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Connecticut Birders Make Annual Trek to Warren Prairie Natural Area

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, January 31, 2019
by Leslie Patrick

Recently, ANHC Aquatic Ecologist Dustin Lynch led a birding tour at Warren Prairie Natural Area (NA) for nine members of the Connecticut Audubon Society. This marks the 12th year that the Connecticut Audubon Society has visited Arkansas during winter to look for birds. I’ve had the pleasure of joining the tour at the natural area for the last two years, and once again, the birds did not disappoint our guests!

Warren Prairie is located in Bradley and Drew counties. Recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area, the natural area is visited by birders from all over the country. It provides year-round habitat for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis, RCW). Another rare species, the Henslow’s sparrow (Centronyx henslowii) regularly winters in the saline barrens of the natural area.

Seeing Henslow’s sparrows has been a highlight of the Connecticut birders’ annual visits. This beautiful bird is darkly streaked with an olive-green head and rufous (a reddish-brown color) wings. Its coloration blends perfectly with the tall winter grasses, making it hard to spot. We were fortunate to see four Henslow’s sparrows this time. Five brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) were also spotted - a life bird for me! (A life bird is a species that an individual birder has never before seen and identified.) Twenty-five other species were recorded, including brown creeper (Certhia americana), golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa), pine warbler (Setophaga pinus), and six woodpecker species.

ANHC helps lead tours at Warren Prairie for Connecticut Audubon in years that staff members also have other planned activities for the natural area during the timeframe that the group is visiting. For example, last year staff from the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) participated in the field trip. After finding the Henslow’s sparrow with the Connecticut birders, ANHC partners toured an area to inspect restoration completed under a NWTF grant, checked work underway to enhance endangered species habitat, and examined areas in need of restoration that eventually resulted in two new grants (one each from NWTF and AGFC).

After a successful tour, we changed out of our muddy boots and bid our guests good-bye. The group planned to visit Pine City Natural Area the following day, which also provides habitat for RCWs.

Birding as ecotourism brings visitors to the state, which is of economic significance to Arkansas. More importantly though, it forges relationships that allow birders to learn from each other and spread conservation messages beyond our state. I look forward to seeing old friends and new faces at Warren Prairie next winter.


At top -- ANHC Aquatic Ecologist, Dustin Lynch, and members of the Connecticut Audubon Society look for Henslow's sparrows at Warren Prairie Natural Area. Photo by Leslie Patrick.

At right -- A Henslow's sparrow seen at Warren Prairie Natural Area during the Connecticut Audubon visit. Photo by Khanh To, Virginia Tech University.

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