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Year-round Opportunities For Bird Watching Trips
The sight of majestic Bald Eagles found in winter on the state's larger lakes and rivers is Arkansas's most well-known birding attraction. Among avid birders, the state had also been known as a place where the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker could be added to one's life list.
Those attractions, though, represent only a part of the year-round opportunities for watching birds in Arkansas. A list of birds observed in the state is maintained by the Arkansas Audubon Society, and contains about 400 species, including rarely seen coastal, oceanic, and western birds straying from their normal ranges. Notable records include California Gull, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and Scott's Oriole. Although six species that once occurred in Arkansas are now extinct or extirpated from the state, more than 300 can be observed throughout the year.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch, prefer an open pineland forest, while the Bachman's Sparrow inhabits dry, open pine or oak woods with a scattering of scrub. Small numbers of Henslow's Sparrows may be found in prairies. They winter in the southern half of the state and spend the summer in the northern half. Even smaller numbers of Rufous-crowned Sparrows, living along south-facing bluffs of certain mountains, most notably Mount Magazine, represent the eastern-most populations of this species.
Winter brings a variety of loons, grebes, gulls, ducks, geese, and sparrows to the state. Major waterfowl concentrations occur along the Mississippi River Flyway in eastern Arkansas, including the largest concentrations of wintering Mallards
in the country. Short-eared Owl, Harris's Sparrow, Lapland
and Smith's Longspur
, and Rusty Blackbird
are some of the sought-after species that winter here every year.
Spring time is always an exciting time for bird watching trips in Arkansas as hundreds of birds begin their annual migration north along the Mississippi Flyway to their northern breeding grounds. The first returning residents and migrants begin arriving around mid-March and peak the first week in May. During this time shorebirds, more than 35 species of warblers, vireos, orioles, thrushes, and buntings can be seen.
Late spring brings the opportunity to see the breeding birds in Arkanas, which include the colorful Painted Bunting, the elegant Mississippi Kite, and the reclusive Swainson's Warbler. Several species of herons and egrets can be found nesting in colonies called "rookeries." Least Terns nest on sandbars of the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Red rivers.
Sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds migrate north through the state in early spring and southward during late summer. Shorebirds and waders require shallow water and mudflats for resting and refueling during their long migration, they can be seen on wetlands, fallow agricultural fields, and drained fish hatchery ponds throughout the state.
Summer is also an excellent time to find post-breeding wanderers such as Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White-faced and Glossy Ibis.
Arkansas has vast amounts of public lands with generally open access that are ideal for bird watching trips. Such as national wildlife refuges, state wildlife management areas, state parks, National Park Service lands, state fish hatcheries, state natural areas, and three national forests.
Federally owned sites of interest to Arkansas birders include the Holla Bend, Big Lake, Wapanocca, Felsenthal, and White River National Wildlife Refuges, Buffalo National River, and Arkansas Post National Memorial. Each location provides varied habitats making for good birding throughout the year. Visitor centers at these locations can generally provide a map and a bird checklist. Brief site descriptions and bird lists for the refuges and the national river are available online.
Millwood, Lake Chicot, and Lake Dardanelle State Parks and their surrounding areas are particularly popular among Arkansas birders. The Millwood Lake area has produced sightings of more than 300 bird species, including such rarities as Parasitic Jaeger, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Sabine's Gull. Hundreds of gulls winter at Lake Dardanelle, rarities seen there include California, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed. Black-legged Kittiwake has been recorded at Lake Chicot. For several years, DeGray Lake Resort has been a reliable place to find wintering Pacific Loon.
Other state parks noteworthy for the variety of birds found along their hiking trails include Pinnacle Mountain, Village Creek, and Devil's Den. Trail guides and bird lists can be requested at the parks' visitor centers.
Various Arkansas state parks host popular eagle-watching events each winter and other birding festivals and events of interest to birders during the remaining seasons. Information on such events can be found on the state parks' calendar of events.
State fish hatcheries of interest to birders for waterfowl and migrating shorebirds include the C.B. "Charlie" Craig Fish Hatchery near Centerton and the Andrew H. Hulsey Fish Hatchery near Hot Springs.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, in a partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has produced a Birding and Watchable Wildlife brochure. It includes information on different species of birds in Arkansas, best viewing locations, birding tips, and highlighted destinations for bird watching trips. A list of Arkansas Game and Fish Nature Centers is also included.
For details on obtaining printed copies of the Arkansas Audubon Society's most recent field list for the state, visit the society's website at www.arbirds.org. Visitors to the site can also submit rare bird sightings, browse the rare bird database, and subscribe to the birds in Arkansas discussion list, ARBIRD-L.
A Birder's Guide to Arkansas, an American Birding Association publication written by veteran Arkansas birder Mel White, is the best available guide to the top locations for viewing birds in Arkansas. It provides useful summaries of 59 of the state's best sites, including detailed directions, maps, best times to visit and what species to expect on bird watching trips. The book, which also gives tips on where to find selected species of birds in Arkansas, can be purchased in local bookstores and state park visitor centers. (Note: Published in 1995, the guide contains a few instances of outdated information.)