Monday, June 19, 2006

Elderhostel trip, Rich Mountain, Tues and Wed

Tuesday morning

We had breakfast at the motel, just a counter brunch kind of thing, not very substantial until I discovered there were boiled eggs. Then a boogie of loading suitcases and other gear for three days away from our base of operations. We followed the Interstate west until it went two lane, and made a stop at a small shopping area where the Hostelers were able to purchase liquor if they chose. Gloria explained that one of the reasons for using rental vans was that University regulations forbade carrying alcoholic beverages in their own vans.

After about another hour we were into Hot Springs, arriving half an hour brfore the National Park Visitor's Center opened at nine. Gloria and Kristian went off to get box lunches that had been ordered in advance, and I led a group of interested stragglers along the trails behind Bathhouse Row. When we got back, the VC was open and we had enough time to watch the park movie and wander through the Fordyce Bathhouse for a few minutes. It really was a time machine situation, imagining the then current luxury of the establishments. At 9:30, we reloaded the vans and headed west through what seemed endless tacky outer Hot Springs.

The next stop was a campground and rec area near Lake Ouachita. The group set out birding with me leading in a place I'dnever been before. Someone had expressed interest in Louisiana Waterthrushes, needed for a lifer, so I followed the little creek figuring that running rippling water was bound to have some around. In about ten minutes I heard one singing, and played the song to pull it in. Everybody got a good look, and we also found an Ovenbird and had good looks at an Acadian Flycatcher. I stopped at a picnic table, had everyone sit down or stand around quietly, and played my "Atomic Bird Attraction Selection". That's a repeating five minute segment of an Eastern Screech Owl calling, with a mob of Chickadees in attendance. It usually pulls in almost every bird within a hundred yards, and this time worked splendidly, getting us great looks at Gnatcatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, and several other species including Tufted Titmice. One of the participants, Jean of Wisconsin, finaly blurted out, "Are Titmice really common here?" Well, yes. Turns out in upper WI, they're a really good find, and she couldn't get enough even though she had seen them before.

We wandered around the campground, trying the recordings for anything that I recognized, and worked our way back to the picnic pavillion for lunch, good sandwiches with good fixings. And got treated to another Louisiana Waterthrush at close range, bobbing on the trash cans. Can't get no better.

The next stop was aat Lum and Abner's General Store, a wayside attraction with goofy souvenirs and bird feeders out back, as well as Purple Martins in a house. Actually we found quite a few birds here, hilly open farmland. Back in the van for the drive to Queen Wilhelmina. A couple of hours, the last part climbing into the Ouachitas. We made some roadside stops and found some soaring birds, vultures and hawks. At the lodge, nice modern repacement for two previous versions, the staff unloaded the bags and Kristian, who had done thistrip before, showed me a great trail. About half the group came along, and we got some great looks at Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, plus some other riff-raff on the wooded hillside. Dinner was good buffet, with us in a sectioned off part of the dining room, and afterward the park interpeter, Brad Holleman gave one of the most entertaining natural history talks that I've ever witnessed. His star accessory was roll of toilet paper, symbolizing the geological ages. Our group got the evolution based version, but he has other versions for folks that can't think that way.

I think I was getting tired at this point, the mountaintop was cool, the view stupendous, and the sleep sound.

The next morning I convinced Gloria to let me do a hike first thing before breakfast, get those early birds. Dense fog blowing through the trees with the fluting of Wood Thrushes. I had some of the group with me on the early hour and Kristian and I persisted after folks had gone back fro breakfast. That's how we found the Scarlet Tanager up close. We spent some time going around the edge of the fields and scattered tree woodland in the area of the Inn. Found a visible singing Yellow-breasted Chat, and a family of Bewick's Wrens. After breakfast we got in the vans for a ride further west into Oklahoma to the Kerr Arboretum, with a coupkle of short stops along the way. At Kerr I was able to call in a Scarlet Tanager that almost everyone got a good look at. Back for lunch and then I took a nap while most of the folks went to the little zoo down the hill from the lodge, where they were treated to a presentation of local critters by the wildlife rehabber, whose name I don't recall since I was napping.

We loaded the vans after that and drove down to the Bols Community Center where we met up with Brad again and Joe Neal of the Forest Service, a biologist engaged in Red-cockaded Woodpecker recovery. Joe took us back into the National Forest to a place where they were banding nestling RCWs. A very interesting process involving rickety ladders, climbing gear, a strange nylon loop device for fishing the little pin feathered nestlings out, and a lot of data gathering scales and cameras and what-not. Then Joe hit his stride, stopping at another RCW site for good looks at Prairie Warbler, Pine Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, and some misc. Then he led us to a spot on the side of a two lane blacktop. We climbed, with some difficulty for soemof the folks, up the bank and walked into the woods a feww yards. Scopes up, and three Bald Eagle nestlings in the nest. Everybody got greta loks, an a bonus adult perched not far away. We mad another stop by a creek, found some more birds new fortthe trip, but the views were brief and not everybody got in on them.

Back to the communty center, and a box dinner, before heading out to some farm fields while the sun set. We looked at Jupiter and its moons, and as it got dark started finding Nighthawks, nd hearing Whip-poor-wills, and Chuck-Wills-Widows. It was late when we got back to the lodge, but a great day.

After another immense buffet breakfast (did I mention I probably gained five pounds on this trip) we loaded the luggage in the vans again, and set off east, backtracking to teh Waldron area where we had been the night before, but this time to a dirt road of large ranches, former rolling Tallgrass Prairie. The great primary target bird was Painted Bunting, and they didn't show at first. We did find White-breasted Nuthatches, Lark Sparrow (not seen by all), heard a Field Sparrow, heard a Blue Grosbeak which I was able to call up, but the views were marginal. It was getting frustrating. We walked further down the road, and I played he Painted Bunting song when I thought I saw one flitting in a tree maybe 75 yards away. It flew right over. It bounced from tree to tree back and forth across the road. It gave everyone superb views. It made me look good. What a bird, probably a lifer for more folks than anything else we saw, except the RCWs.

One of the farmers driving by invited us to check out his large pond about a half mile further on, and it netted Spotted, Baird's, and White-rumped Sandpipers, but unfortunately the van following didn't get a view since we couldn't cross the earthen dam without flushing the birds. I went real slow hoping they'd circle around behind me, but no such luck. It had been a great morning, we made a gas and snack stop, and headed back towards Little Rock, with one more night on the road. On the chance that we could find some Lark Sparrows for everyone, we made a slight detour through Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. We got some good looks at Tree Swallows, but the day had become quite hot, the sun was relentless, the birds were taken to cover in a row of tall Longleaf Pines, and we never got a good look, just provocative noises and distant flying silhouettes. We were hot and getting tired, the vans were well air-conditioned, so we headed to Petit Jean State Park.


Post a Comment

<< Home