Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Joe Neal report from September 24, 2011

Please click on Joe Neal's photo of caterpillar to ENLARGE and click on enlargement for closer view.

Jacque Brown and I birded the upper Buffalo River in Newton County on
Saturday September 24. Jacque had seen a small thrush flock, probably
Swainson's, in Lost Valley on the 23rd. We did not refind this flock,
but did get close looks at a Wood Thrush. At one point at least three
Barred Owls were singing back-and-forth, always a pleasure, especially
so in the highly acoustic confines of a narrow Ozark "holler". On Cave
Mountain we had one each of Philadelphia Vireo, Hooded and Magnolia
warblers, an American Redstart, and another Barred Owl. Jacque found
what I assume is the last ripe pawpaw of the season, then spotted on
another pawpaw tree a singular caterpillar composed entirely of long
lime-green hairs; reminded me of a wig my daughter Ariel wore for
Halloween years ago. I sent an image to entomologist Don Steinkraus
who identified it as a spotted apatelodes (Apatelodes torrefacta), a
species of moth in the Bombycidae, the same family that contains
silkworms. He said it produces an attractive gray-colored moth. I
counted at least 10 hummingbirds visiting flowering jewelweed
alongside Boxley millpond.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Friday, September 23, 2011

Joe Neal welcomes 'our own Dirty Hairy, defender of the Ozark undergound'

Click on images to ENLARGE. Click again for closer look.
Photo by David Oakley
During Thursday’s cool rain I had a totally, completely unexpected visitor at my front door, one of those “What the…” moments… Mr. Aubrey Shepherd, with a plastic critter cage in hand, come visiting. He lives in south Fayetteville, adjacent the World Peace Wetland Prairie, which he led the fight to save and protect. I first met him three decades ago, when we worked on the same newspaper. He’d come today on account of the rain.

In the little cage was what, when I was a kid, we called crawdads. This one was unique, an Osage Burrowing Crayfish that occurs ONLY in our Ozarks part of the universe, and only in places that used to be part of our tallgrass prairies. I’d told him five years ago I’d like to see one when it was raining and they were out crawling around the prairie. I couldn’t believe he’d remembered.
Photo by David Oakley

Just dismissing them as “mudbugs” completely misses their extraordinary beauty. The business end features pincers, and these are formidable on our Osage Burrowing Crawfish. They are blue, with yellow at the sharp clasping ends. The eyes dark, the antennae long, most of the body an earthy combination of greenish browns and muted yellow-oranges.

By the way, in case you and your family have lived here since pioneer times, I wouldn’t get too smug about your precious nativity. Osage Burrowing Crawfish got here way, way first. Their lineage here is measured not in a few hundred years, but in many thousands. Most of the towns and cities in northwest Arkansas are built where these crawfish live in burrows underground, even in areas that seem dry. Maybe you’ve run over their mud chimneys – soil structures made from excavating their underground burrows -- with your lawn mower. They also survive in ditches and other wet spots.
Photo by David Oakley

Aubrey’s crawfish wasn’t by herself, either. This was big momma, with scores of little ones under her protecting tail. Naturally, I wanted to see her closer and get a peek at the babes. If she was the least bit intimidated by Aubrey capturing her (with the plan to take her right back after we were done looking and release her), she showed no signs of fear. She reared up, blue claws ready to fire like some Dirty Hairy, defender of the Ozark underground. When I ignored her warning, she got me sharply by my poker, drawing blood. “Go ahead and make my day,” according to Clint Eastwood, and maybe this offended crawfish.

Over the past decade, the Osage Burrowing Crawfish has become something of a signpost for me. How much of the current economic and ecological mess in which we find ourselves in 2011 is traceable to ignoring signposts like this crawfish? Its presence tells us critical things about our natural heritage. How many unique natural creatures can we destroy, how much habitat can we pave, without bringing down direct negative consequences upon ourselves?
Photo by David Oakley

For more photos of this and other burrowing crayfish photographed by Aubrey James Shepherd on September 22, 2011, at World Peace Wetland Prairie and along the Fayetteville paved trail through Pinnacle Foods Inc. wet prairie west of WPWP, please see World Peace Wetland Prairie blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lake Fayetteville visit an interesting outing for birders on September 20, 2011

Nancy Harris, Lynn Armstrong, and I birded for a couple of hours  
yesterday near the Lake Fayetteville Environmental Study Center. It  
was too beautiful for good birding: clear blue, upper 50s at 7:15,  
calm. But, improbably, we did see birds. Wilson's Warbler,  
Yellow-throated Vireo, a fresh batch of House Wrens, Yellow-billed  
Cuckoos, and an empid that was maybe Least Flycatcher. Most striking,  
a Common Nighthawk perched sideways on a snaggy bare limb over the  
paved trail.
Bicycles peddle under, swish swish, and never see the bird. Joggers  
pass, none the wiser, and ditto for dog walkers. We've been looking up  
at Northern Parulas, a couple of Nashville Warblers, and a richly  
brown Blue Grosbeak. For us, moving at best an ambling pace -- an  
irritant I suppose to some busy exercisers -- the nighthawk is in  
plain sight, not that high up. The bare dead limb is covered with gray  
and dull green lichens, bits of dark thin bark, all illuminated by  
pure morning light. Huge liquid dark eyes occasionally open, the bird  
is a patchwork of gray and darker tones, light tones mixing with sky,  
and only long dark wing tips offering significant contrast, stobby  
twig simulacrum.
On the way back, we have overflight by a woodpecker with a big white  
wing patch, Red-headed or Ivory-billed.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Joe Neal report on swainson[s hawk in the Chesney Prairie and Stump Prairie area

A cooperative Swainson's Hawk perched in a snag alongside the gravel  
drive down to Chesney this morning. Chesney proper has several  
interesting patches of blooming prairie sunflowers (Helianthus  
pauciflorus), at least 4 blooming species of goldenrods, and still  
many flowering ashy sunflowers attended by American Goldfinches --  
lovely dominant yellow landscape, except one of the goldenrods has  
white flowers!
I also saw a Swainson's Hawk flying low and slow over nearby Stump  
Prairie on August 29. The natural productivity of tallgrass prairies  
is evident and actually measurable in hay, a valuable reality,  
especially in this year, when many non-native hay crops are failures.  
60 bales of native grass (mainly big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian  
grass, switch grass) were cut off 18 acres of Stump recently.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Friday, September 2, 2011

Joe Neal describes assests of Lake Atalanta area as September 11 field trip site

NWAAS will host a field trip on Sunday September 11, 2011, to Lake Atalanta in Rogers. Meet at 9 AM in the parking area near the bathrooms. A guide with much more information is at: http://media.tripod.lycos.com/2020453/950077.pdf From 540, take the Walnut Street exit EAST through the old downtown to the railroad tracks. This is the corner of S. Arkansas and E. Walnut. Take E. Walnut EAST for roughly 7-8 blocks downhill to Lake Atalanta Park. There are parking areas on both sides of the road. A bathroom and water fountain are adjacent the parking area on the north side of the road. Lake Atalanta was created in 1936 as part of a federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to employ people thrown out of work by the Great Depression. The earthen dam constructed across Prairie Creek impounded 40 acres and served as a water supply from 1957 to 1970. Habitats include the lake, Frisco Spring (a perennial Ozark spring with aquatic vegetation and bottomland forest), and mature upland forest. Typical resident birds are common here and the place hops during migration. Diversity is enhanced by the presence of former prairie habitats immediately west and mature Ozark forest east. There are striking examples of native plants like wild ginger, understory trees like pawpaws, huge mature walnuts, and native shrubs like hazelnut and spicebush. Paved roads provide good birding access for those with physical limitations. Trails are well-maintained. Overall, Lake Atalanta is attractive for birding because it includes much natural and artificial habitat in a compact space. -- JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas