Lynn and I took a trip to Southwest Arkansas May 11-13th to attend a college graduation. We stayed in a town about an hour outside of Little Rock during our visit and I was able to get out for a few hours early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday to explore an area called De Gray Lake State Park. Here are the highlights of our brief encounters with Arkansas wildlife…
Saturday was a rainy day, I arrived at De Gray Lake a little before sunrise with a light but steady rain falling and foggy conditions, not optimum for photography. Since this was more of a family visit than an actual photographic/natural history time was short, the plan for the day was to visit Hot Springs Arkansas with my wife’s nephew and his family and friends so I only had a couple of hours to explore before having to head back to the hotel. The rain let up around 8:00 AM enough for me to start seeing a few things.
Map of SW Arkansas, Red Arrow indicates area I was in
The first impression I had of De Gray Lake was that it was a large, well developed recreation area. There was a golf course skirting the lake on one side, a large convention/meeting center with a resort hotel, numerous boat launch ramps, beaches, campgrounds, picnic areas and well maintained roads. It looked very much like a typical state park in California for that matter. There were few people in the park this early in the morning but it certainly appeared that they are well prepared for large numbers of people to visit the area.
The large lake is surrounded by wooded areas, mixtures of pine, oak, scrub and typical plant life of the southern states. There were certainly a lot of birds in the area, I noted many familiar species as I slowly drove around before the rain stopped. Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Fish and American Crows, Eastern Bluebirds and Eastern Kingbirds were quite common and easily viewed and seen.
I head many Indigo Buntings calling from high up in pine trees as the rain subsided, I was able to barely capture an image of one in the dark, overcast morning.
The lake itself seemed rather devoid of life as I scanned the banks and the waters. I noted a few pairs of Canada Geese a few Mallards and a distant pair of ducks which I think were Mergansers though I was never sure on the identification. There was also a few herons here and there and one, lone, Spotted Sandpiper, seen below.
As mentioned above, Eastern Kingbirds were numerous and approachable. I was able to get close enough to one to get decent images of it as well as several Orchard Orioles which were also relatively common throughout the park.
Male Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole
And yet another picture of a male Orchard Oriole
The ever present, loud and interesting Blue Jay
At the very end of a road through a picnic area that ended on a small peninsula that jutted out into the lake there were two pairs of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, calling loudly and fly-catching in the drizzle. One perched briefly allowing me good looks and a couple of shots at it.
There were a few Great Blue Herons and one or two Cattle Egrets and Green Herons along the edge of the water but not in the sort of numbers that I would have expected for a similar area back home. Could have just been the location I was in or the fact that there are so many lakes and waterways that the concentration is much different here.
As I was photographing the Heron, a very noisy and active pair of Carolina Wrens decided to make their presence known. They were certainly not shy and I believe they were scolding me for being too close to possibly their nest. They were very hard to photograph however as they moved very quickly up and down and around the trees. In the dark conditions it was very challenging to get any decent images. I ended up with dozens of blurry, streaked photographs with the one below being the only half-way decent image captured.
Great Blue Heron
That was about it for the morning as it was approaching 9:00 AM and I had to bet back to the hotel, change clothes and meet the in-laws for our trip to Hot Springs…
Later that afternoon, at the home of my wife’s Great Nephew (who had graduated from college and the reason for the trip) we found a cool Io Moth. Note the eye spots on the wings, apparently used to convince potential prey that they are not a moth at all but a fearsome predator themselves!
We also took a walk around the house and the ten acre, wooded backyard area finding a couple of Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch and a pair of Downey Woodpeckers. Also a lot of Chiggers unfortunately for me… I got eaten up with fifteen wonderful chigger bites on my legs, I hate Chiggers…
Sunday morning was sort of the same strategy as the prior day, I would get a few hours early in the morning, the it was off to Hot Springs to return and exchange some of the stuff we bought the day before, then it would be a drive back to Little Rock to catch our afternoon flight back to San Diego.
The major difference on Sunday however was the weather. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny day. Not too hot or humid, just a nice spring day. I started the morning off at an area called Iron Mountain and found a very nice mixed flock of birds just as the sun was starting to rise. They were moving quite quickly from tree to tree along the banks of the lake and the lighting wasn’t yet “perfect” but I still managed to see quite a few good birds including Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, American Redstart, Brown-headed Nuthatch (a new “lifer” for me), White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Wood Pewee, Yellow-throated Warbler and Black-and-White Warbler. As I was walking back to my car I saw a pair of huge Piliated Woodpeckers flying across the lake almost directly overhead heading toward parts unkown…
The flock quickly moved on and started flying across the lake to the other side which is where I too ended up. I stopped at quite a few places during the next couple of hours trying to get as many new species as I could see in the couple of hours I had. I didn’t run into another flock but instead slowly picked away during the morning, adding a few new species I hadn’t seen the previous day such as Red-eyed Vireo, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Tufted Titmouse, as well as more Pine Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and the usual assortment of Cardinals, Jays, etc.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-winged Blackbird (female)
Another Blue Jay
Fledgling Orchard Oriole (female)
Male, fledgling Orchard Oriole (I think),,,
Black-throated Green Warbler
As usual, you learn something new if you spend time in the field. The bird below had me quite perplexed and I spent quite a bit of time in the field (sans field guide) trying to figure out what I was looking at. The dull brown coloration had me confused and I may have thought it was an aberration if there had not been several of them in the area. It was not until I got back home and referred to my Field Guide to Wood Warblers of the World book that I realized these were dull, first year, female Pine Warblers.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Time went by too quickly and I had to leave the birds, which seemed to be building in numbers as the sun got a bit higher in the sky but duty called and I left De Gray Lake with the hopes of returning to this area someday as I felt there was some “unfinished business” to attend to. One final note and a cool way to end the morning bird watching activity, as I was driving back to the hotel I noted a very cleanly marked adult Mississippi Kite flying parallel to the roadway. I got great looks at it as I pulled off to the side of the road to try to get a picture but alas, it was not to be. As soon as I got the car stopped and out the door, it took a quick turn to the left and disappeared behind a stand of pines, never to be seen again by me this day. All in all, for the few hours I spent looking and the fact that the weather was less than cooperative the first day, not to bad of a tally including a new life bird for me on the trip.
Great Blue Heron
Black-throated Green Warbler