Distracted by the Birds at Petit Jean State Park

March 31, 2011
A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

My office at Petit Jean State Park may be a bit cramped, but I am fortunate to have a window right beside my desk to let in the afternoon sunshine and allow me to see the comings and goings of some of the visitors to our park visitor center.  However, it can be a bit challenging to stay focused on my work at the computer when the birds come to visit.  We interpreters like to feed the songbirds, and this helps folks who come to the visitor center get a better look at them, especially if they go into the exhibit room and look out through the large window at the pond, manmade waterfall and feeders in the back.  From time to time we also put out birdseed and suet in front of the building, which is where my window is located.  The Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, pine siskin, Northern cardinal, and dark-eyed junco are just a few of the numerous bird species that may be observed hanging around bird feeders here on Petit Jean Mountain.

 

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

In the time it has been taking me to write this, I have seen quite a few species of  birds, including white-throated sparrow, pine warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed nuthatch, brown creeper, Carolina chickadee, and American goldfinch.  (Not to mention that expert raider of bird feeders, the gray squirrel, busily stuffing itself and close enough to

 

touch if the window were open.)  The woodpecker is particularly distracting, with its brilliant red coloration on its head catching my eye, and the less noticeable red on its belly (which gives it its name) sometimes visible.  The male warblers are also eye catching, with their mixed coloration that includes olive green and vibrant yellow.  (As a co-worker of mine commented about an especially brightly colored male, “If that one doesn’t attract a mate, he’ll just be really unlucky!”)

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

It’s also interesting to observe the “pecking order” among the different kinds of birds.  Some birds give the appearance of being downright “mean” to other birds when competing for food (which is actually just a natural thing for them to do.)  A nuthatch may be chased away from the suet by a warbler.  The warbler is intimidated enough to move out of the way if a woodpecker comes along.  And if a crow comes to feed, all the other birds give him plenty of room as he hacks away and makes short work of the suet block!  (It’s typical to see the smaller birds scrounging on the ground after the crow leaves, cleaning up some of the mess he left behind.)

Educating the public about birds and presenting bird related programs is one of my favorite things about my job.  I am continually getting better at bird identification, and I enjoy observing and learning about birds, as well as inspiring park visitors to get interested in bird watching and make their own observations.

Well, it looks like the birds have consumed most of the birdseed it seems like we just put out for them.  Time to go give them some more!

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel is a native Arkansan and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, with a Bachelor of Science in biology.  Her interpretive experience includes work as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Dardanelle State Park, 1997 -1999, and as a full-time interpreter at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 2003 – 2007.   She has been a full-time interpreter at Petit Jean State Park since September of 2007.  Rachel is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and became a Certified Heritage Interpreter in 2009.  “One of my favorite things I do in my job is helping park visitors discover new ways to enjoy and learn from nature.”

 

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Exploring Nature on the Trails at Cossatot River State Park

March 15, 2011

“The book of nature has no beginning as it has no end.” (Jim Corbett)

I am excited to tell you about the four trails we have and how our longest trail (“River Corridor”) is now completed for you to “experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

Starting with our shortest trail, “The Waterleaf Interpretive Trail.”   This trail begins at the Visitor Center and includes a section of barrier-free trail along the ridge top.  This ½ mile trail goes down the North Slope to the Highway 278 river access.  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.  The trail is marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning a hill to climb either way back to the top of the ridge).

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Our next shortest trail is, “Brushy Creek Interpretive Trail.”  This trail starts on the west side of the river and provides barrier-free access to a pedestrian walkway over the river.  The trail continues to the picnic area on the east side of this recreation area.  This ¾ mile trail meanders through mixed—Pine and hardwood, and offers a scenic view overlooking the Cossatot River/Brushy Creek union.  The numbered trees in the Trail Guide brochure corresponds with numeric labels placed near matching species along the trail.  The Trail head is located 9 miles east of Vandervoort on the east side of Brushy Creek Recreation Area.  It will end after you descend a flight of stairs into the parking lot.  This trail is also marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning stairs to climb and a few small hills to get to the top of the ridge).  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Starting with our longer trails, the “Harris Creek Trail,” begins just off of Highway 278 near the Baker Creek Bridge and meanders through 3.5 miles of mature forest between Harris Creek and the river.  The trail is marked with a blue medallion with a backpacker in the middle to show you the way.  The trail is scenic, and sections of the trail are rugged and steep.  Wear appropriate shoes and clothing and carry water.  This trail is rated easy (short section of the trail), then moderate to difficult (moderate meaning several inclines and then it changes into steep switch backs.  After you have made it to the top of the switch backs you will be walking on an old log road back to the parking area/trail head area.)  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Finally, our last trail is the “River Corridor Trail.”  The River Corridor trail has been reconstructed over the last two years and is now a first class hiking facility. This trail is 14 miles long with several access points along the way.  The trail is divided into three segments the first section starting at the park’s Brushy Creek Recreational Area on Arkansas Highway 246; approximately nine miles east of Vandervoort.  It ends at Ed Banks, which is a five mile hike.  The second section is from Ed Banks to the Falls, and it is a 2 mile hike.  The third and final section is the longest part.  It is a 7 mile hike from the Falls to the U.S. Highway 278 Access Area, below the Visitor Center.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

This entire trail is blazed in blue and is rated strenuous.  Hikers have the option of walking the entire trail or choosing a particular segment.  The trail is excellent for a two-to-three-day backpacking adventure; however, hikers are asked to camp at the park’s designated camping facilities located at the Cossatot Falls, Sandbar Area, and the Ed Banks Area, or the undeveloped U.S. Highway 278 Access.  Also you need to stop in at the Visitor Center (located on the U.S. Highway 278 Area) to fill out a Yellow Slip (Trail Register) to hang on your mirror.

According to Park Superintendent Stan Speight, “hikers have the opportunity to choose a trail length that best fits the amount of time they have to go hiking.”  He noted that the shortest segment is the middle section which stretches two miles in length.  “Trail enthusiasts can enjoy a morning or afternoon hike, and all-day hike, or a weekend of adventure experiencing the entire 14 miles,” said Speight.  “And since the trail follows the Cossatot River Corridor, each segment offers the opportunity to experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

With all four of our trails, Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.  We support the LNT (Leave No Trace) Principles, which are:  Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave what you Find, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of other Visitors.

If you have any questions or comments contact a park ranger or call (870) 385-2201.  We hope you enjoy your stay at the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

From start to finish there are 20 –miles of different diverse hiking trails.  Trails are a great way to engage in nature.  There are amazing things to see if you look close enough.  Start with experiencing aspects of nature that you can directly relate to with your physical, sensory, or emotional senses.  You can also join or make reservations to have a personal Interpreter Guide as you hike along a trail.Your connections with nature will continue to go deeper and deeper as you ask questions and follow your sense of wonder.  This connection is what brings about a sense of meaning in our lives—it deepens in each one of us a sense that we have a special place in this precious world.

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary is a park interpreter at Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2001, starting out as a seasonal interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, and Petit Jean State Parks. Shelley earned her degree in Parks and Recreation Management from Henderson State University in 2005. She is also an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, recreational kayak instructor, and emergency first responder.


Spring Fever!

March 1, 2011

It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!Mark Twain

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood

Who’s ready for spring? Signs of this much-anticipated season are everywhere, from fields carpeted with henbit to blooming elm trees; March reminds us that warmer weather is on the way. After this harsh winter in the Arkansas River Valley, I freely admit I have spring fever.

Falcate orangetip

Falcate orangetip

When I look ahead to March on the calendar, “spring break” comes to mind, a reminder that it’s time to schedule park programs that coincide with wildflower blooming and emergence of butterflies. It’s time to wipe the dust off the boxes holding my spring crafts for kids. It’s also time to work on my garden chore list and think about plants for this growing season. See? I have spring fever.

Due to higher elevation, spring temperatures come a bit later to Mount Magazine. A general rule of thumb is to add one week of greening or blooming for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The door of the season still opens in March.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry will soon dot the landscape with bright white blossoms. Spring beauties, trout lilies, and daffodils begin to emerge this month. Bloodroot, with its one-day-only white flowers and large leaves will emerge like a phoenix from the fallen leaves.

The symbiosis of flowering plants and animals is easily seen during the spring months. In mutualism, both organisms benefit. Flowers advertise their nectar rewards with specific colors, shapes, and nectar rewards, much like the advertising we see everyday in every form. Insects and birds are attracted as the consumer, and pollinate the plant in the process, enabling the plant to reproduce. Lack of color, unique shape, and putrid scent attract flies and gnats as pollinators.

Count the question marks.

Count the question marks

As birds begin to migrate north, many will drill into trees in search of food. Sap trickling down a tree trunk left behind afterwards attracts butterflies that have emerged from torpor. Question marks, goatweed leafwings, and mourning cloaks feast on the sugar-laden sap.

Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides in early spring are darker and smaller than summer forms in order to use the sun’s energy more efficiently. Zebra swallowtails, falcate orangetips, hairstreaks, duskywings, and elfins begin to take nectar from sources such as plum blossoms, redbud, spiderwort, wild hyacinth, blue star, and so many more. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive the first full week of April, and the flowers of Ohio buckeye and yellow honeysuckle are usually ready for them.  The best way to experience these flowers is to bring a field guide, get a park wildflower checklist, and of course, go on a wildflower hike with a park interpreter.

I’m not quite certain when my love affair with wildflowers began. Part of my affection stems from my love of butterflies; a lepidopterist has to be part botanist in order to understand the relationship between them. But my love of spring wildflowers is separate, and not just because the majority of them aren’t pollinated by butterflies. I admire these flowers with a short blooming period; completing their life cycles before the leaves take over with such precision and efficiency.

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

After so many years of living and working at Mount Magazine State Park, I delight in being able to take visitors to fire pink, spiderwort, Ohio buckeye, historic quince, and lilac shrubs on Will Apple’s Road Trail; bloodroot, trillium, and crested iris on the Signal Hill trail, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the Cove Lake trail. I am asked lots of questions about which trail to take to see wildflowers, and am often asked to identify photos of wildflowers after the hike is over. Helping visitors connect to nature in this way, and helping them gain confidence in their identification skills, and helping kids begin their own butterfly gardens are highlights of spring.

If not during spring break, then at some point in spring, I encourage you to visit a state park and walk a trail to cure your spring fever.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.