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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
you'll have to do some of the work yourself!