Monday, April 23, 2007

Mississippi River Three State Trip

Wed, April 18, 2007


I had a few days before being the driver/bird finder for an Elderhostel trip, and decided I could make another run at finding some birds in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Another meaningless goal of numbers and listing is making the ABA list in all the states touching Arkansas. I got that notion from Edge Wade in Missouri. The ABA list requires finding half the species ever seen in a state, generally 2-300 or thereabouts. Some higher like Texas and California, some lower like West Virginia and Vermont. Big edge states have big lists, and small interior states have small lists.

So I loaded up the truck for traveling and with extra stuff for the Elderhostel week. It wasn't a quick getaway, so I took the direct route down US 65 to Northeast LA, and messed around a little before landing in Bruin Lake SP again. I had it targeted since it had some varied habitat, was in the edge of the Mississippi R flyway, and had lots of area of widely separated big trees that are ideal for birding and seem to attract migrants as well. I had nine new tics by dark, some of the expected warblers, vireos, and flycatchers, so the plan was working.

Somehow I managed to run my battery down while parked in the dark, too many computers plugged in recharging and the dome light on. Not to panic, I was surrounded closely by RV world. And a shower about fifty feet away.

April 19, 2007

I was up early and birded around the park until I saw folks moving around, and then begged a jump start. No problem. From there I headed over to Tensas NWR, the south entrance that I'd learned was preferred, and also Tensas WMA, side by side with the refuge. Had some good luck on the dirt roads, including a long close look at a Golden-wing Warbler, best ever. There are plans afoot for wildlife viewing installations, but nothing right now. Leaving there it seemed I'd made 33%, the next level goal, but later the new criteria were published by ABA, and LA had some new species, so I've fallen back to the 100+ species level. I'll make up for that before too long

Note: by the end of 207 I'd not made it back, after planning over and over, thwarted by mechanics and money and medicine.


I crossed into MS to check out St Catherine Creek NWR. It was hard to find and hard to figure out how to get into, and when I got there, a lot of the habitat was flooded. I did follow one refuge road way out into the wetlands, but there were no mudflats since the water was up to the road edges, or a little over. I was a little disappointed, it;s the second time I've stopped there and both times hit high water.

Headed up to the series of refuges in west central MS, Yazoo, Panther Swamp, Morgan Brake, and Hillside. But it was getting dark. The little town I found near Delta National Forest was scary poor, I drove around looking for food, ended up with C-store junk, but found the real restaurant as I was leaving. Saved it for Breakfast. Drove to a campsite in the National Forest, actually birdy around sundown, but really deserted. I started worrying about the battery, and finally decided to drive back to the highway where I could flag a jump if necessary. Parked behind a sign. Not much traffic, slept OK, and the battery was alright the next morning.

April 20, 2007

I headed back into the little town and had the planned breakfast, OK but not outstanding. I've had great luck in my travels with the little places with lots of pickups. This was a miss. Didn't care when I got to Yazoo. A simply wonderful refuge, spent the whole morning there getting great looks at great birds. Good trails and facilities too. Five species of Swallows, Moorhens and Gallinules, six Herons, and a Blackburnian Warbler were among sixty-two species for the morning. Gadzooks.

I'd been to Panther Swamp, so I skipped it and found Hillside and Morgan Brake. Neither was too impressive after Yazoo. Jeff Wilson had told me that Coldwater NWR was worth checking out, but it required a long out of the way loop to the north and then back south down a dead end road. I did it anyway. Not even a sign, but he GPS had it mapped. Just big square ponds, like an old fish farm. I finally tried a little dirt road through a gate, topped the levee, and bingo, Jackpot. Shallow water and mud flats, and ten new species of shorebirds. I was a kid in a candy store. Ended the day by driving nearly to Memphis, and stopped at Sardis Lake. Double blessing, a nice cheap campground with new good showers, and the sweetest little boardwalk nature trail through a small exquisite piece of swamp, and some upland forest on the other side of the road. I now make it a regular stop in N MS.

April 21, 2007

I ended up adding 44 species in MS, putting me in better position than I'd ever hoped for making the ABA list. The last five were on the nature trail in the morning. I spent most of three hours there, in a very short distance.

I spent about an hour then driving around the rest of the park looking for overlooks where I could try spotting gulls. No luck. Another lake in the same series of flood control impoundments, Arkabutla, is often good for gulls. It's part of Jeff Wilson's regular loop in northern Mississippi.


Drove the hour on into Memphis, and checked out Chockalisa State Park. Didn't do that well, being paranoid about the truck full of stuff that I wouldn't dare get too far from. One of the reasons I don't spend a lot of time birding in cities. I spent the rest of the day visiting with friends, drinking coffee in an Internet cafe, looking for used books, watching kids play, and napping on a park bench overlooking the big river. Didn't even take my binoculars. I knew that the next day started a week of continuous high pressure birding with the Elderhostlers. Toward sundown I drove north out of Memphis to Neeman-Shelby Forest State Park. I should learn not to go to parks on weekends near cities on nice spring days. It was a circus, too much noise too late, but finally the guy two sites away that laughed explosively raucously at his own jokes until midnight shut up.

April 22, 2007

Got up real early and went back to a little corner store and had some breakfast, then back to the park to hike trails. Again looking for mostly migrant passerines. I ended up following a trail along a little creek in a deep hollow. Lots of birds calling, but thick habitat made them hard to spot. Which humbled me since I didn't recognize about half the calls, and hadn't brought the mp3 player. It had been years since I'd not been able to name most of the calls anywhere near home. I think I'll try it again some spring when it's been cooler and the trees aren't so fully leafed out so early, if we get another like that. Anyway it's a place worth birding several times. I drove around other parts of the park, trying to get down to the river and wetlands, but found out it was a walk-in situation. I still had to get to Little Rock.


I got off the interstate in Brinkley and went down to scope out the Apple Lake trail since it was one of the first stops with the Hostlers. It was too late in the day to get the morning flush. Also stopped at the fish farms between there and Little Rock hoping to find a pond with shorebirds. That at least went well. There's a detailed log of the 2006 Elderhostel trip along the same route but slightly later in the season in the May '06 archives of this blog.


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