, dodging poultry feed trucks, farmers hauling big round hay bales, and me, and then found flocks right on the roadside in the most open areas to Maysville. Lapland Longspurs were associated with several of these flocks. Horned Lark flocks: 47 (3 Laps), 20, 46, 10, 19 (1 Lap), etc. Flocks of Savannah Sparrows were even more numerous and more widespread. American Pipits in 5 spots, including several birds bobbing on the snow before dashing to the open roadside. Besides these: American Tree Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Harris’s Sparro
ws, Dark-eyed Juncos, big meadowlark flocks, starlings, etc. – all along the roads. The reason is obvious: Benton County prairies constitute the epicenter of the northwest Arkansas poultry universe, and grain dedicated to commercial birds gets spilled along these roads-- hard times food for hungry mid-winter sparrows and lots of other birds.

The big flock of Lapland Longspurs in a harvested broom sorghum field north of Maysville (~0.4 miles N of the intersection of Wet Prairie & Leonard Ranch roads) has grown in size. I first saw this flock Dec. 27 and estimated it at ~175. I would say yesterday the number was closer to 250-300, but there were such swirling masses of birds there (American Pipits, Lapland Longspurs, Savannah Sparrows, meadowlarks, and hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds & and a few Brewer’s) I could be off by a lot + or -. The attraction is obviously a lot of waste seed from a late harvest. The grain goes into silage for dairy cows (the Crawley dairy farm is nearby).

I photographed a SAY’S PHOEBE that was working the edges of poultry houses of the Va-Meng Simmons poultry farm on Wet Prairie Road, 0.1 mile south of the sorghum field, or 0.3 miles N of the intersection of Wet Prairie & Leonard Ranch Rds. There were Savannah Sparrows, American Pipits, etc in the same place. Poultry houses, which are heated, must provide some buffer from low temps, plus there is that spilled grain there, too. Besides the roadside itself, thawed grounbd around chicken houses is about it. I have no idea what the phoebe was eating, but it was closely working the edges of poultry houses, so maybe some insects make it there, too.

Finally, I saw what I first thought & hoped was a big white falcon, but turned out mostly all white under the wings. I was all jumping up & down until I realized it was an immaculate male harrier, the white in its underwings magnified & intensified by the snow covered fields. We see few of them here, so it was a wonderful in an aesthetic way.

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