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Friday, May 14, 2010

The Last Day & It's Big Birdie Rewards

Meeman Shelby Forest trail

It was the last full day of vacation, something I always enjoy and dread at the same time. Bright and early we headed east to Meeman Shelby Forest where we bombed out on finding our target warblers a week earlier. As we walked away from the car and onto the gravely forest trail, it occurred to us, we were not as much birding, as feeding the mosquitoes. As we walked along, I sweated & swatted. It felt like we were traversing a sauna room in hell, complete with miniature harpies. The birds of the forest were happy enough though. Indigo Buntings, Eastern Peewees, Cardinals, Northern Parula warblers and hosts of Robins sang like we had paid admission to hear them.

Sassafras Tree; Don pointed out its leaves have
1, 2 or 3 lobes, as you can see for yourself

We hadn’t gotten far when I hit a peak of whiny-ness, suggesting I return to the car and drive on to the Shelby Grocery store on a quest for bug spray, to save our lives in the manner of leaving the wounded in the desert to go off in search of water to save both our lives. No doubt, I was suffering from humidity poisoning. Don talked me out of taking an hour off of our morning to fetch bug spray.
It took perhaps 45 minutes for us to realize the birds were messing with us, or worse, Jerry Wilson, the Old Coot we had birded with in Tennessee, messing with us. Cerulean Warblers? Swainson’s Warblers? Nonsense. The species did not exist. It was a joke pulled off by Peterson, another old guy with a cruel sense of humor. We gave up and headed back for the car.
Of course, we checked any movement in the trees along the way. I caught sight of what I thought might be a vireo but found myself excited and yelping at Don, “Swainson’s Warbler!”

Swainson’s Warbler , not my photo though; bird too fast, photo too focused

Don checked out the bird, with its eye stripe, cinnamon crown and habitat that didn’t match the sloping habitat we’d been told the species inhabits. We had been checking for the bird along the underbrush where the species is known to creep along in the manner of Connecticut Warblers. But this silly bird was darting about in a tall shrub, almost 6 feet above the ground. What the heck, the bottom line was Don and I both had a much desired lifer species; our morning was not wasted.
Again, we headed for the car, now not freely giving up our blood to the mosquitoes, just in case they had anything to do with the appearance of our target bird. After a while, Don spotted an Epidonax type Flycatcher. We stared at the bird with its yellowish belly, orange-ish bill. Don said the bird had long wing extensions which means something really important which I hope I understand some day before I die. We added up the key points of the bird and BINGO! I had another lifer species; the Acadian Flycatcher. And the bugger held still so I got several better-than-nothing photos of it.

My lifer Acadian Flycatcher

Hurrah! High fives and four thumbs up, we were jubilant when we reached the car. We drove on to a second site in Shelby Forest. It was a spot Don hiked a week earlier, when I refused to budge from the car. After parking, Don defended himself from a crabby, nasty tempered she-bear that growled… um, that would have been me. I can’t be blamed for my evil temper, it was probably the loss of blood from the ravenous mosquitoes that were determined to suck me dry. They bit Don too, but for some reason his skin didn’t react to the bites so while his skin was baby’s arse soft, mine had the look and feel of a Tasmanian Devil’s snout. It took about an hour of my bitching and a half hour of walking to reach the end of the trail, marked by a private residence. We turned around and headed back for the car. We saw loads of Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers & their ilk, flitting along the road but not our target bird.

Great-crested Flycatchers 'sally'
after insects from high perches
Then Don’s ears perked. He’d heard a call matching the Cerulean Warbler’s song played from my iPhone. The calls came from tall trees near a park maintenance building, littered with equipment loaded on trailers. We stood there playing the iPhone and and lo! In flew a petite and beautiful Cerulean Warbler, a male! The tiny bird flew back and forth high over our heads in the tree tops. It sang a bold song of challenge to my iPhone.

Petite & colorful male Cerulean Warble
Not my photo

I tried for photos but once again, the eensie warbler turned my camera into a humongous piece of useless equipment for hauling around in futility. Oh well! What do I care, I got my third lifer for the day, my 16th lifer for the trip! Don had his second lifer for the day and a new bird for his annual birding list.
We spent the remainder of our last day driving back into Tennessee and revisiting the Water Treatment Plant we hit the first day of our trip. Unfortunately the Stilt Sandpipers and such were again most conspicuous in their absence. Before we left the area though, we decided to visit the nearby Chucalissa Archaeological Museum.

Chucalissa Archeological Museum

Serpent mosiac detail

The Chucalissa – and they didn’t call themselves by that name – were farmers, hunters and traders that lived in the Memphis area at least 3,000 years ago, then disappeared for no known reason. The Chucalissa left behind loads of artifacts, including pottery, tools, weapons and most notably, large earthen mounds that today’s archaeologists busy themselves guessing at the meaning & use of.
Don and I found that all out by paying the fee and touring both the museum collections and the former Chucalissa mounds where, long ago an active Chucalissa village full of native North American peoples went about their daily lives.
The museum was interesting. The gift shop (otherwise known as a Claire trap’) was free to visit. I am proud to announce I came away from the entire vacation with nothing more than photos and one engraved rock I bought at the museum gift shop. Then after paying our entrance fees we watched a movie on the Chucalissa, which can be seen on line for free here, but y’all come back now, heah?
We were able to have a short tour in the museum’s inner sanctum where exhibits are assembled and artifacts examined.

Behind the Scenes

After touring the other stand up exhibits, we went out to the museum’s ‘backyard’ for a walk around the grounds. It had seemed strange to me at first, the mounds being so high, when usually old digs are found buried down below the debris of time. Apparently the Chucalissa actually carried & piled rocks on spots they chose for . The mounds, and again I have no idea why they were so high up. That made for high platfomrs, where the Chucalissa peoples gathered to trade farmer’s market style, or simply get together for dances and such. One can only imagine how simple or elaborate the area must have looked 3,000 years ago.

Central plaza mound where the peoples would have gathered

click for a closer look at second, larger
mound with stairs visitors can climb to the summit

After the Chucalissa Musuem, we were on the path back to California, vacation was pretty much over and it was time to head west to home. Bugger.

This poster is the closest I got to
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Arkansas

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Little Rock Arkansas - EEEEP...

Central High School National Historic Site

Birding buddy Don and I had just left El Dorado Arkansas, headed in the direction of Tennessee. First, we made a short stop for a totally non-birdie activity – yes, I know, a rare event. We stopped to visit the Central High School National Historic Site, in Little Rock Arkansas, located across the street & kitty corner to the high school.

View of Central High from the Visitor Center

The exhibits were interesting and horrifying at the same time – no surprises there. Viewing the exhibits was like entering a dark closet at the end of a hallway, and peeling away layers of ugliness from one’s own country. It was fun, you know, like getting a root canal.

Historic Site Exhibit

Now there was no need for me to feel to bad about the former discrimination of my own, so-called ethnic group in America. According to the site exhibits, there was plenty enough discrimination to go around; discrimination against Native Americans, woman - of any race mind you - who had the audacity to want the vote, and Gay people, I mean, like there was loads of hate and discrimination to go around. No waiting! By the time we left the historic site, I felt far less picked on. If I return in ten years time to the site, there had better be an exhibit on anti-fat discrimination or there's going to be trouble!

Equal Opportunity Discrimination: Native Americans,
Women's Suffrage as well as other trod-upon groups.

The bright spot of the trip – OK, aside from getting my National Passbook stamp) was visiting with a couple of high school boys who worked at the visitor center. They were cute Black kids chatty & helpful and I was so impressed with them I had them sign my Passbook. I told them when they do big things I will be able to brag that I ‘knew them when’.

Hurrah! Scored more stamps. Yes, it is easy to make me happy.

After visiting the historic site and its sobering sights, we were in need of a spoonful of sugar. We ordered cajun paninis for our lunch and sweet treats which I'm sure did a lot to lift our spirits.

Community Bakery for a spoonful of sugar or three

We took our lunch and headed to Boyle Park, in Little Rock. There we lunched under a HUGE and beautiful gazebo that seemed big enough to hold most of Little Rock. Then, full of Cajun panini and brownies we set off on a hike to find some birds.

Don strolling along the stone bridge in Boyle City Park

Riverside view in Boyle Park

Boyle Park had great picnic oriented structures

Dear me… I admit, in retrospect, I was cranky! The air was humid and warm and I do not do my best under such conditions. Add to that, the birds were rather sparse. I did get a quick glimpse at what I believe may have been a Canada Warbler, but the bird took off. ARGH! Had the bird hung around it would have been a lifer for me. After a while I just busied myself with the wildflowers as Don searched for the Louisianna Waterthrush – a lifer for me had it shown up – alas, no Waterthrushes.

Indian Pinks

Partridge Berry plant in flower

Cute and as yet unidentified park wildflower

Soon we were back on the road headed back to the Village Creek State Park with high hopes that were rewarded. It not being a busy weekend, we lucked out managing to score a cabin in the Park for one night!

We were thrilled on two counts, as not only were we able to spend the remainder of the day and into the night within the park boundaries, but getting a virtual 2 bedroom suite of a cabin, it meant we each paid only ½ our usual rate for one night on the road. Strange that for half the usual price we each spent on a room, we each got a room, plus the use of a full kitchen, living room, back screened in porch, plus an outside barbeque area with picnic table, and only one stinking night to enjoy it all. Bugger!

Oh well! We made the best of this one night bonanza.

Fiendish, Arkansas Chapacabra (or maybe a raccoon)

We went out Whip-poor-will & Chuck-will’s-widow hunting but heard not a thing, a big disappointment. The park was however, crawling with night stalking raccoons, possums and timid White-tailed Deer. The biggest treat for the evening turned out to be quite unexpected; a HUMONGOUS Luna Moth. The moth was as large as some bats as it fluttered about under the park lights and then landed on the lawn, allowing me some nice photos.

Luna Moth

My biggest memory from our stay at Village Creek State Park was while Don was off tracking down Veery Thrushes I left the cabin to try & get a shot of Wood Thrushes, that flitted around near the cabin. When I got back, the cabin’s front door had shut behind me – and locked. I freaked! Then, after the panic of having to spend my free afternoon at the cabin waiting for Don to return, I went around the back to discover not only was the patio door open, but so was the inner door that lead into the cabin. So much for securing the cabin against the invasion of Wilderness Claire.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Down El Dorado Way

Vacation with my birding friend Don was already at the halfway mark, when we headed south for El Dorado Arkansas. El Dorado is a quaint little town just a few miles north of the Louisiana state border. Nothing I love like long drives while on vacation, particularly if someone else is doing the driving. We found no reason to oppose the motto calling Arkansas "The Natural State". It was natural enough and untamed enough that it not even one bar registered on my iPhone during much of our drive, and I gave up trying to use the cell's GPS system. Ah! That's my kind of 'natural'.

Wide view of Bayout Metro Wildlife Management Area

Bayou's Visitor Center and Observation Tower

A good deal of the drive had us motoring past the watery vista of White River National Wildlife Refuge. We put in a short visit at the Bayou Meto Basin; set up for flood water control and wildlife habitat. As we parked on a large berm overlooking a marsh we knew we had the place to ourselves, except for the presence of a host of waterfowl, including Red-necked Ducks, Moorhens, Blue-winged Teals and the usual line up of geese. I enjoyed watching a young male Orchard Oriole traversing a small patch of wildflowers.
Warren Prairie Natural Area

Next we scanned country roads and found the Warren Prairie Natural Area, a Nature Conservancy spot. We (i.e., Don) walked up and down but there just weren’t that many birds around, perhaps because of the time of day. I busied myself admiring the local wildflowers, some of which were beginning to seem common place now, such as the Showy Primrose, and Dayflowers, but others seemed rather showy and occasionally outright bizarre.

pink Showy Primrose

Wild Petunia

Hairy Skullcap; a weird name for a pretty flower

Yellow Tickseed and Spiderwort flowers

One of the most exotic wildflowers of the trip was a small patch of white flowers with strange long petals. The blooms were on the other side of a rivulet so I actually took the photo below with a hand held long-lens – it doesn’t show the flowers well so I nicked a photo of them from the Internet to show off how pretty they are – close up.

My sad little Spider lily photo

Spider Lily nicked from Internet

Fringed Bluestar

Ear-flowered Lobelia

We drove to around the area and found a pine-woodlands spot where Henslow’s Sparrow was a no show. But dilgent Don called me over into a meadow to enjoy Brown-headed Nuthatch, which were for me, the lifer species of the day. The nuthatches were cute, fluffy and chatty little birds. My photo below is a bit washed out for being backlit, but you can see the sniffy attitude the little mite had as it watched us watching him.

My lifer Brown-headed Nuthatch

Later that day we finally reached our goal, El Dorado Arkansas. There, from the quaint streets of beautiful old homes we ferreted out the one belonging to a friend of Don’s from the Bay Area - Jerry Derrick. Jerry generously agreed to let Don and I stay at his home while we were birding the area.

Don and Jerry in El Dorado Arkansas. On the right you can see
an arbor with vines where Mockingbirds were nesting.

There is always something you remember about places and I’ll always remember how kind Jerry was, how eager to please and how fantastic he is at crossword puzzles. And one other thing – Jerry had an active Mockingbird nest on an arbor at his front door. We each climbed onto a chair for a quick peek at the nestlings.

Like all babies, especially cute when asleep


Our first day trip in the El Dorado area, we headed for the Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge. First up we visited the refuge visitor center. And as we walked up to the building, for the hundredth time I scratched at a spot on my back at my waistband. As I did so, it suddenly occurred to me; this was no prickly heat, this is a $#&% tick! In the center, as Don questioned a Ranger about locals for finding key birds, I grinned sheepishly at a lady Ranger and tried to sound as normal and sane as I could manage, so as not to have her become frightened of the crazy Black woman.

“Is there a place here, maybe a closet or store room where we can have a little bit of privacy?”

“Why?” she asked, sounding a tad concerned.

“So you can remove a tick from my back,” I pleaded.

“Oh a tick! Why didn’t you say so,” she smiled.

I was relieved she wasn’t repulsed. We moved a little into the visitor center where she quickly removed the tick from my hide. Just at moment I realized the prickly heat at another waste band spot was also not just a rash. She removed that one too.

“In Minnesota the bad ticks with Lyme disease are really small," I explained. "A
couple of days ago I pulled off a couple of small ones that were attached, just above my right knee.”

“Hum…” she mused as we stared at the dead ticks (you can see 'my' tick --->). “I don’t know about size, but what you don’t want to see on ticks around here are a white spot on the tick’s back.” Deftly she flipped over the ticks. No surprises I guess, one of the two ticks had a big white spot on the center of its back.

I silently swore at the Shelby Forest gods as the lady slipped my portable moles into an envelope.

The Lady really was impressive. She spent another ten minutes adjusting three Blue Goose Passbook stamps for my visit. I was tickled to acquire the stamps for Felsenthal, Overflow and Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuges. Then, de-ticked, fully stamped and mapped up, Don and I headed out to see the refuges I'd just recieved the stamps for.

Our big goal of the day to find Stilt Sandpipers. Bugger all if the stilts, a potential lifer for Don didn't manage to elude him for the entire trip, just as a lifer Louisiana Waterthrush eluded me. Sometimes being in the right place in correct season doesn’t mean diddly if the birds aren’t cooperating. We did have luck with other birds, though, repeats for us, but fun to see none-the-less. We spent some time watching a couple of nesting Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that busily pounded away at pine trees, high up, well out of range of good camera shots. And after crossing a small bridge over a creek we located a Yellow-throated Warbler that was fast, but happily not too fast for me to get nice “look what I saw” shot.

Yellow-throated Warbler

White-eyed Vireo spotted in the refuge

Our second day out of El Dorado we took Jerry’s recommendation, heading south for a day in north Louisiana.

There at the D’Arbonne National Wildlife Refuge I joyfully 'scored' stamps for D’Arbonne and the Ouishita Refuges.

So, what's at D'Arbonne?

Our first stop on the actual refuge was the equivalent of a sunken bowl, around the edge of which we crept along by car and or/foot. It was still fairly early in the day but the birds, though loud, were relatively sparse. We still looked for the Stilt Sandpipers but only saw a lone Spotted Sandpiper. The biggest excitement for me was spotting a lone Swamp Sparrow; it was the first time I was able to find and identify the species for myself.

Later in the day, we took out the spotting scope to admire a pair of entertaining Bald Eagles. Shortly after headed back towards El Dorado, we parked roadside so Don could take a call from his sister back in the Bay Area. As he hung up, Don excitedly said he’d heard a Prairie Warbler. He went across the street and sure enough, a nice Prairie Warbler gave Don a fine’ Louisianan How-d’ja-do’; Don had a lifer species to commemorate the one day visit to north Louisiana.

Sleepy Riverside in Millwood Lake State Park

Day three we headed to a southwestern spot of Arkansas to an area called Millwood Lake State Park. To me, and like some of the spots we saw the day before in Louisiana, I thought this bit of Arkansas reminded me of the wetlands Florida. Like Florida, a number of Little Blue Herons and White Ibis waded or winged by overhead.

Bit of Swamp at Okay Dike Area

Don took a short hike along a spot called the Okay Dike (no sniggering please) while I stayed with the car, sweating and searching the lily pond laiden waters for signs of Little Blue Heron’s close enough to get shots of. No such luck with herons, but I did see some nice butterflies and wildflowers. The butterflies were especially 'cooperative', flying right into the rental car and quietly posing.

Hackberry Emperor butterfly

A slightly bizarre American Snout butterfly

We then found a spot with an overlook to a lake, set up and maintained by the Audubon Society. Nothing with wings or fur was visible from the overlook so we meandered to a spot with picnic tables nearby. The late nights chatting with Jerry caught up with Don and he stretched out on a picnic bench and hat on face was soon cutting z’s. Meanwhile I played a few bird calls from my iPhone and admired several small birds that shot in and out of the shrubbery & trees. There were Kingbirds, Vireos, and both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles. It was the first time I noticed a size difference between the two; the Baltimore Orioles made the Orchard Orioles look positively petite.

Then, in answer to my calls a beautiful Summer Tanager showed up and gave me the best shots... uh, shot, I got on the entire trip. When Don woke, the Tanager was still staring at us, as if it had paid admission and was bound & determined to get its money’s worth out of us.

Summer Tanager

Same Tanager, leafier pose!

We headed out taking a driving route through the northeastern corner of Texas through Texarkana where we stopped at a Texas McDonalds – a fast food joint I usually avoid like the plague – where we bought wonderfully refreshing, fat & calorie laden coffee drinks - Yummy! With Texas that made five states we at least briefly visited during our trip: Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Home of 'Texas T'...
er... Texas Cold Coffee!

We had stayed with Jerry three days and four nights, getting up each day and taking off to bird, then returning evenings for a rest up and dinner out to Jerry’s favorite local spots. One night we stayed in for a great home cooked chicken dinner. While there I totally felt at home and felt lucky to have enjoyed such good old fashioned, down home, southern hospitality.

On our way out the last morning at Jerry’s house. Before we left for our last leg of the trip, we took one last look at the now four day old family of Mockingbird babies. They really did grow a good deal in the course of the week.

There was a lot of bird life around Jerry’s house. As we prepared to leave a Red-headed Woodpecker drummed away on a telephone pole at the curb. Here are some photos I took of Jerry’s wild friends, Brown Thrashers, during the week.

Hum... which end of this worm is which...

Ok, I've got it the right way round now...

Hang on belly, here it comes!

Look kid, I can't swallow it for you,
you'll have to do some of the work yourself!