Field Reports

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CRANES just south of Tupelo

posted Dec 12, 2013, 6:24 PM by Lee Smitherman

How exciting! I work for MDEQ (Mississippi Dept. of Environmental Quality) and this time of the year we are doing stream sampling. Me and a coworker were leaving Tallabinnela Creek in Monroe County and south east of the small town of Nettleton, MS when I saw something I had never seen before in Mississippi, CRANES. 

My coworker was driving and I was in the passenger seat. We were going pretty slow on a gravel road and, as usual, I was looking out of the window enjoying the scenery when I noticed the tall, erect, grey bodies with the distinguishable white caps standing tall in a field of dead grass. There was a large flock of them and as we drove two of them that were closer to the road took flight to join the rest of the flock which was positioned only slightly further from the road. 

Once I got home I had to identify what I had seen. I knew they weren't HERONS not only because I am very familiar with the sightings of this bird in Mississippi. These birds were in the middle of a field and stood with their necks straight as an arrow unlike the slightly rounded posture of the HERON. Also, the ones that flew held their neck straight. This means that they must be some sort of SANDHILL CRANE which, although while not as rare as the WHOOPING CRANE, is nonetheless a rare treat for the north Mississippi birder. 

Here is a little more on the spot of the sighting for anyone interested in visiting the field tomorrow to try to find out what subspecies this is. If you head east on state Hwy 6/278 to Tupelo then take US highway 45/278 south continue on south 45 take a left on Stovall Clark Rd. The field is immediately on your left and is bordered by US 45 on the west side and Stovall Clark Rd. on the south side. I have attached a screen shot from Google Maps of the field.

Good luck. -Lee Smitherman


Mushrooms and birds near Oxford

posted Oct 13, 2013, 7:22 PM by Jason Hoeksema   [ updated Oct 13, 2013, 7:25 PM ]

First: There are TONS of mushrooms in the woods around Oxford, MS right now.  Cooler weather and a bit of rain seem to have been just the ticket.  Abounding are various Amanitas (including the beautiful Amanita jacksonii), Laccaria, various boletes, waxy caps, and many others.  It's a great time to get out, collect some specimens, and work on your ID skills.

Second:
We had 6 participants in the 4th annual Big Sit birding event at Hurricane Landing on Sardis Lake (Lafayette County) today, representing the Oxford Natural History Club team:  JR Rigby, Gene Knight, Cindy Mitchell, Deb Gochfeld, Marc Slattery, and myself.  Among the 6 of us, we birded the site for 9 hours, from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m.  Altogether, we found 63 species, which is our 2nd best total historically and nearly twice our tally from last year.  Highlights included:
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (our first of fall, with a small flock calling as they flew over before dawn and 1 loner cruising around in the daylight)
2000 AMERICAN WHITE-PELICANS streaming across the lake at dawn
10 raptor species (including 2 owls, both vultures, 5 hawks/eagles, kestrel)
7 shorebird species
8 warbler species (including a late-ish Yellow-throated Warbler)
5 woodpecker species

A full checklist can be found here:

Big misses:
Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Harrier, Mourning Dove, American Robin, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Brown-headed Cowbird

Thanks to all who participated!
Good birding,
Jason Hoeksema
Oxford, MS

Mushrooms in Bailey Woods

posted Aug 3, 2013, 5:47 AM by Ann Rasmussen   [ updated Aug 3, 2013, 5:52 AM ]

I found a nice assortment of mushrooms walking through Bailey Woods with my dad yesterday. Notably, I've seen some nice fruitings of Slender Caesar's Amanita (Amanita jacksonii) there and other places around town (I left them, since dad wasn't excited about eating them). I also saw Frost's Bolete (Boletus frostii), shown below; Gem-studded puffballs  (Lycoperdom perlatum); Scarlet Cup Fungus (Sarcoscypha coccinea), and an assortment of other boletes and agarics that I couldn't readily identify. Overall, a decent collection to show off fungal diversity.

Frost's Bolete

Early Fall Shorebirding Around Oxford

posted Jul 19, 2013, 9:42 AM by JR Rigby

One of our local birding authorities posted on the MissBird email list that early fall migration among shorebirds has already begun. This past week I have been making daily visits to one or two local spots where shorebirds might turn up. Ten or twenty LEAST SANDPIPERS can be found reliably at the drained sewage lagoon at the Oxford Treatment Plant in addition to fifty or sixty KILLDEER and as many RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and EUROPEAN STARLINGS as you care to watch. On Thursday morning a DOWITCHER (probably Long-Billed, but not certain) stopped in and stayed for most of the day but was not seen Friday morning. Taking its place as the novelty of the day for Friday was a SPOTTED SANDPIPER hanging around the southern edge of the lagoon, still in his spots. 

If counting killdeer and least sandpipers gets dull, there are numerous BARN SWALLOWS to watch swooping around the lagoon. Hiding among them are a few CLIFF, BANK, and NORTHERN ROUGHWING SWALLOWS as well as an occasional PURPLE MARTIN.  Along the banks HOUSE SPARROWS are abundant while COMMON YELLOWTHROATS and BLUE GROSBEAKS can be heard in the brush. E. KINGBIRDS like to patrol the vegetation near the northern end of the lagoon and a pair of WOOD DUCKS visits the deeper pools. 

A&D Turf hasn't turned up anything interesting for me yet, but more experienced birders insist that Upland Sandpipers are a possibility any day now. 

Unique and Uncommon Species of the Whirlpool Trails System

posted Jun 19, 2013, 7:45 AM by Lee Smitherman

Hello everyone. This is my first post on the forum. Being an avid mountain biker I spend a lot of time on the Whirlpool Trails in Oxford. Yesterday I found a lot of CHANTERELLES which was exciting as this was my first time to collect them. Also, right next to one patch of CHANTERELLES I just so happened to notice a WILD IRIS. I know Dr. Steve Brewer said he has seen some DWARF CRESTED but this looked slightly larger to me. The leaves stood approximately 10 to 12 inches tall. I know they have already bloomed so I won't have a chance to identify it by the flower. It was growing on a slope in pretty heavy leaf litter but I could see the rhizomes just below the surface. I looked around the immediate area for another specimen but did not find one.
Has anyone on here found and identified any IRIS species on the Whirlpool Trails? Also, if you have spotted something particularly fascinating on the trails please respond and tell me what it was.  Thanks. -Lee

Birding the Buffalo River, Arkansas, 5/25/13

posted May 28, 2013, 3:49 PM by JR Rigby   [ updated May 28, 2013, 6:33 PM ]

The Buffalo River runs roughly eastward for 135 miles through the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas and is one of the few US rivers that remains “unregulated,” meaning that no dams have been constructed on the river. In 1972, the Buffalo River was named the first “National River” under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. This Memorial Day weekend I made it up to the Ozarks for a canoe trip on the Buffalo that turned out to be a wonderful birding opportunity.


Before departing Oxford I found a couple of bird checklists from the USGS and NPS. There were not as many new species on the list as I expected, so I wound up taking a Mississippi checklist with me which served just as well.


We stayed in a cabin a couple miles north of Dillard’s Ferry. The cabin was situated on a hilltop between an open grassland in front and a forested area down the slope behind the cabin. The back deck of the cabin turned out to be a fantastic spot to watch birds in its own right, particularly flycatchers. A nesting pair of EASTERN WOOD-PEEWEES, a LEAST FLYCATCHER, a pair of EASTERN KINGBIRDS, and an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER all visited the limbs around the deck, some providing great opportunities for extended viewing. I discovered the Least Flycatcher early Saturday morning as I was doing some morning exercises out on the deck. The characteristic “che-beck” put me on alert until I spotted it in a nearby tree.  An adult male ORCHARD ORIOLE and a pair of SUMMER TANAGERS were seen mornings and evenings near the top of the Post Oak trees in the yard, and a BLUE GROSBEAK passed through briefly. I heard a KENTUCKY WARBLER frequently down the hill in the forest but was never able to see it. HOUSE FINCHES and INDIGO BUNTINGS could be heard and seen throughout the day and a pair of CAROLINA WRENS who perched very near the deck astounded several in our party with how much volume can come from such a little bird.


On Saturday we put our canoes in the river around 10am at Dillard’s Ferry where Hwy 14 crosses the river. Immediately I was struck by how “birdy” the banks were. Before we were out of sight of the bridge I had heard several warblers including several AMERICAN REDSTARTS, HOODED WARBLERS, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, and (to my surprise) also several CERULEAN WARBLERS. Even with binoculars, sitting in a canoe on a river is not the best way to get a visual on a warbler as the slope up the banks tends to exaggerate the distance even for relatively short trees. So, a small-ish thirty foot oak tree with a warbler in the top suddenly feels like a sixty foot tree. Luckily the birds were really singing for most of the day.


I was surprised to hear the Ceruleans since I was thinking of them as migrants. However, besides the Least Flycatcher they were the only migrant species I recorded during the trip. A little checking afterward revealed that they are known to breed along some of the Ozark riverways and in fact the Sibley map of their breeding range does just dip into NW Arkansas though no breeding populations have been recorded in Marion Co. where we were. A discussion of Cerulean Warbler breeding populations can be found at the Cerulean Warbler Atlas Project run by Cornell University. Some of the breeding populations listed in the report, such as those in southern AR along the Mississippi River, at least suggest that breeding populations of Ceruleans may exist in Mississippi though rare.  No data was submitted for the report from Mississippi.


A mile or two from the bridge we arrived at Buffalo Point a bend in the river with public access and campsites. The campsites were just up the banks from the gravel bar deposits on the passive side of the bend (the “inside” of the bend). On the active side of the bend rose 50-100ft bluffs of limestone and dolomite. The more easily dissolved limestone formed the upper portions of the cliff face, worn smooth by dissolution, while the dolomite formed blocky outcrops near the water. ROCK DOVES and CLIFF SWALLOWS were nesting in the dolomite and TURKEY VULTURES and BLACK VULTURES rode the thermals above the cliff. The sharp bend in the river has eroded a deep channel making a great swimming hole. Just at the upper end of the gravel bar a pair of GREEN HERONS were probing along the water’s edge.


As we moved down river we heard or saw all the same species that were present at the cabin (with the exception of WILD TURKEY, which walked into the yard one afternoon) and more. At one spot where a secondary channel provided another nice swimming hole, the steep rock faces allowed enough footing to be covered with forest, and we watched a flock of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES playing in the tree tops and chasing one another across the river and back for half an hour or more. As we were pushing the canoes off that gravel bar a very large PILEATED WOODPECKER flew majestically over our group and landed in a tree on the far bank of the river.


Lower on the river near Rush Landing where the river was distinctly more placid, we found a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH working along the rocky banks, a GREAT BLUE HERON, and heard a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO along the forest edge. Along the way a few species seemed to follow us down the river as de facto straggling members of our little flotilla. A BELTED KINGFISHER followed us for a couple of miles playing leap-frog with the group, perching in a tree ahead of us to hunt, watching as we passed and then overtaking us a few minutes later. The pair of Green Herons also seemed to turn up repeatedly. And, at one point, a small, ruddy bat (most likely an INDIANA BAT) decided that flying ten feet above a canoe was a very advantageous position, and proceeded to hold that spot (above one canoe or the other) for a few hundred meters. And at various points we watched birds antagonizing one another: FISH CROWS diving around a RED-TAILED HAWK, WOOD-PEEWEES chasing away BLUE JAYS, and even KINGBIRDS apparently in a territorial dispute aggressively chasing away one another.


In all the Buffalo River was a fantastic place to bird and I definitely will go back. Many of the gravel bars would afford good viewing for a spotting scope focused on the opposite cliffs. While it was often hard to spot singing birds with binos from the canoe, most banks of the river could be easily accessed from the canoe for localized terrestrial birding. Being the only birder in our group, I stayed in the canoe and no doubt missed some really interesting birds as we floated by too quickly to take it all in. With the large tracts of National Forest in the area, a dedicated birding trip during migration could be really exciting.


In addition to the river there are some fascinating hikes in the area through Civil War era mining country (for zinc, barite, copper, and silver). The trail to Rush Mountain included several abandoned mines including some defunct steam engines. The mines have been sealed with iron bars, but the breeze from inside the mines provide a nice bit of natural air-conditioning along the trail. Bushwacking over the top of Rush Mountain revealed mostly a lot of ticks, but also a few more warblers and a COPPERHEAD snake. A nice little adventure.


On the drive back to Mississippi I spotted a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE and a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER sitting on a powerline only about a quarter of a mile apart just east of Newport, AR. Near Harrisburg a BALD EAGLE flew very low over the road giving everyone in the car a wonderful look at a magnificent bird.


Photos:

1) Carolina Wren, a small bird with a big voice.

2) Eastern Wood-Peewee from below.

3) A very agitated Eastern Kingbird.


eBird Lists:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14269727

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14269784


Access:

Dillard’s Ferry and Rush Landing are public access areas south of Yellville with parking areas. Several local outfitters also provide canoe rental and pickup for daytime and overnight float trips.


River levels:

The character of the river changes substantially with river stage, from excessive portaging at low levels to dangerous white-water at flood stage. “Ideal” river stages for floating are between four and five feet. See the USGS site for current river stage. This site also provides “Float Condition” classifications based on river stage.


Chanterelles in Oxford!

posted May 27, 2013, 11:51 AM by Ann Rasmussen

I went for a walk in the woods near Clear Creek landing yesterday, and found a handful of GOLDEN CHANTERELLES. I also found small PUFFBALLS and CANDY CAPS. Happy hunting!

Start watching for chanterelles!

posted May 19, 2013, 6:40 AM by Jason Hoeksema

A friend just reported finding his first CHANTERELLES of the season near Clinton, MS (near Jackson, Hinds Co.). Typically, they do not start popping out near Oxford until around the 1st of June (give or take a week).  We have had plenty of rain, so if it continues to be warm, the orange beauties should reveal themselves right on time in our area.  Keep your eyes peeled out in the oaky woods!

Birding from 166b country road 303 to the whirlpool trails

posted Apr 29, 2013, 7:58 PM by Patrick Carr

So I have been talking about how many birds are around my house in ornithology class for ages. So i thought it was about time that i really took some time to explore the area and find out how many different birds really are around my house and the woods behind it that lead into the whirlpool trails. I was very impressed with the amount of birds I found such a short distance from my front door and the highlights included my favorite, a wood thrush or two, a northern parula, and an eastern phoebe.
It was a perfect day today for birding (sunny high of 80 on monday april 29th) so the experience was extremely pleasant. 

birding at rowan oak in oxford

posted Apr 23, 2013, 4:42 PM by Patrick Carr

Monday morning (april 22) Jason Hoeksema, Jason Wilson, andrea schuhmann and myself went to explore Rowann oak to see what bird species can be found in the local city Oxford area. We were very pleasantly surprised with a huge diversity and great weather! (the list of species is attached below) Some of the highlights included a black and white warbler, an orange-crowned warbler, and a tennessee warbler.  For me personally, this was the first time to see some of the species on the list. I highly recommend to take advantage of the good spring weather/ migrating birds  and go birding at rowan oak 


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