Friday, October 19, 2012

Callie's Prairie restoration project volunteers needed Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012: Invitation from Joe Neal

Any of y'all out there in NW Arkansas with a few hours to spare tomorrow, Saturday, could help with some of the innovative, ongoing prairie habitat restoration activities at Lake Fayetteville. Volunteers are meeting at the Lake Fayetteville Environmental Study Center parking lot at the leisurely hour of 10 AM. You can help as long as you want, but the activity is mainly set for 2 hours. Dr H David Chapman project leader. 

This particular event is one of a series of enviro-friendly activities coordinated by Michelle Viney ( of Audubon Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society is a partner in tomorrow's event, as well as a series of upcoming activities that give volunteers a chance to participate in improving conditions in our local environment. 

You don't need special gear -- study walking shoes/boots and gloves will be a plus. A lot of hands is the main goal.

Scissortail photos by Aubrey James Shepherd 19 Oct. 2012

The next event scheduled in this series is non-native invasive species plant removal and trash pick up at Lake Atalanta in Rogers on Saturday November 17, 8:30-12:30. Coordinator for this event is Joan Reynolds (

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Joe Neal on a Missouri prairie expedition

Big grasslands make me feel young and hopeful. Like tonic, just being there, I go from 60s to 30s, From cautiously cynical to optimistic. So it was yesterday at Prairie State Park in southwestern Missouri.
    After a two hour drive in rain and wind that should spoil the day, I open the door in a patch of sunlight certain the year's Best Bird is out there, in Big Bluestem and Indian Grass. Big Sky is the only limit and in the end, only a spiritual question.
    First stop was Path of the Sky People, a loop through Tzi-Sho Natural Area. Snuggled in the covering grass, we found downy gentians in full bloom. Their blue deeply penetrates the senses on a cloudy day, mixing with penetrating purples, red, rusts, browns, blues and yellows in clumps of native grass.
    Barn Swallows were following a tractor with a front mounted roller-scooper harvesting prairie seeds. This proved to be folks from Hamilton Native Outpost of Elk Creek, Missouri, collecting in a cooperative project with the park. Then came wind gusts and dark clouds with long shafts of lightning. Darkening sky accentuated blues of gentians and abundant prairie asters.
    Back to the car in a light rain, we had road birds. American Kestrel on a powerline, one bush with three perched up sparrows: Lincoln's, Song, and Fox, overcast light accentuating the latter's red and gray.
    I've been fighting my first cold this season. During another cycle of clearing, lightning and rain, I fell asleep in the car while Joan Reynolds went in to the park visitor’s center. I have been reading "Katherine Ordway, the lady who saved the prairies." In my dream, she is up and walking big grassland, like the book's cover. She could have done anything with her inherited millions; some went to critical expansions of this park.
    In the visitor's center, Joan learns Greater Prairie-Chickens have been seen along Sandstone Trail. I knew this, but discounted the chance of ever seeing them. But with a modest sky clearing and rising optimism, we head for Sandstone. Bison roam freely and an impressive bull eyes us as we park. Walking his direction? No.
    But there is a 30-foot wide closely mowed fireline, a big greenway that loops through the grasses out toward what must be the highest area of the park. It's all sky. Earth below is afire with the glow of winged sumac thickets. It's away from the bison.
    Joan sees the first prairie-chicken as it flushes and flies low toward the sumac. Soon we have a second, describing a low moving arc of bluestem grass and red thickets as it sails into cover.
    Bison wallows, where they roll back and forth to dust off biting flies, are filled with rain water. A male Northern Harrier sweeps low, flushing meadowlarks (5) and Wilson's Snipes (9) from this ephemeral wetland.
    Walking back, keeping an eye on three bison, in the short grass of the greenway we flush a small streaked bird. With a sharp SQUEET it flies high, as though to escape velocity, then back in a down plummet, to the grass.
    My first thought: Sprague's Pipit. After we see at least 5, including a couple slowly walking away from us in short grass, pale face and dark eye, pattern made in grass, we have the confirming view, rich and full of meaning as Fox Sparrows, downy gentians, generosity of Katherine Ordway.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jane Goodall at UA's Barnhill Arena tonight

Joe Neal on effect of wandering cats on bird population

I feel pretty sure that at least some members of the Fayetteville City Council feed birds in their yards. That is why, during public comments at the council meeting of October 2 that supported regulation and perpetuation of feral cat colonies, I stated a vote FOR this effort to deal with free-ranging feral cats was effectively a vote AGAINST birds.
    One research project documented activities of a feral cat that killed 1,600 animals, including birds, during 16 months.  As I pointed out, most folks don't realize this is going on in their own yards. If a teenage boy is out there with a BB gun shooting cardinals off the feeder, we call the police. Cats work out-of-sight. Feral cats, domestic cats, cats with bells around their necks -- research shows they all do it if allowed to roam.
    We are up in our environmental arms because of tens of thousands of bird deaths associated with the BP oil spill, but guess what . . . it is happening daily, in our own yards. Cats, both domestic and feral, are killing upwards one BILLION birds annually in North America.
    Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, and other small birds are numerous, but they look much alike, unless banded as part of a research effort. If cats kill 1 or 2 or 10, it passes without notice. It is noticed in banding studies.
    This is why, as biologist and birder, I view actions of the council October 2 as a guarantee of continued bird killing, rather than a viable solution.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joe Neal visits Oklahoma prairie preserve to escape pressure of living in Harleyville

In my email are two photographs from The Nature Conservancy's 40,000 acre Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma. Normally a tax paying resident in good standing of Fayetteville, I was in Oklahoma as a refugee when the Harley storm of noise and civic chaos called Bikes, Blues and Barbecue (September 27-30) broke over town and flooded me out.

Just for the record: there's nothing wrong with enjoying life, or Harleys, or motorcycles riders, but vast amounts of unmuffled roar and semi-organized social chaos associated with 4 days of up to 400,000 visitors for a motorcycle rally just doesn't work for some.

Doesn't work for me. So September 29 found me cresting a low hill west of Harleyville in the Oklahoma grasslands, and unexpectedly face-to-face with a large hawk perched on a substantial steel post, part of the Preserve's bison fence. I was struck by a white face with a few dark markings. Joan Reynolds stuck her camera out the window, got one image of a perched hawk, a second as it flew, large rat in its talons.

Getting away from noise and chaos of Harleyville was a prime inspiration for this trip, but also Eryngium leavenworthii. It's a relative of rattlesnake master, familiar resident of quality tallgrass prairies in Arkansas. This one is a purple, cactus-like cylinder with extending lavender flower parts, the whole surrounded by rosettes of lances sharp and stiff. Think purple cactus. One was being visited by a huge bumblebee.

The first striking bird of the trip was a dark morph Harlan's Hawk, deep chocolate brown with a mostly white tail, conveniently perched on a powerpole along the highway. Nesting in Alaska, its presence in Arkansas-Oklahoma is a clean marker of fall migration and coming winter. Also an accurate harbringer of what was to come.

Just down the road, a fine male Spotted Towhee, fresh arrived from the west, occupied a dense thicket of blackberries, rough-leafed dogwood, and persimmon sprouts. All but invisible, except for those loud SRINKs! We saw 3; 1 around western Arkansas I count as a good season.

Blue Jays were migrating over both mornings, with 327 in 12 flocks September 29 and a heaven-shaking 565 in 13 flocks the following. We noticed jays concentrated in open hardwood Cross Timbers.

And flickers were shooting over in 1s and 2s. We had both yellow and red-shafted forms. We occasionally see western red-shafteds around Maysville in extreme northwest Arkansas.

We found E. leavenworthii in several fields, often associated with blue sage, Salvia azurea, whirls of bluish purple in a grassy landscape, attended by hordes of migrating monarch butterflies, and yellow provided by goldenrod species and elegant stands of tall Maximilian sunflowers.

Here, allow me a special shout out for these sunflowers: their upraised and arm-like offerings, first of sunny rays, then seed. Red-winged Blackbirds, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfinches making rounds of sunflowers, inspecting seed heads for appropriate ripeness.

I could go on here, for bison saved from extinction and this year's calves, for a dusty ornate box turtle and a tarantula crossing roads, masses of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, pelicans migrating over as we drove through Pawhuska, and ultimately, blessed, soul refreshing awayness from a Fayetteville already overpopulated, but for four days transformed by mercantilistic crankiness into Harleyville.

Back home, bird guides in a comforting array, I can say 100% that Joan Reynolds had presence of mind to quickly photograph a juvenile female PRAIRIE FALCON.

And finally, a shout out for you riders on Harleys who also respect nature and quiet spaces and operate your fine machines accordingly.  I write this on a go to work Monday morning, Fayetteville reemerged from Harleyville. You are hereby welcome to join next year's Birds, Botany, and Bison, to be held whenever in fall 2013 those other Harleyvillians return.