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Global Big Day: A Local Perspective

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, May 29, 2020

We caught up with ANHC Grants Coordinator Samantha Scheiman to ask her about her recent experience with Global Big Day, Saturday May 9. An annual celebration of the birds around you, Global Big Day encourages people all over the world to watch birds on one day and record what they see and hear. Participants are encouraged to enter their observations into the eBird website or mobile application so that the collected data can be used by scientists to better understand birds.

How many bird species did you see on Global Big Day?

My husband Dan (bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas) and I saw a total of 119 species on Global Big Day! Our fun-filled day of birding was part of Audubon Arkansas’s 2020 BirdLR Birdathon, an event that celebrates the birds of Little Rock and surrounding counties by inspiring people to find birds and that also raises money for Audubon Arkansas’s bird conservation and environmental education work.

Where did you go to see birds that day?

We traveled approximately 400 miles through six counties in central Arkansas to visit a diversity of habitat and see as many birds as possible! We left our house at 3 a.m. and immediately headed to the northwest corner of Pulaski County, where we had both chuck-will’s-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis) and eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferous) singing at the same time and an eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) that trilled in response to Dan imitating its call. We enjoyed dawn chorus at Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area, where we saw colorful warblers including blackburnian (Setophaga fusca), chestnut-sided (Setophaga pensylvanica), and prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea). Then we went to Lollie Bottoms to add some open-country birds to our list, such as bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), dickcissel (Spiza americana), and lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus). Moving on to Camp Robinson Special Use Area, we found northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), prairie warbler (Setophaga discolor), Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii), and blue grosbeak (Passerina caerulea). Beaverfork Lake was a bit out of the way, but it was worth the trip, as Dan spotted the three late-lingering red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator) known from the area, and brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) constantly called, saving us a stop later in the day. We spent some time in the Little Rock area, particularly the Little Rock Port Authority, where we easily saw the well-established western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) population and some loafing blue-winged teal (Spatula discors).

A quick trip to Lorance Creek Natural Area did not net us our target species, northern waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis) and Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla), but a consolation prize was a singing cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulea)! We then traveled to Jefferson and Lonoke counties, where we found a green heron (Butorides virescens) and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in wetland habitat. Ultimately, we ended the bulk of our birding at Gillam Park in southeastern Little Rock, where we relished a golden hour of birding and added five new birds to our list. Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) were giving their final serenades. At an oxbow we flushed wood ducks (Aix sponsa), then saw northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). As the sun was setting, a beautiful barred owl (Strix varia) came in, and then common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) came out to forage overhead. After dinner at home we had just enough energy to try for great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) at a park in Bryant where another birder reported one several times this year. After convincing a police officer we were not nefarious, we tried playback but were met with silence.

What was your favorite bird that you saw on Global Big Day? Why?

My favorite sighting was that of a male scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), one of the treats of spring migration. It was thrilling to see a flash of onyx wings against a ruby-red body as the bird flew by and then instantly recognize that a scarlet tanager was in our midst! They are truly living jewels.

Were you surprised at any of the birds that you saw? Why?

The cerulean warbler (S. cerulea) was a special surprise at Lorance Creek Natural Area, as we had gone there expecting to see waterthrushes (Parkesia sp.) (which we did not), but we were instead greeted by a singing cerulean warbler, which are always lovely to encounter. The scarlet tanager (P. olivacea), was a surprise sighting given that we observed it in out-of-place habitat: magnolias alongside Pine Bluff Regional Airport Grider Field.

Did you go with a group?

This was Dan and Samantha’s third time participating in Audubon Arkansas’s 2020 BirdLR Birdathon as part of the Early Birds and the Worms team (side note: Samantha is considered one of the worms because she is NOT a morning person). This year, our team comprising five members (Heather Laferte, Jeremy Chamberlain, Seth Chamberlain, Samantha Scheiman, and Dan Scheiman) had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic conditions. Thus, instead of coming together in central Arkansas on May 9 as originally planned, team members birded their areas of residence separately as individuals/households. Dan and Samantha covered central Arkansas; Jeremy and Heather explored southwestern Arkansas; and Seth stayed in Iowa, adding birds not found in Arkansas. The Early Birds and The Worms were physically distanced but socially engaged as we kept in touch with each other via text throughout the day, sharing sightings and egging each other on in a friendly internal competition to see the most birds.

Is there any special equipment needed to participate?

Minimal equipment is required! Necessities include a binocular and good field guide, such as The Sibley Guide to Birds or Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.

Did you do any research on birding sites before going?

Yes! Dan crafted a master plan for birding central Arkansas by referencing data entered in eBird, an online global bird records database. Ebird revealed the best locations in central Arkansas to see the most birds in early May, so Dan ensured that our route encompassed such sites.

Did you break a record for number spotted or spot something that had never been seen here before?

Of all the teams that participated in Audubon Arkansas’s 2020 BirdLR Birdathon, the Early Birds and the Worms saw the most species overall (169 species in central Arkansas, southwestern Arkansas, and Iowa), and Dan and Samantha had the most species of any subteam (119 species).

What did you do with the information you collected? How will it be used?

The information we collected as part of Global Big Day was entered in eBird, an online global bird records database. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, observations entered in Ebird help scientists better understand global bird populations. More information about Global Big Day is available here: https://ebird.org/news/global-big-day-9-may-2020

Any special tips or tricks to help others see as many birds as possible in one day?

I recommend birding during spring migration, when masses of songbirds and shorebirds are moving through The Natural State to get to their breeding grounds (which may or may not include Arkansas). Spring migration seems to peak in early May in Arkansas. Additionally, I suggest looking for songbirds in the early morning hours, when they are most active and vocal, and concentrating on shorebirds later, as they are active throughout the day. Also, visiting a variety of habitats will equate to more bird species seen. If you can, bookend your day with some nocturnal birding to ramp up your species total. Finally, be sure to have a full gas tank, and bring plenty of snacks and beverages to keep your energy levels spiked! Good luck, and happy birding…

Photos:

Top - ANHC Grants Coordinator Samantha Scheiman birding at the Little Rock Port Authority area on Global Big Day. Photo by Dan Scheiman.

Second photo - An indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) at left and blue grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) at right. Photo by Sarah Engebrecht, Arkansas River Valley Audubon Society.

Third photo - Bird Conservation Director for Audubon Arkansas (Samantha's husband) Dan Scheiman birding at Lorance Creek Natural Area on Global Big Day. Photo by Samantha Scheiman.

Bottom photo - Moonlit morning at Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area during Dan and Samantha's Global Big Day birding adventure. Photo by Dan Scheiman.



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