Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hobbes State Park Natural Area on Beaver Lake great place for bird-watchers and conservation enthusiasts Jan. 21, 2012

The next Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip is this
upcoming Saturday January 21, 2012, to Rocky Branch on Beaver Lake.
Meet at 9 AM at the Rocky Branch marina parking area. We will be
looking for species typical of the lake in winter (possibilities
include Pied-billed and Horned Grebes, Bonaparte's and Ring-billed
Gull, Common Goldeneye, Bald Eagle, and others). Depending on the
weather, we can also bird the cedar glade and upland shortleaf pine
areas for woodland birds. A program at Hobbes State Park-Conservation
Area visitor's center at 2 PM will be presented by Joe Neal on winter
birds. Both events are free and open to the public. More information
on the area at


JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas
"I loaf and invite my soul..." -- Walt Whitman

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mitchell Prewitt of Jonesboro, Arkansas, has a really big year seeing wild birds

News » Arkansas Reporter

A Big Year in Arkansas 

Jonesboro teen racks up 311 species.

Mitchell Pruitt is only 17, but he's No. 4 in the rankings of most birds seen in Arkansas during a Big Year.
Thanks to the movie, most everyone knows what a Big Year is now, but for folks who don't get out much, a Big Year is one in which a birder dedicates his every waking moment between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 to see as many species as possible. At dawn on Jan. 1, 2011, Mitchell Pruitt started his adventure with a northern flicker; he ended it Dec. 30, in the nick of time, with a golden eagle. In between he saw 309 other avian species, for a total of 311, just seven off Dick Baxter's 318 in 2008 ("a hurricane year," Pruitt noted, with five or six species blown up to Arkansas from the Gulf).
Pruitt is a senior at Valley View High School in Jonesboro who started birding seriously about two years ago. At 6'4" he can practically see into the canopy, a huge advantage for birders who must endure "warbler neck" every spring to see the tiny, high moving migrants. He got some of his 311 birds with the help of Arkansas's top birders, who alerted him to rare birds they were finding, and his parents' chauffeuring skills. His patient parents — who Mitchell said were "speechless" when he first told them he'd decided to do a Big Year — drove him all over Arkansas. His mother, Kathleen Pruitt, was en route to Texarkana one morning when Mitchell called from school and persuaded her to check him out and make a detour to Fayetteville to see a Bewick's wren that "Arkansas Birds" author Joe Neal had e-mailed him about. (Pruitt, an Eagle Scout described by his parents as a "good kid," confessed to consulting his e-mail at school to make sure he wasn't missing any rarities.) The Pruitts drove to Fayetteville, Mitchell saw the bird, and then all headed for Texarkana, "a long day," his mother said. Mitchell's father, Ken Pruitt, bootless and unable to accompany his son, waited a couple of hours in a mud-mired truck in Desha County so Mitchell could hike in to Dick Baxter's family's fish farm pond to pick up mottled duck, least bittern and fulvous whistling duck. Loaded down with scope, binoculars, camera and a healthy fear of cottonmouths, Mitchell made his way along the edge of a soybean field to get to an opening in the vegetation. A deer jumped up in front of him, which rattled him a bit, and a rustle of something scaly in the brush (turned out to be an armadillo) sent him running at one point, but he saw two of his target birds and heard the third, the whistle of the whistling duck.
In what is a common birder story, Mitchell braved 100-degree heat in July in Southwest Arkansas, walking three miles along the OK Levee on Millwood Lake with expert birder Charles Mills to see a tricolored heron, which, of course, they didn't see until they returned to their truck, where the bird was hanging out. (Mom and sis waited at a campground during this adventure.) He sank one leg up above the bootline in the muddy bed of Lake Enterprise in Southeast Arkansas trying to get a better look at an eagle. It takes perseverance to see 311 species in 365 days.
For the record, Mitchell's rarest birds: A Eurasian wigeon, which should have been off the coast of Great Britain or somewhere in south Asia, at Benwood Lake southwest of Turrell. A little Sabine's gull at the same lake. Cassin's sparrow near Foreman. A Barrow's goldeneye that was at Lake Dardanelle last January, except the one day Mitchell went there to see it, but which graciously returned Dec. 2. And one of the prettiest: A vermillion flycatcher, which should have been in Arizona but flew in to the Stuttgart Airport instead.
Mitchell plans to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in fall. He'll probably major in biology — maybe to become an ornithologist.
No. 2, 3 and 5 in the top five Arkansas Big Year lists: Kenny Nichols (313), LaDonna Nichols (312) and Dennis Brady (307).

Comments (2) RSS

Showing 1-2 of 2
What a delightful story!
Congrats, Mitchell. on your BIG YEAR. I enjoyed reading about your adventures.
report 1 of 1 people like this.   
Posted by Challis on January 11, 2012 at 11:38 AM
It is a MOST delightful story!
I know Mitchell's parents; great folks they are. I must say, as a life-long bird watcher, I'm a bit envious and yet in awe of his commitment to seeing that many different birds in one year.
Posted by craighead gal on January 11, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Trouble reading this e-mail? View it online.
Audubon Advisory
Audubon Advisory
January 12, 2012
Vol 2012 Issue 1
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Roseate Spoonbill | Credit: Rebecca Field  
Roseate Spoonbills need a healthy Gulf.  
Our Next, Best Chance to Pass the RESTORE Act for the Gulf of Mexico
The RESTORE Act has been praised for its bipartisan support and commitment to restoring the environment and economies of the Gulf damaged by the BP oil disaster. Congress must act to ensure the fines owed by BP and other responsible parties are used for restoring the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem for the people and wildlife that live there.  Read more.
Western Meadowlark | Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth/FWS  
The Farm Bill preserves habitat for Western Meadowlarks and other grassland birds.   
The 2012 Congress: A Look Ahead
In addition to our number priority to pass the RESTORE Act, two big bills with big ramifications for the environment—the Farm Bill, which is the single, largest source of conservation funding, and the Water Resources Development Act, which is instrumental in restoring large ecosystems, are also slated for action. Read more.
Arctic Tern | Credit: jomilo75/Flickr Creative Commons  
The Ivory Gull, an Arctic-dependent species, spends its life on and around the sea ice. It feeds in open water and on the remains of marine mammals killed by polar bears and other predators.   
Dangerous Offshore Drilling Proposed in the Arctic Ocean
The federal government recently released a new proposed Five-Year Program (2012-2017) for offshore oil and gas leasing that could open up pristine new areas in the Arctic Ocean offshore of Alaska to oil drilling. If we've learned anything from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it's how unprepared the oil industry is to respond to a major oil spill. This is especially true in the Arctic Ocean. Read more.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker | Credit: Julio Mulero/Flickr  
The agreement will increase healthy habitat for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.   
Audubon and Sierra Club Win Major Environmental Benefits for Arkansas in Power Plant Settlement
Audubon and Sierra Club recently announced a legal settlement that phases out one of the dirtiest coal plants located upwind of Arkansas, in Northeastern Texas. The settlement will mean clearer air, more clean energy and efficiency, and protections for Important Bird Areas and other sensitive habitats. Read more.
Piping Plover | Credit: Gene Nieminen/USFWS  
Audubon is seeking more robust protections for birds like the Piping Plover, whose habitat would be impacted by the pipeline.   
Audubon Weighs in on 15,000 Mile Habitat Conservation Plan
Audubon responded to a request from a major pipeline company for authorization to impact habitat needed by 43 imperiled species. Audubon seeks more robust protections for the threatened interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and asks for avoidance of Important Bird Areas in subsequent phases of permitting. Read more.
News from Our State Network
January Mystery Bird
Savannah Sparrow | Credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWSCongratulations to Andrew S. of Arcata, CA, who was randomly chosen from the entries that correctly identified last month's Savannah Sparrow, at right. Good luck with this month's challenge, Poking Around, below. HINT: Over 10% of my global population can be found in the California Bay Delta, an ecosystem that is being restored with help from the Water Resources Development Act. The winner will receive a plush Audubon singing bird and will be chosen at random from all entries received that correctly identify the species (NAS employees can play but not win). One entry per person please. Please email us your entry, being sure the words "Mystery Bird" appear in the subject line. Deadline for entering is Sunday, February 5.
January 2012 Mystery Bird | Credit: Greg Thomson/USFWS

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Photo credits: Western Meadowlark - John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS, Roseate Spoonbill - Rebecca Field, Ivory Gull - jomilo75/Flickr Creative Commons, Red-cockaded Woodpecker - Julio Mulero/Flickr Creative Commons, Piping Plover - Gene Nieminen/USFWS, Savannah Sparrow - Amanda Boyd/USFWS, Mystery Bird - Greg Thomson/USFWS

The Audubon Advisory is published monthly by Audubon's Public Policy Program.
1150 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 861-2242 | audubonaction@audubon.org

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joe Neal and friends visit White Rock

White Rock is way, way out in the middle of the Ozark National Forest
and the Boston Mountains. Yesterday, there were Hermit Thrushes and
Golden-crowned Kinglets in a stand of native shortleaf pines. Male
Purple Finches (4) were enjoying coral berries and tree buds right
alongside Forest Service Road 1505. Flocks in scattered weedy openings
also included juncos, goldfinches, cardinals, and many White-throated
Sparrows. Field Sparrows decorated twigs poking out of an old rock
wall in the ridgetop farming community of Bidville. An adult Bald
Eagle soared over, too.

Despite a record-breaking ice storm, a forest-decimating outbreak of
borer beetles, and relentless cutting of the Federal budget, the
Forest Service has managed to keep difficult, mountainous, winding
roads to White Rock safe, open and even improved in places, including
attractive road signs that, at least as of yesterday, vandals hadn't
yet destroyed.

From Fayetteville I usually go out highway 16 to Combs, in Madison
County, then turn south along Mill Creek, where yesterday Hamamelis
vernalis, Ozark Witch Hazel was covered with rather elegant reddish
blooms. Unfortunately, off-road vehicles are damaging Mill Creek
bottomlands. Freshly eroded tracks and huge mudholes are visible
without effort, and this, despite the fact that ORVs have been
provided their own special ride nearby. Fresh nobby tracks go right
past "Road closed" signs.

From Mill Creek the forest road ascends toward White Rock. Along some
of those high ridges we found another Hamamelis species, American
Witch Hazel with cheery yellow flowers. We were enjoying Fox Sparrows,
all handsome browns and grays, in thickets of greenbriar and grape
vines. Well below us, and out-of-sight, we heard a steady rustling of
dry leaves, like deer (?) or maybe a bear (?) was walking. An
investigation by Joan Reynolds showed sparrows, mostly white-throats,
working the leaves, but in another place we spotted a fresh bear
track. There was also an Eastern Towhee in the mix.

The Ozark National Forest is full of dead and dying trees, a legacy of
ice, insects, and a natural turning over. My old friend Eleanor
Johnson used to say, "It's an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some
good," and it's good now to be a woodpecker. I gather also a logger or
a fire wood cutter. Without special effort we heard and saw most of
the expected woodpecker species and a sawmill full of hardwood logs
and a mountain of sawdust.

What we see today -- cabins built from native stone, hiking trails,
and winding mountain roads -- recalls a different era. White Rock,
Devil's Den, many schools, courthouses, and lakes were all visions
that grew from the challenges of the 1930s Great Depression. The view
from that time was that government was not the enemy. Government by
the people and for the people should help the people with useful jobs,
conservation that saved productivity of land and soil, and affordable
recreation. The builders of forest roads and fire-fighting
capabilities were Arkansans out of work and down on their luck -- our
parents and relatives from a different era -- and they and their
families survived in part due to a then generous view of the purposes
of government.