Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A kettle of Franklin's gulls and bald eagles: The Halloween 2011 report from Joe Neal with Don Nelms aboard

Don Nelms and I went for big birds today in former prairies of western
Benton County. We saw 7-9 Bald Eagles in what is still opening stages
of their migration. An immaculate adult, white-black-white, soared
among 25 vultures (mostly Turkey) at the SWEPCO plant. At Maysville 4
(2 adults, 2 subadults) stood in a pasture along State Line Road. We
began seeing Franklin's Gulls along highway 12 west of Gentry:
graceful, buoyant, white with snappy black trim, floating in the high
blue. I was thrilled to see the first 7 soaring over a pasture and
assumed then I'd had my day. As we turned north on 43, we had 15 right
over us. In the distance a compact spiraling white cloud COULD have
been 100 more--desire and distance play the cello of imagination. A
few gulls, plus vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk, surfed updrafts
created by a south breeze and rising warm air above Spavinaw Creek
bluffs. Then sky turned all gull on the old Beatie Prairie
chicken-farm country south of Maysville. In a very rough square mile
or so I came up with a variety of counts; maybe "around 200" is
reasonable. I have seen a kettle of 200 Franklin's Gulls in northwest
Arkansas in past migrations, but always at distance, and briefly.
Today, Don and I were in the middle, gulls wheeling back-and-forth
eyelevel over a big weedy soybean field. What were they after? There
are warm days when the sun is just right and you see shiny wings of
millions of insects. We didn't have that light, but as Franklin's
Gulls are fond of chironmids (midges), they must have seen them or
something like them in the migration hunger. For our part, Don and I
soon had the option of the Maysville HandiStop into which, after
eagles and gulls, we wheeled.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
"I loaf and invite my soul..." -- Walt Whitman

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