Birding in Arkansas News from ADPT
Birding in Arkansas – Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Photos available: www.ArkansasMediaRoom.com/press-releases/display.aspx?id=2740
With its mild climate and variety of habitats, Arkansas is a well-known destination to watch birds.
“Birding is a simple activity that anyone can do,” said Shea Lewis, a regional supervisor at Arkansas State Parks. “You can start at home with the basic bird feeder. A lot of folks are backyard birders and they keep a feeder up and just kind of keep a list of what they see in their backyard. Many of our parks offer introductory type programs that you can go to. The only really basic need you have to get started is a field guide or a field app and a pair of binoculars.”
Lewis has been a birder for around 20 years and started the activity as a seasonal interpreter at Millwood State Park, where he realized the park was alive with birds and he didn’t know what they were. Before too long he met friends that were birders and then he became a lister and everything else that goes along with birding. So far he has around 500 birds on his list.
Lewis said birders look for the rarities, something that is different or new. “What makes Arkansas stand out is its location in the Mississippi Flyway,” he said. “Also the richness of habitat.”
Eastern Arkansas is known for ducks and waterfowl, said Lewis, and from there to the southwest you see very different birds, the shorebirds of Millwood and some of the more western or southwestern species. Then up towards northwest Arkansas or Mount Magazine State Park you see more raptors. “So there is a lot of diversity within the state, but it is really related to the natural divisions in the habitats that we have,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a lot of wild places, a lot of large scale undeveloped land and rural areas where birding can take place.”
“Arkansas’s position in the Mid-South means we have a blend of birds characteristic of the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Midwest, making for a diverse avifauna,” added Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director at Audubon Arkansas. “Arkansas also has a tremendous population of wintering waterfowl that both birders and hunters enjoy.”
Scheiman said that Stuttgart Airport is his favorite birding location because of prairie birds such as Northern Bobwhite, Sedge Wren and LeConte’s Sparrow, and a particular bird called Smith’s Longspurs. In winter, he said people come from all over the country to the destination to see these sparrow-like birds that breed in the high Arctic, a spot out of reach for most birders.
“It winters in a small portion of the Mid-South, where it requires wide open spaces and a particular species of grass called three-awn grass,” Scheiman said. “Airports around the state offer this situation, but Stuttgart Airport is the only one that allows birding near the runways where dozens to over 100 Smith’s Longspurs may be seen.” Audubon recognizes the destination as an Important Bird Area because of this species and other prairie birds. “Winter is also the time to see Trumpeter Swans at Magness Lake outside Heber Springs,” he added. “This is another Important Bird Area. People come from all over to see the hundreds of swans that gather there and at nearby ponds.”
Lewis said his favorite birding memory varies from season to season. “This time of year is peak shorebird migration and so depending on where you are at in the state there are great birding spots for every time of year,” he said. “But probably some of my most favorite times have been at Village Creek State Park in the spring during spring migration when warblers come through in large numbers and the trees are alive with very small birds that are brightly adorned. During that time they are active at calling and there is lot of noise and the calls that are taking place are just exciting to hear.”
According to Scheiman, spring is also a time when Rufous-crowned Sparrows are singing along the south-facing bluff line behind the lodge and cabins at Mount Magazine State Park. “At other times of the year the birds are quiet and can be hard to find,” he said. “This is the only population east of Oklahoma and Texas.”
In summer, Scheiman said Common and Purple Gallinules breed in wetlands in the southwest and southeast corners of the state. “These active, vocal, colorful birds are a treat to see and their young are even cuter as they walk across floating vegetation with their oversized feet,” he said.
In early fall, Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills, which breed to our south, move northwards for a time before migrating south for the winter. “These large, long-legged wading birds wander widely but stick to wetlands in the Delta and the southwest corner,” he added.
Every August his Audubon chapter goes to Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge to see the thousands of shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl attracted to the wetlands managed for those birds. In winter, Scheiman said Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge has a high diversity of species, including a few Trumpeter Swans. “It is known as a reliable place to see Bald Eagles and the occasional Golden Eagle,” he added.
As to birding in state parks, Lewis said Millwood State Park and Lake Dardanelle State Park have always been well documented parks due to the help of some key birders. “Moro Bay State Park has fantastic birding, and the lake at Lake Dardanelle State Park is a prime birding area. And there are specific locations like Bird Island at Lake Ouachita State Park, a well-known birding location during a specific time of year when Purple Martins roost there in the thousands, and Caddo Bend at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. Lake Chicot State Park in eastern Arkansas and Hobbs State Park – Conservation Area in the Northwest part of the state also have great birding.
Lewis said there are also interesting state park birding programs that take place throughout the year such as hummingbird banding at Mount Magazine State Park and various eagle watching programs during the winter.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, in a partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has also produced a Birding and Watchable Wildlife brochure that includes information on different species of birds in the state, viewing locations, and tips for bird watching trips. For more information on birding in the state visit www.Arkansas.com/birding or Audubon Arkansas’s website ar.audubon.org.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
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Ginger Smith joined OGTC in 2014 as a volunteer, and has lived in this area since 1972 when she moved to be near her parents, the late Doss and Vivian Burgess. Her late father was Independence County Appraiser and any time family, whether kids or grand kids, came to visit for even a short time, he would take them to A.D. Hill’s grocery store, and get them a soda pop and candy bar, see the talking bird there, and end up “checking out the great White River.” All the kids and grands have played on the banks there, picnicked, and played on the old train. Ginger is adamant, since she moved to Batesville, there is just no other place to raise a family. Her love for the area and desire to help promote it in her professional capacity led her to seek volunteering, and Charlie Morris, whom she met when she was a typesetter at the Daily Guard Newspaper, put her in touch with Cathy Drew, Executor Director of OGTC. She has been on board since then and says she has loved everything she has done and is proud to represent North Central Arkansas.
The last 20 years of her employment she worked for the late County Judge David Wyatt, West Elementary School Principal Jerry Harris, and Circuit Clerk Claudia Nobles and Judge John Kemp. At the Guard Office she says she made friends for a life time, and then the West Elementary teachers, students, and their families grew close to her forever. Her last job she was hired in a newly created position to collect felony fines and restitution. She was so proud that after three years she more than tripled the annual revenues that she retired! Her part-time retirement job was with the ortho docs, Drs. Allen and Angel where she also met many people from all over the area, and made another set of new friends! She is a published writer and has also written feature articles for the Batesville Guard TV Guide and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
She has a daughter, Misty Long Sparks, son-in-law Dloyd Sparks, and three grands, Dalton Lee, Victoria Lynn and Anna Rose, who own her heart, and three more heartbeat grands, Nico and Corbin of Washington, and a late granddaughter, Ginger Savannah. Her late husband, Ken Smith, was the Batesville Postmaster.
Totally retired now, Ginger offers her time and writing abilities to OGTC as she travels around the state and visits with so many nice folks, writes reviews, and tries to be a worthy representative for Ozark Gateway Tourism. She is a people person who really cares for all God has blessed us with in our beautiful state of Arkansas in the United States of America.