Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elderhostel 08 - Devil's Den to Queen Wilhelmina

May 11, 08, Sunday

I got to Devil's Den about 2:30 pm, checked into my cabin, a CCC construction remodeled to modern standards. Lots of hot water, and full kitchen. Took a shower and went out birding, found Gloria, the trip leader, unloaded some supplies, and then continued around the cabin area and along the creek. Thirty-five species by sundown, including a Cerulean Warbler at Gloria's cabin. We had dinner, lasagna, and introductions and orientation. Food was distributed for three breakfasts, and back to my cabin about dark. Left the window cracked to hear owls, but no luck.

May 12, 08, Monday

Started the morning birding around the visitor center, waiting for folks to show up for a hike on the Devil's Den trail. Harry Harnish, park interpretor, leads. We did the loop backwards so we could bird along the creek early, but eventually climbed the bluffs up to the main crevice caves. Great waterfalls. Some good birds, Green Heron, Kingfisher, great looks at Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the VC. Best thing for me was finally seeing the red cap on an Eastern Kingbird, something I'd yearned for since seeing it on a stuffed specimen at Yellowstone at least ten years ago. Harry explained some of the geology of the Den, and finally confessed that it might be the only thing like it in the world. After that we drove into Winslow for the only cuisine in town, and it was good even if a very funky down-home setting.

Then headed south down scenic Highway 71 just into Crawford County and Cartwright Mountain. Some great birds, starting with a molting Summer Tanager, in the flame stage. Then a male and female Scarlet Tanager. Then a good look at an Eastern Wood-Pewee, followed by an Olive-sided Flycatcher, which I first thought was a Brown-headed Cowbird, since the angle of the full sun made the head look bronze, but when it moved around we were able to get a different opinion that fit better. All at one stop topped off by a Philadelphia Vireo. Nothing quite matched that run as we circled the mountain, but there were other good birds, including a clear but brief look at a Worm-eating Warbler. Stopped at the Artist's Point gift shop on the way back to the park for a break with many hummers, Indigo Buntings (with clear views of several females) and a mother ground-hog with four adorable babies who seemed to be on their first foray from the den. Charming.

Back to the park for a break while Gloria and I checked out a cedar glade as a possible birding spot, short break at the cabin for record keeping, about 65 species since arrival, some not seen by everyone since I had my personal list mixed in with the group's. Dinner at Gloria's cabin, AQ chicken and fixins, barely moderated the urge to truly pig out. Finale was the bat program by the unstoppable Harry Harnish again. Great show, first a lot of Q&A backgrounding, then listening to while watching Big Brown Bats, and Eastern Pipistrels using a frequency translating device so we could hear the clicks and feeding buzzes while watching maneuvers. That made long active day.

May 13, 08, Tuesday

Up really early, first light, stagger about and then wait for the group to assemble. Taped in a great view of a Yellow-throated Warbler. Tried for 7 o'clock departure, got off at 7:30. Drive to Fayetteville airport, XNA really, in Benton County, switch out too small minivan for the real thing, 12 seater. Got a House Sparrow while waiting on the tarmac. Then up to Centerton Hatchery, with big high pool drained and one of the lower ones. Didn't seem too promising. A Spotted Sandpiper, Mallards, two more sandpipers, then Coots. Went to the upper pool. Blue-winged Teals, Wilson's Phalaropes, other shorebirds, the two Caspian Terns which made my day, followed by another fifteen or so, which made my moon-shot. Egret and Great Blue. Headed into Decatur for lunch, then up towards Maysville for grasslands. Good looks at Dicksissels, Scissortails, and Meadowlarks, no sparrows. Things kind of slow but for a flock of Yellow Warblers in the distance as we stood on a bridge.

Drove south to the University Museum, not open to the public, some bizarre and stupid funding shortage. There's a colection, but no display. We got into the inner sanctum where Gloria used to work. Very special treat. Huge climate controlled room with endless shelves and cabinets of pottery and skeletons and skins and eggs and jars of pickled critters. We saw two stuffed Passenger Pigeons, an Elephant Bird egg, the size of a basketball, seriously, biggest egg ever laid, bigger than any dinosaur. Ostrich eggs are more like a softball for comparison. Beautiful specimens, drawers full of bats and mice and muskrats. A Gorilla skeleton. A simply stupendous fossilized crocodillian from the same quarry that yielded Archaeopterix. Around twelve feet of perfection including larynx cartilage and lunch. Incredible detail and finish.

Almost as a let-down and as a time killer until dinner, we crossed the street to a little tree filled park and found three more species: Yellow-rump, House Finch, and a Kestrel. After dinner in town a a brew-pub there were Common Nighthawks calling overhead, and finally a Barred Owl on a sign as we got back to Devil's Den. Twenty-five new species for the day, making 89 for the trip so far.

May 14, 08, Wednesday

Got the truck jumped and called up a Yellow-throated Vireo. Packed and out by about 8. Drive down to Ft Smith, Gloria driving mostly. Stopped at Spring Hill Park (Redstart, Waxwings, a whole bridge full of Cliff Swallows) just over the river, then Janet Huckabee Nature Center in Fort Chafee. It's a brand new facility, the building is quite nice, there's a good trail map, and the trails are routed through some good habitat. The parts we managed to get to as the rain was starting were heavily grown up, brushy thickets or honeysuckle jungles, good for the birds but hard to see into. Several good birds at the center, including a Pair of Painted Buntings on the feeders (pressure is off that one), a really late White-crowned Sparrow, Bell's Vireo, and an empid that was not clearly identifiable. Probably Least by eye-ring and shape, probably Willow by call, there might have even been two. Duh. Into Barling for a good lunch after being driven inside by increasing rain. On south to Waldron, Wally world stop, then the fishing lake there where we called up a Pine Warbler.

Arrive Queen Wilhelmina around 4:30, settle in rooms, then a brief jaunt down the north side trail. Not much bird action, but lots of great flowers blooming late from the nature of the spring weather. The beginning of the fattening for slaughter in their dining room, death by desert. Another edition of the Brad Holleman toilet paper geology talk. This should be on videotape. He's so cool. Right now catching up records and journals. 100 species made by two Cooper's Hawks driving up to the park, us driving, them flying that is.


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