Habitat effort is a boon for birdwatchers

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Duck hunters aren’t the only ones who know and appreciate the thrilling sight of thousands of ducks, geese, and other migratory birds descending on the open fields of the Arkansas Delta.

Every year, birdwatchers and other wildlife-spotting enthusiasts flock to the wetlands in winter to catch a glimpse of these birds on their annual journey between nesting grounds in the North and warmer breeding grounds below the winter belt. gel.

And thanks to the habitat provided by Arkansas waterfowl programs, these birders have more than 3,800 acres of private land to enjoy their passion until winter is over.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Wetland Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement Program may be known to hunters for the increased hunting access it provides during duck season, but its main benefit actually lies in the wetland habitat.

“That’s what started the program,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “Many rice farmers started to plow the rice stubble in the fall and give up flooding it, so we started to lease land to farmers to leave the stubble and waste the grain on the surface, the flooding and letting the ducks and geese do the cleaning work for them while other birds, such as shorebirds, have benefited from other resources that these fields provide.”

The program evolved in its second year to increase hunter access to private land. Over the past two years, the AGFC has been able to obtain a Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to expand the program to more than 40 locations covering more than 3,800 acres.

Sites are open for walk-in birding whenever regular waterfowl season is not open until late February. No special permit, registration or registration is required.

These temporary wetlands created on the flooded rice paddies not only provide food for waterfowl, but also for a multitude of migrating wetland birds. Hunters and biologists alike have noted flocks of long-legged shorebirds buzzing their blinds before settling on the surface to probe the mud with their long beaks.

Long-billed sandpipers, greater yellowlegs, and lesser sandpipers make interesting subjects and entertain many hunters between opportunities to hunt mallards, white-fronted geese, and other common waterfowl on flooded rice paddies.

“Birds of prey such as harriers, bald eagles and rough legged hawks will also be found around these flooded fields, having followed waterfowl and other migrants,” said program coordinator Karen Rowe. migratory non-game birds for the AGFC. “It’s a great time for birdwatchers to get out and watch these and other species as they make a brief stopover to rest and refuel for their flight north.”

With increased communication about these locations, which has been established to help hunters find fields, birders can also search for possible areas where they’d like to get out the binoculars and wellies for a winter walk in search of species to add to their list of life.

“All fields are listed at www.agfc.com/wrice,” Naylor said. “And you can walk there anytime through February 28. Just be aware that many fields are flooded, so you might want to be prepared for wet conditions. Even so, wildlife watchers can park in designated parking areas and walking established dikes which should be high and mostly dry by now If you look at the maps available on the website you will see that many are visible from the side of a public road and close enough to others where a group could take a road trip to visit a few in the same day.”

Randy Zellers is assistant chief of communications at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

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