Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chesney Prairie northeast of Siloam Springs site of weekend nature walk

A set of photos from previous Audubon outings to Chesney Prairie.
Join members and friends of Northwest Arkansas Audubon
Society on Sunday July 10 for a field trip
to Chesney Prairie Natural Area near  
Siloam Springs. The field trip is free
and open to the public.
This is an opportunity to see rare prairie
habitat, including native birds,  
flowers, butterflies, and other insects.
Chesney will feature a good showing of native
flowers, especially several species 
of sunflowers and dramatic 
purple blazing star and attending butterflies.
Many open-country birds such as Dickcissels,
American Goldfinches, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers,
Loggerhead Shrikes, and others are seen, 
and we have occasional overflights by 
Swainson's Hawk. The trip will consist 
of an easy walk on mowed trails.
People can walk as much or as little
as they wish. 
Water, sunscreen, and hat are recommended.
Participants do not have to be members 
of the NWAAS to participate. All ages and skill
levels are welcome. 
Meet the group at the entrance to Chesney at 8 AM.
For directions to Chesney, go to the NWAAS web site at and follow the link on the  
left: Places to bird in northwest Arkansas.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Monday, June 13, 2011

Joe Neal: Curmudgeons of sound unite

My house is about a half-block from College Avenue, busy drag through Fayetteville's heart. Cardinals and Carolina Wrens sing at first light. When I tune in, add thrasher, catbird, and phoebe. But at  various times my backyard soundscape is performed by Harley-Davidsons, 70,000 trying all-at-once for Razorback stadium, medivacs swooping into Washington Regional.
When I bought this place 17 years ago, it was summer, quiet traffic gap in a college town. The little house seemed a tropical island, miraculously isolated from city, a place in the country, Thoreau's cabin, well off pavement. Papers all signed, we move in, and on one otherwise quiet June morning I notice a noisy constant pump from a neighbor's pool. Summer Wednesdays I learn are Bike Nights when Harleys race up and race down the hills of College, roaring river at flood tide, audible in my paradise so recently acquired. And have I forgotten rider mowers, weed whackers, and the guy who with latest in power tools restores old Chevys?
So welcome to the soundtrack of urban America, Fayetteville style. 
Welcome to my litany of audible woe. I've tried to figure out what to do. I thought maybe the city government would care, but some are themselves Wednesday's Harley Knights. Maybe the neighbor would consider an electric mower? But can you ride one? And pool pump? I enjoy the happy splashy screams of kids and their friends. It sounds like innocent fun, and I am a sour curmudgeon.
 Sound curmudgeon I am; but, by the same token, this weird stuff doesn't just appear out of thin air, like an immaculate conception. Either the worst curmudgeon in me prevails, or I convert. The inside of my brain, that is, and at least some of my house. Down go windows, up goes AC, and there's a CD player beside my bed that like Superman is more powerful than a speeding locomotive, or perhaps I should say, rotor wash from a low passing chopper.
 On the CD is "Rain Forest," from The Atmosphere Collection entitled "A month in the Brazilian Rainforest." Here's first aid for aggrieved audio sensitive brain cells. An island of sorts, rescue for a sound curmudgeon. Who would have thought my old house, so near a busy noisy center, could acquire modest aspects of Walden Pond where I might "Relax with Loon Lake" courtesy of Eclipse Music Group?

So on quiet days as in old and more naive times, I try my windows up and enjoy cardinals. But as antidote to my creeping and sometimes galloping sound curmudgeoncy, I have the "Nature sound adventure series" by Lang Elliot, numbers 1-4. He celebrates the birds of North America in all their audio glory: No. 1, "Prairie Spring," No. 2, "Voices of the Swamp," No. 3, "Seabird Islands," and 4, "Wings Over the Prairie."
 For y'all out there with audio distress, yield not to your inner sound curmudgeon. Help is on the way! I have no license to practice, but palliation if not cure may be as simple and inexpensive as a do-it-yourself brain rewiring job.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Friday, June 10, 2011

Joe Neal and Joe Woolbright at Chesney Prairie admire new growth of liatris and the bob-white calls of quail

A Swainson's Hawk flew over Joe Woolbright and I yesterday, at Chesney Prairie Natural Area near Siloam Springs. We were standing in a nicely mowed path, admiring wildflowers like obedient plant and colicroot. As the hawk soared over, we were speculating about the spreading swath of liatris, the prairie gayfeather, up and at it, but not yet blooming. 
Come July 10 it will be a magnificent prairie forest of purple, and just in time for the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip.
 I would not call Swainson's rare here in summer, but rather local. We never find many, but we see them on a regular basis. It is a bird of former tallgrass prairies, now become pastures, hayfields, epicenter of poultry production. Summer records from western Benton County date to the 1960s.
 Dickcissels are singing from anything that serves as perch. Males and females are together, and the peeping notes I hear in dense vegetation tells me it is not just a bunch of random singing. We also see several small flocks of American Goldfinches, including six working seed heads of a yellow composite. We flush a male-female Northern Bobwhite pair 
and for the morning hear BOB WHITE! from three directions on and 
adjacent Chesney.
 There is a kind of fever attached to actually seeing or even hearing BOB WHITEs, kind of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker moment for Arkansans not otherwise interested in birds. The fever derives from the fact that in the 1950s bobwhites seemed everywhere. Now they seem nowhere. 
Joe told me that while herbiciding invasive non-natives like velvet grass, he recently saw or heard BOB WHITEs in at least six places on or adjacent to Chesney.
 Some may classify such reports as tall tales, right up there with Big Foot. Joe carries BOB WHITE abundance with him to Kathy's Corner in Siloam, where he riles his coffee-drinking buddies who can't quite figure-out why he cares so much about prairie restoration. Six coveys, right! And how many Ivory-billed Woodpeckers?
 Besides Swainson's, Great Blue Herons are much in evidence and fly over while Joe and I explore. Included is the 2011 class of novice black-capped juveniles. When Joan Reynolds and I visited Chesney early in the week we were greeted by a grim sight: a Great Blue Heron juv alive and twisting by wing tip from a highwire; helpless, struggling, broken ulna clearly projecting from the wing. Survived  and prospered in this spring's many storms, but unlucky in close encounters with high wires.
 GBHs, hawks, and winged creatures in general are fully prepared for the unobstructed landscape of 1800 or 1900, but not our high-energy demands of 2011. Now mercifully deceased, this wire-hung GBH is cautionary tale for all of us environmentalists pushing hard for wind-energy development that will come especially to these old windy prairies and introduce many more wires.
 But back at Chesney, Joe points out how much liatris has expanded. The mowed path now winds THROUGH the liatris, but originally went AROUND it. That is, liatris has jumped the path and happily there seems no stopping it. Perhaps, like other energetic creatures under a June sun, liatris is intent upon storming the gates of heaven. To paraphrase the artist Walter Anderson, god knows it needs storming.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Monday, June 6, 2011

Joe Neal report on Sunday, June 5, 2011, field trip

Just at daylight on Sunday morning, June field trip day with Northwest  
Arkansas Audubon Society, I noted a big something-or-another fly off  
the lawn. Even so early on a Sunday, jays and robins were all  
atwitter. Something was a red-phased Eastern Screech-Owl making  
back-and-forth flights from ground to adjacent woods. This means  
hungry fledgling owlets.
Something else great: we were carpooling, which means that four of us  
in my relatively fuel-efficient old, but not terminally crippled,  
Toyota turns $4 per gallon gas into $1 per gallon passengers. Take  
that high fuel prices! So we are the lucky ones, big free day ahead,  
and off for the Buffalo National River at 6:15: Steve Erwin, Jacque  
Brown, David Oakley, and I.
Out past Huntsville, along 412, near Kings River and before the  
Buffalo, we stop for fuel, field trip spirit at high tide. While I  
wrestle with the credit card reader, they pounce on a showy Regal  
Moth, 4-5 inches wingtip to wingtip, all fuzzy yellows and oranges,  
flopping on the concrete drive. David and Jacque especially are photo  
hawks. They spot the prey and they are on it in a flash, long camera  
lens stuck out like a hawk's bill.
We are meeting at Boxley Bridge, and at 8 AM we are a mere 12 souls,  
one of the most poorly attended field trips of the year. Bird-wise,  
and especially breeding warbler-wise, this is the best place to be on  
June 5 in Arkansas, BUT it is stifling, and the sun, an unforgiving  
glare, is intimidating. Happily, this doesn't obviously bother  
American Redstarts singing in willows along the Buffalo, or  
Yellow-billed Cuckoos, out there where periodical cicadas hum like  
mother ships.
In terms of interest and enthusiasm, the best stop is at Cave Mountain  
Cave, in the shade. We stand around on a narrow path enclosed by  
luxuriant poison ivy and wild ginger, and thanks in part to the modern  
miracle of MP3 players, enjoy clean views of Acadian Flycatchers,  
Scarlet Tanagers, and an Ovenbird.  But by 10:30 no one can really  
By comparison, what works best is shade, bathroom break, and the  
church pew in front of Ponca Store, with snacks and a Blue Sky soda. A  
Wood Thrush sings on the slope, where there is humidity, ticks, and  
mosquitoes. Duely noted in today?s field book.
We had already stood out in brilliant shadeless boil for picture  
postcard perfect views of nesting Trumpeter Swans and a Wood Duck  
family, both at Boxley mill pond. Cars passed by, windows up, AC  
blowing long hair. They had more comfort, but no swans. Naturally  
enough, probably wondered about us demented idiots. In Ponca, at the  
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Elk Education Center, we learned  
both swans at the nest are females. So this is practice for a future  
nesting, or I thought, part of re-defining what it means to be a  
family. Steve Erwin and I battered this one around under shade,  
listening to mother ship periodical cicadas, and awaiting the return  
of our photo hawks.
So this is most of our Buffalo field trip, but on return to  
Fayetteville we find our way out to Skillern Road and hopes for  
Mississippi Kites. OK, I know this elicits yawns from y'all out there  
in kite plentitude, where a kite is about as interesting as nesting  
habitats of Brown-headed Cowbirds. BUT kites remain mysterious and  
novel in Northwest Arkansas. Maybe not as mysterious and novel as say,  
a Great Potoo, but when one and then two suddenly kite over the  
Toyota, we just can?t get stopped fast enough.
Steve and I and the photo hawks bail into the burning glare of 2:30  
PM, binoculars handy and skyward, and photo hawks praying the kites  
will soar low and away from the sun.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Aubrey's shortake on Old Main lawn road plan

War Eagle Days: Click on the kayak photo to open full view, please

Audubon Arkansas & Partners invite you to
5th Annual War Eagle Daze
Friday-Saturday, June 3-4
Withrow Springs State Park & Huntsville Town Square
War Eagle Daze.JPG
Contact Audubon's Northwest Arkansas Field Office for more information - (479) 527-0700 or
Audubon Arkansas
4500 Springer Blvd., Little Rock, AR 72206
(501) 244-2229 |

Leave it to Joe Neal to turn the sounds of periodical cicadas into poetry

Please click on individual images to ENLARGE.
Click a second time to fill your screen!
See May 22, 2011 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for story.
See Web site featuring Cicada information: Magicicada

May 22, 2011, photo by Aubrey James Shepherd

Photos May 22, 2011, at World Peace Wetland Prairie

Painted Buntings sing from woodlots of oak, hickory and cedars in
south Fayetteville, along City Lake and Willoughby roads. I hear them
as I bicycle a loop at the base of South Mountain. Now I am also
hearing a powerful low hum, like the mother ship has landed, unseen,
on the mountain. In waves of rising and falling, a shrill hiss has
joined hum. It's like the earth has taken on new breathing. In and
out, up and down, inhale-exhale. Millions of individuals of different
species of periodical cicadas are in massed chorus.

It's the old story of frog turned prince. They live 13 years
underground as worm-like larvae, emerge into light transformed to
astonishing red-eyed, black-bodied, no-nonsense adults. They sing and
mate in massed frenzy and die in a few fantastic weeks. It's an orgy
to the future. Singers of 2024 come from eggs fertilized in these few
sun-lighted weeks.

Something like an old road heads through shrill hiss to mother ship. I
can't resist. I'm not too far in before I find dump trucks, trailers,
miscellaneous pipe, boards, an inspiring working junkyard of
mechanical equipment. Red-eyed and orange-winged, periodical cicadas
land on my head while I'm wondering if I'm trespassing.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker heads toward hiss and hum. The trail rises
into a former rocky hillside pasture now regenerated to oaks,
hickories, and lots of eastern red cedar. And today, periodical
cicadas. They hang upside down under cover of twigs and leaves. Blue
Jays bugle from the woods. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls CUK CUK CUK
COO COO. Cicadas fly back and forth where tree tops join the sun.

In their puffy summer cloud hats, midst hum and waves of shrill hiss,
green hills of the Ozarks transform. For a moment I can't remember
where I am. It's like I?m hallucinating. But I see the familiar
visage of a Great Crested Flycatcher at eye level, low and slow,
looking methodically up under twigs. There are lots of "flies" here to
be sure. Out fly a dozen screeching cicadas as a yellowish female
Summer Tanager darts into oak leaves. Fantastic it is, hallucination
it is not.

Above hiss and hum, I can hear someone banging around near where I
started into the woods. This turns out to be Earl Smith, property
owner, looking for pipe. In our lamentable age of
suspicion-about-everything, this retired truck driver and mechanical
jack-of-all trades is friendly, open, unsuspicious. He immediately
says I am welcome anytime while swatting a cicada that has just tried
to land on his ear. Behind Mr Smith a hickory trunk is so packed with
bugs it is the periodical cicada equivalent of a Saturday afternoon
Walmart parking lot.

We talk a bit about the hum. For him, it's not the mother ship.
Rather, it sounds like a big chicken barn. Hawks and vultures are
soaring overhead as we talk. One hawk is eating a familiar-sized
insect held kite-like in its claws. Back in 1985, precisely two
festive periodical cicada parties ago, a Mississippi Kite spent weeks
in the vicinity of a cicada chorus near Durham in Washington County.
I've called the hum the mother ship, a rather romantic notion, but now
at Smith's suggestion, it does resemble the massed sounds of thousands
of white birds in big poultry houses. Smith amends, Well maybe more
like one of those big turkey houses.

Standing there, with cicadas briefly landing on us both, in the big
sound, in all the hiss and hum at once familiar and astonishingly
strange, I see not one or two, but 5 kites soar over.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas