Thursday, April 14, 2011

Joe Neal report

My inbox had a deluge of 45 bird-related emails today, almost all  
Arkansas birds. Welcome to spring excitements. So I am not kidding  
myself that with so much birding, many of you have no time for  
literary rambles. Here is my Executive Summary for you busy busy  
I went down to Frog Bayou WMA and nearby West-Ark Sod. At Frog one of  
my first birds was a Tricolored Heron flying out of Unit 5. Soras were  
singing at dawn in Unit 3. One of the last birds was a Willet in Unit  
2. Unit 2 also had 12 Greater Yellowlegs that looked puny next to  
lordly Willet. Sod had Horned Larks singing to a south wind and my  
first of the spring Grasshopper Sparrow, handily perched and singing  
alongside the road. Such an apparently tiny creature, but when it  
throws back that big bill and sings that lusty insect trill, it owns  
the world of open fields, the only reality that matters.
Before closing the Executive Summary, let me note that at a distance,  
and in the hopeful heart, an exquisitely ruddy female Northern Pintail  
bears a certain likeness to a juvenile male Cinnamon Teal that has not  
quite acquired full glory of the breeding season. Throw in some  
aquatic vegetation, distance, white light, a drop or two of sweat on  
the old bins, and voila! You have yourself a rare bird, or so you  
think, for oh so very brief and sweet a while. But I reveal too much.  
Allow me to draw the curtain on anxious moments and my disappointment,  
and move on to birding gear.
Frog is laid out in a series of shallow moist soil units, essentially  
marshes that mimic wetlands that once existed along the Arkansas  
River. If you are like me, you are sure the next cattails, that next  
big patch of sedges, that far corner will surely have even more  
interesting birds. And thus, one marches deeper and deeper into the  
heart of Frog. And, of course, there is the required walk back. That  
walk would be one thing, if we were in the olden days, when we just  
shoved a field guide in the back pocket and threw bins around the  
neck. Birding light. Well, those days are long gone, gone as dollar  
gas gone.
So I am at Frog all geared up. The sun is higher, the wind is sharper,  
and the spotting scope, tripod, field guide, water bottle, MP3 player  
with speaker, binoculars, rubber Muck boots have not gotten lighter.  
Did I forget anything? Is there any other gear I just cannot go in the  
field without? Oh yes, the Sony sound recorder. All hauled in, cattail  
patch after cattail patch, and will be hauled out. On foot.
But today I brought my bicycle with me, now all tricked out with two  
big wire baskets and very ugly in an aesthetic sense. I stuffed those  
baskets full of gear and off I went, wobbling down the levees around  
the units, flushing a very surprised abundance of Savannah Sparrows. I  
saw Brian Infield of Arkansas Game and Fish. He did not openly laugh  
at my outfit. In fact, he was cordial and rather sympathetic, telling  
me that duck hunters also get loaded down with tons of gear, so much  
in fact that many now pull little two-wheel carts full of shotguns,  
decoys, stools, ammo, and what have you. I have seen those two wheel  
tracks in the mud and wondered what creature had made them.
The American Coots had no idea what to make of me, so off they went.  
Pied-billed Grebes promptly sank under water. The Blue-winged Teal  
watched a while, started peeping, and off they went, too. 
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Please click on image to see full view and read details. Please come to WPWP after your morning of birding and enjoy the music of Still on the Hill, Toucan Jam, Pete Howard and his group as well as Dan Dean and several other local musicians. Please check the poster for a few of the many activities for kids and adults packed into three hours of intense action that requires nothing but hanging out and enjoying. 

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