Thursday, May 3, 2012

Joe Neal's report from Lake Fayetteville's prairie-restoration area on May 3, 2012

Rays of welcome light at times penetrate realistic gloomy thoughts 
about our planet's future. Such was the case today, out on a trail 
north of Lake Fayetteville Environmental Study Center. With the 
Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association in the lead, private 
citizens have partnered with government to restore open prairie 
conditions on about 60 acres associated with the pre-Civil War 
Butterfield Trail through northwest Arkansas.

I was out there today with two visitors from San Francisco, Roberta 
Guise and John Rohosky. The first bird I heard was a Field Sparrow, 
then a Yellow-breasted Chat perched atop a snag, then two Painted 
Buntings, counter-signing. The one we could see was a male all red, 
blue, and green. Those on the Butterfield stage of 1859 may have seen 
them, too.

Singing by these native birds, and in general a fresh start for native 
fauna and flora, is payment for hundreds of donated hours of grunt 
work, chainsawing and dragging brush. A direct credit to folks at 
Fayetteville Parks and Recreation who understood ecological stakes. 
The whole area has now had a prescribed burn and some parts a second 
burn. Thickets have been left in areas where streams flow. An Eastern 
Towhee was singing in one of them. A hopeful landscape in transition.

The monster old black oak along the trail, dedicated in 2007 as state 
champion, is deader 'n a doornail, as my dad put it. That old oak saw 
a lot in what is now Fayetteville-Springdale, maybe saw the 
Butterfield stage, maybe had Passenger Pigeons in its branches. It's 
no cause for sadness. Big old trees have an afterlife.

One part of life is done, another begins, as champion snag. Red-headed 
Woodpeckers may be next visitors.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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