Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Joe Neal: Ultimate quacking and peeping glory

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  • ultimate quacking and peeping glory (March 23)‏

joe neal (joeneal@uark.edu)
7:48 AM

Starting temperature was just enough over 30 occasional mists never turned to ice during Saturday's Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip to Shores Lake and Fern in the Ozark NF. Since cold, wet, windy was predicted all day, I was betting we'd be a gang of 5, or less. Instead, when we met field trip leader Bill Beall and his wife Toka, we totaled amazing 15. 
Joe Neal photo March 23 2013

This late March trip is ritual. Y'all out there in predictable Brown-headed Nuthatch country see them (yawns here) at feeders. But they were extirpated from shortleaf pine forests in the western Ozarks long ago.  Bill has tracked what seems the last of their western Ozarks kind around Fern. So that's the draw: find locally rare, little, squeaky, upside down birds. How ya doin' up there little birds? 

In the grey cool, we had them squeaking high in the pines. After easy White-breasteds and Red-breasteds, we had numero tres.

After our coveted nuthatch trifecta, we headed down in the Arkansas valley around Frog Bayou WMA. First stop, shallow, flooded rice fields on Blackland Road. AKA, teal heaven. All I could see was 10 to 20 acres of Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, big bad Gadwalls, brilliantly attired Northern Shovelers.

Somewhere in there was a Cinnamon Teal, I was soooo sure of it, and by the time I had lead our parade down Blackland Road to where that reddist of teals was hiding . . . we were wheels spinning, cars sliding . . . Humiliating backing up scene here.

And of course by then all of duckdom was rising in a vast sweeping cloud, an ultimate quacking and peeping glory, high above the mud, way down the rice field, taking our overly dreamed for Cinnamon Teal, or whatever, much, much further, devil bird tempting and luring.

We got out of there, but not with dignity to spare.

Like nuthatches in the Ozarks, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in the valley is ritual for this trip. Bill saw them here first maybe 15 years ago? Once again, he delivered, 20 at King Ranch, near the Alma sewer ponds, as advertised.

Jim Neiting had been seeing shorebirds and ducks en masse on a sod farm adjacent the river near Van Buren and he had pictures on his camera. Muck far behind us, I was re-seized by XXL supersize birding hysteria. Long-billed Curlews! Cinnamon Teal! 

We had scopes out at the end of the day, on the shoulder of a very busy Highway 59. A compact flock of at least 90 Wilson's Snipe (hey, those are big bills!) patrolled the sod. A scattering of American Golden-Plovers cleverly deployed under a massive traveling sprinkler. Passing drivers were upping speed to avoid us zombies. 

Who else would be standing outside on such a day? Who would scanning the mist and awesome ducks for one redder?

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