Sunday, March 10, 2013

Joe doesn't explain what a playa is but we get the idea, don't we?

  • The Playas of Northwest Arkansas‏

joe neal (
7:10 PM

Rain started after lunch yesterday. My yard was a lake when I left to meet up with Joan Reynolds for in-the-car birding. Rained all late afternoon. Rained all night. Rained most of today, too. Slacked around noon, shifted to mist driven by cool west wind. Our goal: Prairie Creek on Beaver Lake and whatever is seeable out the window.

On Beaver, from the Highway 12 boat launch, a Common Loon in immaculate summer plumage, Common Goldeneyes (5, immaculate), and 30+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one surprise: Franklin’s Gull with part of a black hood, and earlier than other occurrences here.

I got good and wet leaning out the window for that one. It is the official Drizella Prize: what I get for trying to turn it into a Laughing Gull.

Just like nature intended, 24 hours of spring rain turned into playas former prairies around the state fish hatchery at Centerton and old prairies demoted to pastures for nearby dairy farms at Vaughn. Wilson’s Snipe are in wet ditches and visible only if you are honestly trying to separate what is snipe from what is grass.

Dry fields of a few weeks ago are all water, artistically patterned in the grass, patrolled by madly-singing Great-tailed Grackles. They proudly display spring finery as they flip cow patties – splash, splash -- for hidden goodies.

In other pools of playa world, Killdeer flocks, and in one, another first: 3 American Golden-Plovers. Such awesome travelers. Seeing them sort of brings our tired old divided world together, north to south, maybe Liberal and Conservative. What is more real, after all, than a small bird traveling 10,000 perilous miles to raise a family, what less real than our politics? It’s almost biblical; perhaps just leave out the almost.

Later in the afternoon I decided to check out another playa-of-the-day, Woolsey Wet Prairie. Never has a place been better named. A recent burn has opened up the place. It has risen Lazarus-like from drought to sport shallow playas around all the old prairie mounds. You can see all the billions of crawfish burrows. And Killdeer (51), Wilson’s Snipe (6+), American Pipits (2), a big cheery flock of Red-winged Blackbirds.

One mixed sparrow flock included song, swamp, savannah, white-crowned, and tree sparrows, a few juncos, all foraging among burned grass clumps. Then an Eastern Phoebe, singing atop a WWP boundary sign, tail blown sideways. And with water returned, a few ducks, including a spectacular drake Northern Pintail.

I heard and saw lots of meadowlarks, and at least one Western, in full song, defying wind. I’d pulled on all kinds of wet weather, windy day, nylon, gear to shut out the bluster, but you can’t just shut out reality, especially meadowlarks singing like sunshine.

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