January 19, 2021

Melissa and I went on our second trip since being locked down last March.  The first was a fishing trip to the Little Red in Northern Arkansas.  It was a quick three-day jaunt, but the fishing was great and the time away even better.  Yesterday went took a drive to Sequoya National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Eastern Oklahoma.  This trip was short but still provided a welcome relieve from the monotony of being at home.  I had read this was one of the premiere locations for birding in the Fort Smith area, and it is only 1 ½ hours away.   Even though the website said birds are more likely to be out early or late, we took off mid-morning.  It was cold the night before and I thought even if the birds were up, I did not want to be freezing while I saw them.

As soon as we drove into the NWR we encountered thousands of black birds in the trees lining the road.  They were still roosting because of the cold.   I took a few shots and we moved on.  We passed through empty fields on our way to the river that comprised the center of the Refuge.  There were husks of a variety of field crops being grown and left for the birds to feast on.  As we slowly moved along the road, we passed small lakes and sloughs that were lined by trees.  This really was a haven for all kinds of birds.  We continued slowly winding through the Refuge and encountered flocks, clusters, and individual birds.  About halfway through the tour road we got out and walked along one of the sloughs, finding scores of small birds.  I ended up getting pictures of 15 different species in the three hours were there.

As we left, we once more moved through the blackbirds clustered at the entrance.  When it warmed up, they had moved out of the trees and were working the fields.  Previously I could only make them out as little Black Birds.  As they attacked the fields on the way out, I realized they were thousands of Red-wing Blackbirds.  I mentioned I have been in Arkansas three years and only had three Red-wings’ visit our house feeders, and that was not until this year.  I was amazed by the numbers of birds and we decided to stop and watch them.  As we prepared to leave, they were joined by one of my favorites, a Red-tailed Hawk which soared in a great circle around the fields.  We both agreed this had been a great day.

Thoughts:  I have learned two lessons from birding.  The first was you need to proper equipment to get decent pictures of the birds.  My phone camera was good for close-ups, but it was hard to get near the birds.  My new camera and telephoto make it easier to get photos from farther away.  The second was if you are serious about birding, you need to go where the birds are.  This one trip to NWR scored the same number of species I had recorded in two weeks at my house.  While some birds are attracted to feeders, most prefer to stay in the wild.  Even though I learned these lessons last year, I had not acted on them.  It was easier to keep doing what I had always done and hope for the best.  We have taken a similar approach toward fighting the pandemic.  We refuse to mask, we gather with family for holidays, we protest for our right to gather and party.  Then we are surprised when the cases surge out of control and US deaths pass the 400,000 mark.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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