If you are looking for something
cool to do this month, on several evenings throughout August park interpreters
at Lake Ouachita State Park in Mountain Pine offer tours of Bird Island. The
island is located in the middle of Lake Ouachita. In the summer, the island is
a hot spot for purple martins and thus has become a hot spot for birders.
Bird Island, home to Lake Ouachita’s “tornado of birds” is,
located in the middle of Lake Ouachita and was recently named an Important Bird
Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society. The narrow spit of land hosts 30-50
thousand purple martins in late July and early August.
After nesting, the birds
convene there with thousands of others before their long migration to Brazil.
While the roost is active, Lake Ouachita State Park gives barge tours in July
and August to observe the birds
flying low across the lake, swirling around Bird Island, and finally cascading
into a small grove of cypress trees just as the sun sets. While visiting the
evening martin roost, tour guests may find the nesting egrets and herons
equally captivating.If lucky, guests may also catch a glimpse of a pelican,
ibis or other wading bird alongside the martins, egrets and herons.
The island has been cited for a number of years for its bird
population. Four years ago, Audubon AR board member Bo Verser noticed the
numbers of birds were setting off Nexrad radar over Lake Ouachita. Audubon
Arkansas began looking for documentation of the birds and began conversations
with the US Army Corps of Engineers, AR Game and Fish, Ouachita National
Forest, and local birders.
Mountain Pine High School EAST program played a critical role in
documenting this natural phenomenon. When Audubon wanted to investigate
reporters of birds setting off Nexrad radar, they turned to team from Mountain
Pine who monitored the island for two years. Their efforts included
photographing the sky, counting birds in trees, and filming 360 degrees to gain
an accurate count. National ornithologists were impressed that a local school
would undertake the scientific challenge of monitoring and preparing data over
the two year span.
Purple martins are colony nesters who depend on houses people
provide across the US. Loved for their graceful flight and insect consumption,
they catch their food and water mid-flight. Native Americans, Chicasaw and
Choctaw hung gourds for the birds outside their homes.Cattle egrets, Little Blue Herons,
Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Turkey Vultures, American Crow and Red-Winged
Blackbirds also frequent the island. The egrets, herons, and ibis have nests
Reservations are required and space is limited. Tickets are $9 plus tax for adults, $5 plus
tax for children age six to twelve and free for those under age six.To make
reservations, purchase tickets, or for more information; contact the visitor
center at (501)767-9366.