Archive for August, 2011

This photo taken 3 weeks ago on Murray Road about about a mile west of Arkansas Highway 327 south of Parthenon, Arkansas.This is a fairly common sight here in the Boston Mountains in late summer and in the fall, as night temperatures fall below the dew  point.

Click to enlarge.

Murray Road early August morning

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This small, neon colored blue bird is getting ready to leave Arkansas within 30 days until next April, when they return to their breeding grounds here in the Little Buffalo River valley. They always appear blue-black in the shade and aqua-neon in bright sun. Here is photo of a molting Indigo Bunting near Shop Creek in July, and a male in breeding colors near Murray, Arkansas in May. Click to enlarge.

Late season male at seed heads in transitional molting colors

early season male singing in full breeding colors

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very rugged southern Little Buffalo watershed near Wayton


Total Area: 144.5 square miles

Total Acres: 93,519 acres

Population 1999: 2199 (1204 not counting Jasper, AR)

The Buffalo National River system is contains several of America’s most beautiful wild streams. One, the Little Buffalo, is born in one of the most rugged mountain regions of this country. The Buffalo River, and therefore, The Little Buffalo, and other tributaries, were basically unknown by most americans, except locals and fishermen, until the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a series of dams for the river in the 1960’s. It was at that time, that I first visited the river-ways from St. louis.  As beautiful as the backcountry of Missouri is, with it’s clear spring fed rivers, I knew the buffalo was a special place as soon as we started down unpaved and deeply “switch-backed” section of  Highway 43 to Ponca, Arkansas.

The buffalo, not being as spring fed as Missouri’s rivers, has several nice tributaries that help maintain it’s water levels (especially the lower river). A few of the larger tributaries are the Little Buffalo, Richland Creek, Big Creek, Sam’s Creek, Sellers Creek, Big Cave Creek, Thomas Creek, Davis Creek, Calf Creek, Bear Creek, and Sylamore Creek. The buffalo river flows generally northeastward from its roots deep in the Boston Mountains, to its confluence with the White River. The first 25-30 miles of the Buffalo River are in the wilderness of the Boston Mountains as is the much of the upper Little Buffalo River, the first major tributary of the Buffalo.

The Little Buffalo flows from south to north and then bends northeastward near Jasper, Arkansas. It is fairly east to identify the drainage borders. Since Arkansas Highways are built largely on ridge tops; the upper two thirds of the watershed of the river is completely contained in the Highway system.

The topography of the upper Little Buffalo watershed

Starting in Jasper in the northeastern section of the drainage, and heading south on Highway 7 almost all the country to the right (West) of the highway is in the Little Buffalo drainage; to the left (East) is the Big Creek and Richland Creek Drainage. About 15 miles south of Jasper, Highway 7 intersects Highway 16 where turning right on 16 keeps the Little Buffalo drainage to the north (right side). Shop Creek, East Fork, and Thomas Creek are within the drainage along Highway 16. All south (left side) drainage from Highway 16 goes into the Big piney Creek. In about 16 miles, Highway 16 intersects Highway 21, which is the southwest boundary of the Little Buffalo drainage. A right on Highway 21 (heading north) puts the drainage to you east (right side still). Highway 21 slices back into the Buffalo drainage in about 5 miles; but, another right turn onto Shiloh Mountain (Castle Bluff Road) road puts you on another ridge directly dividing the two Buffalo drainages again.  A 15 mile ride on a fairly rough gravel road gives several vistas to the east (right) of the Little Buffalo drainage once again. To the west (left side) is the Smith Creek watershed which flows directly into the Buffalo river. At the small village of Low Gap, you turn right again onto Highway 74, heading east. The Little Buffalo drainage is to your right (south) and the Buffalo to your left (north). In summary in about two hours of driving you arrive back at Jasper, where you started. You have covered the mountainous 2/3 of the Little Buffalo watershed.

Even though the drainage is relatively small, it contains some very rugged and steep topography; much of it in wilderness to near wilderness areas. See maps below. In the southern part of the watershed are some very difficult whitewater kayak and covered canoe runs rated class V and above by the AWA. Also, Dismal Creek contains a hollow with about 400 acres of virgin pine, sweet gum, maple, oak, and beech.

Contained within the northern section is Henson Creek; running through a deep gorge and winding through several mountains with huge slump rock falls. (Slump rocks are common to the Buffalo River country; they are huge boulders, sometimes large cubes of 150 – 200 feet on a side, that have separated from the mountain. They typically fall from the bluff-line about  200-400 feet from the ridge  of the mountainIn). In the far eastern portion of the watershed,  the Little Buffalo valley widens into a series of pastures and farms reminiscent of the Boxley valley on the Buffalo about 10 miles to the northwest.

Slump rocks over Henson Creek (courtesy Dr. Neil Compton)

Sub Water Sheds of the Little Buffalo River in Arkansas

Click the link below to see the watershed’s relative slope.

Little Buffalo Slope

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The Little Buffalo River at dusk

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This photo was taken with a point and shoot camera, from the rock pile, at the back of Cobb Cave in Lost Valley near Ponca. The color change was at it’s peak in this hidden valley around the first week of November 2010. Temperatures were in the mid 50’s to about 60, and there was a light overcast. It had rained all day but not in the late afternoon when this photo was taken. My first trip up this gorgeous valley was in fall 1965; at age 17. I have made about a dozen trips up the Clark Creek bed, though the natural bridge, and to the lower and upper caves. This is a very special place !  Click on this image to see it in full size.

Cobb Cave in Lost Valley last NovemberClick to enlarge.

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On July 30, I was able to photograph a Hooded Warbler near the low-water crossing upstream from Parthenon and off the Murray Road. He approached a pool of water for a drink and bath. I had previously seen one to two near the same location in May. In May, they were singing and carrying nesting material. Hooded warblers are very scarce in northwest Arkansas; in fact, we are at the edge of their nesting range. They are striking small yellow birds with a black hood. Not hard to recognize !!! They prefer to nest in mixed hardwood forests with understory trees adjacent to old fields; preferably in cooler shaded areas. Their nests are built fairly low to the ground in the fork of a small tree. This is the third Hooded Warbler I have seen; including the pair nest building close by in May. This area of northwest Arkansas, near our beautiful small streams and rivers, is a warbler mecca. We have all the varied habitat that they require; from rocky slopes, to old mixed forests, to openings in the woods with pioneer species. Click on the picture to enlarge.

very scarce Hooded Warbler near the Little Buffalo River upstream from Parthenon

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Rare glimpse of a Louisiana Waterthrush in bright sun

Defying all odds with predators and floods, this beautiful warbler nests in large numbers along the northwest Arkansas streams and creeks. They nest on the ground in a secretive location; perhaps under an exposed root wad; or fallen tree. The nest is made of twigs and mud lined with peeled bark and soft grasses. They often sleep during the afternoon and keep all singing to a minimum during nesting months; but have quite a nice song during the mating season. Their courting, mating, and nest building season begins soon after they arrive in Arkansas in late March or very early April.

During the last week of July and early this August, I saw about a dozen different Louisiana Waterthrushes near the low water crossings along the Little Buffalo River. The are also quite common along the Buffalo and Piney Rivers in Arkansas. They will be gathering with other warblers to prepare for their southern migration within in a week and we will see them again in April 2012. Click on either picture to enlarge.

Louisiana Waterthrush near Parthenon

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Here is a view of Moss Mountain taken looking northeast from Highway 327 while driving from Parthenon Arkansas to Jasper Arkansas early one morning last week. Moss Mountain is still covered with morning fog. Bluffs along the Little Buffalo River appear along the hillside; many are multi-colored by mineral stains. This is the eastern boundary of the valley in which I live. Click to enlarge.

Sloped Moss Mountain

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flying to nesting box brood 3

feeding brood two

I put up two houses, complete with guards from predators, in February; last winter. I added another house in early May. With a total of three houses they fledged six broods with an average of four hatchlings per brood. Seems they were busy feeding and watching their houses until the first week of July. In June, it seemed there were fledglings everywhere. They endured the windstorms of April and May, the heavy rains of April (one day nearly 4 1/2 inches; 13 inches that week), and the hotter than usual and dry weather of later June. My plan is to add 2 more houses for 2012. Notice: the houses I selected have a wood spacer at the entrance hole; to deter owls and flying predators from reaching inside and getting the hatchlings. Additionally, there is a long hanging tubular cylinder made of metal, hanging on the pole about 3/4 of the way up. It is not stationary but tilts easily in all directions; its purpose: to keep the snakes and likely predators like raccoons off the house. Seems to work very well !!  We have a few large blacksnakes wandering the yard and I’m sure they have made an attempt to climb the poles to get to the house. But I do not believe any snakes passed the guard on the pole. The population of bluebirds in NW Arkansas is one of the best in the USA. They are territorial but only require about one acre to guard and protect. Putting one house on a fence line every 100 yards just fine. Start your own bluebird trail.

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Last Saturday morning I saw the first yellow warbler this year (pretty late in the season) in the valley. Northwest Arkansas is the southernmost breeding grounds for this species of tiny warbler; which means they probably nest early and are finished by mid-summer. This guy was in a walnut tree over the equipment shed. I was able to get several photos of him; but I like this one best.

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