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

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