Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lake Leatherwood detailed directions

For Lake Leatherwood City Park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Lake Leatherwood City Park located about a mile west of Eureka proper at the foot of the Leatherwood Curves. Go to the second entrance, not the ballfields. There's 1600 acres of mixed habitats in the park, including the 160 acre lake itself. I've documented around 190 species over the course of ten plus years. That's about half the species ever seen, even just once, in Arkansas. The area around the bath-house and cabins, with widely spaced mature trees, is excellent for passerine residents and migrants. The lake shines in fall and winter as a duck attractor, and during the spring and summer can be very good for herons, and a few shorebirds. The rocky parts of the lakeshore are good for Spotted Sandpiper in spring migration, also the small sandy beach area.

Two side detours from the cabins can also be productive. One is a short loop from the boat launch ramp. Follow the shore until another path cuts back to the left returning shortly to the launch. The tangled thicket between the two paths has been very productive for warblers, sparrows, and kinglets. If you follow he shore further it's possible to see a lot more of the lake, including the deep water which has had an occasional loon, also mergansers, cormorants, and other divers. The second side trip is an old road to the side of the gate leading to the dam. It's an open path into a classic cedar glade, grown up some from fire suppression. The sandy soil has a great patch of pennyroyal in late spring, as well as wild orchids if you're lucky. It usually has several pairs of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and sometimes Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers.

Going from the cabin area down the gravel lane to the large meadow allows access to the bird blind. But first a productive side-trip is to go right to the far end of the meadow, staying left as you approach the gate, then edging around the maintenance yard to the outflow pipe of a good spring. Residents and migrants find this very attractive, especially in hotter dryer weather. Return through the meadow, (I follow the creek bed on the right listening for Louisiana Waterthrushes), and then cross the creek into the small meadow. Stop right at the crossing. If the little meadow has no folks camping, and you're early, you can often see a variety of ducks or waders before they flush as you cross the meadow. The bird blind is to the left, and the start of the Beacham Trail is to the right. Large trees along the lakeshore attract several pairs of Orchard Orioles, and Eastern Kingbirds. The area of the bird-blind is very good for seeing these, as well as some herons (it's a good place for Green Herons in summer) and Wood-Ducks. Approaching the blind quietly and slowly can pay off with some real close up views through the ports. Note that Woodies are very shy, arriving early and quietly is the key to good views. Luck helps. Worth the effort since they are one of the most beautiful critters in North America. Linger in the meadow, especially watching the brushy lake edge and the large sycamores and a dense cedar thicket.

At the inlet end of the lake where the Beacham Trail starts, is an area of mature bottomland hardwoods, which attracts migrant and breeding warblers and such. When the trail branches to the right, follow it for about two hundred yards. This is a reliable place for Blue-wing Warbler, Northern Parulas, Kentucky Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers, Chats, Acadian Flycatchers, several Vireos including Yellow-throated, and a general selection of woodland species. There are also numerous Cedar Thickets, which can be deserted or hosting foraging mixed flocks. The cedars are also a good place for sparrows, and White-eyed Vireos. Thrushes like them too, especially Hermit Thrushes in winter. Listen for their "chup" call note. Brown Thrashers make a very similar sound and are present but seldom seen. When you reach the creek, either return or wade, or walk the creekbed if it's dry. When you've studied the area thoroughly, return to the trail fork where you turned right initially, and turn right again so the you continue on the Beacham Trail.

The trail quickly climbs a wet north slope before starting it's return loop on the far side of the lake. It's usually not very birdy, but occasionally has half a dozen Golden-crowned Kinglets in late fall. The real attraction along here is in the spring when the wildflowers bloom. It's the spot for trout lilies very early in spring, then bloodroot and trillium, followed by Jack-in-the-pulpit. A very occasional bloomer along here is the False Hellebore. It's one of the few places in the state where it's found, it being a relict from populations that retreated north following the glaciers. When you descend to the small inlet, you're in another warbler zone. Look for Louisiana Waterthrush along the creekbed, also Black and Whites and Ovenbirds. Scarlet Tanager is a possibility here. On the far side of the inlet stop and listen for Prairie Warbler on the hillside above. Sometimes it's possible to find them by following their calls into the cedar thicket up there. If you've been birding intently, it's probably been around three hours since starting. You can continue on around the lake for another mile and a half, crossing the quarry for the historic stone dam and the dam itself. If lunch beckons it's quicker to retrace your way back to the cabin area where you probably parked.

To get a more detailed knowledge of the park, attend one of the several public hikes put on locally or by Northwest Arkansas Audubon.


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