The sun might just shine bright on some old Kentucky home, but when Don and myself headed out headed out to find a a Painted Bunting, it shown even brighter, and just for us. The previous day Jerry ‘Old Coot’, gave us directions to a special bird he’d scoped out at the entrance to Wapanocca, a National Wildlife Refuge. Shucks, I couldn't say Wapanocca without giggling - yes; I am that immature. So, after giggling over our motel breakfast bar discovery of packeted ‘Instant Grits’, we found ourselves staring at roadside trees, looking for buntings on roadside trees near by the Wapanocca entrance sign.
of the Mississippi or north of the Mason Dixon line
There are several species of Buntings in the U.S., but the loudest, most garishly… uh, strikingly colored and striking is the Painted Bunting. Up to this morning I had only ever seen one female Painted Bunting; a nearly drab olive birdie job, down in Florida. So this bright Tennessee morning, I was nearly as excited about seeing the male Painted Bunting as was Don, for whom the bird would be a lifer species. There were no disappointments - Hurrah! Don spotted a brightly scarlet-bellied male Bunting, that was utterly shameless in its coloring. While Don admired the singing bird, I swore so badly it is a wonder the critter did not just fall out of the tree. I was miffed, as usual - the bird being too fast for me to get even a crap photo off. Here’s a pic I nicked off the Internet.
With a gem of a bird ticked off, and we were off to explore the rest of Wapanocca. It’s a pretty little refuge with large fields with all sorts of habitat, from green meadows sprinkled with saplings to gator-ridden cypress swamp. To make up for the missed Painted Bunting photo op, a very cooperative and cute Yellow-billed Cuckoo posed for me as it perched on a shrub, wolfing down caterpillars. Some birds are just awesome even if their bellies are not fiery red.
common in the south, rare in California
Eventually we wended our way to the wooden boardwalk where the previous evening we’d heard Least Bitterns calling. It was wonderfully cool and rather breezy so not too many critters were stirring or calling. After a bit, Don took off on a birding walk. I stayed put on the viewing platform, stubbornly staring haplessly across the swampy lake, watching Moorhens and such, enjoying the breezy cool morning. After perhaps a half hour, I saw in the distance, a flapping heron-like bird. I gasped - I was viewing Least Bittern, puddle jumping across water reeds. Hallelujah, pass the plate! The Least Bittern was now firmly on my life species list as a ‘seen’ and not just a ‘heard’.
The remainder of the day was spent diddling around searching for new birds, sights and sounds. Though we didn’t score any new birds, I did get my Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge stamp in my Blue Goose passbook. Thank you for feigning being thrilled for me.
The following morning we rose for the last time in West Memphis. After our morning giggle over grits biscuits and gravy, we were out early, on the hunt for exotic warblers in Meeman Shelby Forest State Park. Deserting the car – an act that, yes, I admit, often enough caused me to whine and fuss. Happily, like me, most birds enjoy a good squawk and fuss in the morning. So as we walked down a forest road, winding down a path flanked by tall shrubs and trees hung with Tarzan vines, the forest echoed with morning birdsong. Don has become quite the expert at recognizing bird calls. In bird calling I’m barely at kindergarten level, but between Don and myBirdjam bird recordings, I could pick out a few. Don could hear and point out Carolina Chickadees, Bluegray Gnatcatchers, Tennessee Warblers and White-eyed Vireos. Soon I was hearing and recognizing the upswing of the beautiful little Parula Warbler’s rising notes and the back and forth ‘I am here, where are you’ notes from Vireos and Orioles.
There were also bright butterflies to stare at and try for photos of and just about every kind of forest bird you would want – except of course the two species we’d come to the area for: the Cerulean and Swainson’s Warblers. Drat! Still, no complaints from me, we found a curious Kentucky Warbler – a lifer for me, and a way-too-speedy Hooded Warbler.
When we left the forest I was tired and well on my way toward cranky. We stopped to buy lunch at the Shelby General Store, a spot Don remembered from his visit to the area 4 years earlier. The little grocery was a local historic spot and I totally had to appreciate it for it’s down home STUFF.
Not only did the Shelby General Store have loads of cool stuff to stare at and collect dust, but it sold tasty sandwiches served up with loads of southern hospitality. I got greedy and treated myself to a genuine ‘Moon Pie’and a Goo-goo Cluster. Afterwards, I meandered outside to picnic tables on the grocery’s side porch where I watched a friendly man setting up for his one-man afternoon performance. We chatted a bit about a humongous mulberry tree that not only provided me with enough semi-tasty free fruity berries to serve my healthier dessert needs, but provide the fruity needs for a large flock of Cedar Waxwings. The waxwings are the same species that hit my Hawthorn Tree every winter. I was a little surprised to see such bird not only because we were so far south, but because I seldom see waxwings outside of Autumn/Winter. After buying lunch, Don and I headed off to more birding as the soft chords of a Blue Grass Love Song faded into the distance
We didn’t get too far before Don pulled a U-turn; there was a large turtle playing chicken by crossing the road - Photo Op!
more secretive and less photographed than Tennessee Turtles
We attempted to get a cabin at Village Creek State Park. As it was a Saturday, we were not surprised the park was full up. So after getting rooms in Forest City, Arkansas we headed back to the Park. The park was alive with birds; Chimney Swifts zippering the sky, families of Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Bluebirds and I saw my lifer Tufted Titmouse which stayed in the dim of shrubberies, so no photos of that particular feathered cutie.
Our goat... uh... make that our 'goal' at Village Creek was to find Whippoorwills and Chuck-will’s-widow, cryptically feathered that is, birds that hunt insects mainly at night and are more usually heard than seen, as they singing their names at night. After dark we tramped around the State Park finding the odd raccoon and possums, but couldn't find a Night Jar to pee in – so to speak. Oh well! We figured we would plot a re-visit at Village Creek later at the tail end of our trip.
This sign, near a Village Creek Park boat dock, left me totally befuddled – I mean, what's jug fishing? Making the fish drunk so as to catch them easier? How do you use yo-yos to catch a fish? Jug lines wha....?