Monday, December 26, 2011

THE NEAL REPORT CHRISTMAS DAY 2011 and from Dec. 22, 2011

It's hard not to visit Oklahoma when we make our Maysville birding  
rounds. Most stops are in Arkansas fit and proper, but we like to  
drive an Oklahoma county road a brief mile as a falcon flies WEST of  
State Line Road. On Christmas Day we had a small flock (4-5 birds) of  
Harris's Sparrows just EAST of the state line, and a couple of  
America's Favorite Tree Sparrows along State Line Road, but on the  
Arkansas side. Mike Mlodinow and I both distinctly heard a Purple  
Finch while we were standing in the middle of State Line Road, but in  
terms of state boundaries where it began and ended overhead flight is  
mystery. We are very sure we had impressive (50+) flocks of Savannah  
Sparrows and meadowlark species in both Arkansas and Oklahoma,  
including Western Meadowlarks in both states. We saw scores of Bald  
Eagles during the day, including 20+ on the Arkansas side and at least  
15 in Oklahoma. At one point Joanie Patterson and I heard this  
wonderful bubbling chorus ahead and we eventually tracked down  
meadowlarks, in trees. At least a few were Westerns, and maybe 20  
birds flew away. How many Westerns? How many Easterns? They headed  
toward Arkansas. On the same walk, we heard then spotted a flicker,  
and Jacque Brown was soon in full blown picture-taking stalk, because  
this one was the western form of the Northern Flicker. A red-shafted  
flicker it was, in almost (but not quite) Arkansas.
In case all of this worry about the location of the state line seems  
silly, it is ... in a way. But since Joanie puts field data into  
ebird, assigning this bird to Arkansas, and that bird to Oklahoma, is  
required. You can't have a bird, even a good one like red-shafted  
flicker, in what amounts to almost Arkansas. In our strange world,  
it's all about formal state lines and there's no such place as say,  
calling all of this Beatie Prairie, which it is and was before there  
was either an Arkansas or an Oklahoma. But I digress. The flicker was  
cooperative and that's good enough gift for Christmas Day.
Common Goldeneyes tend to be the most numerous of the ducks present on  
Beaver Lake in winter, but they are never really common. I spent a  
long day on Beaver December 22. Duck-wise, the day amounted to 33  
goldeneyes in one far away flock (more than 0.6 of a mile!) visible  
from Lost Bridge North park. But the sun was bright and I could  
plainly see both males and females vigorously diving in that hungry  
sort of way.
I have no idea what foods they seek, but Birds of North America  
indicates they probably aren't catching fish, since most diet studies  
indicate they consume aquatic invertebrates including insects,  
mollusks, and crustaceans. Combining data from a variety of studies,  
their groceries appear to be crustaceans (32% by volume), insects  
(28%) and mollusks (10%). Whatever it is the ducks find, Bonaparte's  
and Ring-billed Gulls know what's up, because when goldeneyes dive on  
Beaver, gulls are often attendant and soon focus where ducks swim and  
dive. I assume the ducks dislodge food then made available for gull  
Watching through my spotting scope, I see them suddenly rise and race  
low over the water, coming my way. I hear the distinctive whistling  
produced by wing beats. They plop down less than a tenth of a mile  
out, with an illuminating sun behind. The effect is electric.
There is no white that compares to that on flanks and chest of a male  
goldeneye, no contrast so striking as that big roundish white spot on  
the face set as it is midst a deep, rich blackish-green head. No deep  
chestnut-reddish pattern more distinctive than the female's. No eyes  
so brilliantly yellow, so golden, as those within backgrounds of deep  
black-green and chestnut, illuminated like cathedral glass in a  
brilliant afternoon winter sun: birds stirring water with their dives,  
gulls fluttering and settling, ducks paddling forward across the  
lake's winter quiet expanse.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
"I loaf and invite my soul..." -- Walt Whitman

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