Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Village Creek State Park

Located on Crowley's Ridge, Village Creek State Park, has numerous trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.  The park, the second largest in the state, also offers swimming, golf, fishing, boat rentals, and camping.  I also saw basketball and tennis courts, but am not sure if they are still used frequently.

While the origins of Crowley's Ridge are debated, the ridge's unique soils and high elevation compared to surrounding floodplains and deltas allow it to support species not commonly found elsewhere in the state.  Having lived in Indiana for awhile, it was interesting to find a forest full of tulip trees, sugar maples, and beeches here in Arkansas.

We camped in the park on our way from Fayetteville to Birmingham.  The site was fine (a little too developed and designed for RVs for my taste) and we saw deer and several raccoons up-close.

I've included a map of the trails in the park below, though we only did the short, Ben Ben Nature Trail which has a great brochure with lots of information on plants and the local ecosystem.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Birds of The Buffalo (and other Arkansas Waterways)

All trips on the Buffalo River include seeing spectacular bluffs and enjoying the water.  Most floats also involve chasing great blue herons downstream, while turkey vultures circle overhead and kingfishers swoop across the river nearby.  If you go on a less busy day, in the evening, or to a lonelier stretch you may get to see even more interesting bird species.

Here are some descriptions of birds you might see on a float down the Buffalo (or any other waterway in Arkansas):

Buffalo River - Gilbert to Hwy 14 Bridge

On the first hot weekend of May, we took advantage of the perfect water levels, nice temperatures (warm during the day, still cool at night), and the clear water not yet full of summer algae; and went on an overnight float on the Buffalo.  Gilbert was packed and business was good for local boat rentals and restaurants.  Having a dog and looking to camp, we wanted to pick a stretch of river that might be less busy than the popular Tyler Bend to Gilbert and Hwy 14 Bridge to Buffalo Point floats, so we settled on Gilbert to Hwy. 14 (also called Dillards Ferry).

After leaving a car at Dillards Ferry, we departed Gilbert at about three in the afternoon.  With the river at about 4.5 ft. we made pretty good time and didn't have to drag boats anywhere.  Our plan to avoid crowds worked and paid major dividends.  Less than 2 miles downstream of Gilbert, near the old bridge piers (a spot also accessible by foot from Gilbert) we spotted a Bald Eagle on the shore!  We spooked him too quickly to get a close-up, but luckily he flew downstream and we got a second chance to take photos (see below) and a poorly focused video.  We also saw a lot of other wildlife including a beaver, green herons, great blue herons, kingfishers, and approximately 1.3 billion turtles primarily of the red-eared slider and false map varieties.

We spent the night on Cain's Island, just upstream of Maumee North.  The next day, after the fog cleared, we paddled to Maumee and picked up an additional paddler: my dad.  From there we floated downstream to Dillards Ferry, stopping along the way several times to drain and reinflate the inflatable kayak.  The bluffs along this stretch were spectacular and there were lots of good pools for swimming.  It was really interesting seeing this section from another point of view, after hiking it earlier this year.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spadra Creek Trails - Clarksville

If you ever get tired of sitting in your car as you make the journey from Little Rock to Fayetteville, considering stopping in Clarksville and exploring the trails around Spadra Creek.  While there are other access points, the one closest to I-40 is located behind the McDonald's on Rogers St. (at exit #58).  From the parking area, you have several dirt trail options, most of which are used by mountain bikers, and a long flat paved trail.  The map below shows the paved trail and hopefully I will add some of the dirt trails on future visits.  From the parking area near the interstate, the trail roughly follows Spadra Creek for 1.75 miles up to the University of the Ozarks.  The trail is mostly forested at the beginning and then gets progressively more open.  I believe the mountain biking trails are mostly in the woods, if you are looking for a more natural feel.

Mountain Bike Arkansas has descriptions and maps of the dirt trails.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mulberry River

I recently floated the Mulberry River for the first time.  We went when the river was at 2.7 and true to the descriptions, this was a perfect level for exciting rapids, but slow enough pools to allow for bailing and resting.  We put in a little downstream of Turner Bend and floated about 8 miles to Campbell Cemetery.

Turner Bend, located about 12 miles north of I-40 on Hwy 23, is the best place to get started on a Mulberry River float.  They have maps, supplies, boats, camping, parking, perform shuttles, and are very knowledgeable about current river conditions and float durations.

The photos below are misleading, since the only time I could take photos was while we were in pools.  There were numerous exciting rapids along the route and large waves and drops were common.

Small Mammals of Arkansas

Ever spot a furry critter while on a hike or float and wonder what it was?  Not sure how to tell the difference between a mink and river otter?  Or between a beaver, woodchuck, and nutria?  Then this post is for you!

I was inspired to write this piece after spending a few minutes gazing in awe at a furry animal pawing the ground near Scull Creek and the Scull Creek Trail in Fayetteville.  Several strangers joined me in stopping to stare at our little friend in what felt like Fayetteville's version of a bear spotting in Yellowstone.  Everyone had a guess as to what it was, but no one was sure.  At the end, I said with confidence "woodchuck!" and another guy said "groundhog", to which I replied less confidently "I think they are the same thing" and we all separated.
Marmot (From California since I didn't have a good one from Arkansas)

So let's start with that one:

Woodchucks are sometimes called groundhogs and to me they look like beavers with furry tails. They are also way cuter than those ugly invasive nutria which have rat tails. Woodchucks (Marmota monax) can be found throughout most of Arkansas.  I typically spot them near creeks, but my old apartment in Little Rock, Holcombe
Young Woodchuck along Buffalo National River

Woodchuck in a Tree in Arkansas.  Usually seen on the ground.
Heights, had several in the rocky hillside landscaping. I see their relatives (other species from the genus Marmota) frequently on backpacking trips in the mountains of Colorado, Washington, and California.

Beaver - Buffalo River
Beaver (Castor canadensis), can also be found all over the state, typically in or by rivers and streams.  I saw this one on the Buffalo River.  They are distinguished from the rest of this pack by their flat, broad tail.

Nutria or Coypu (Myocastor coypus) are an invasive species of rodent from South America.  They basically look like a giant rat and their rounded rat-tail is how you tell them apart from beaver and muskrats.

Young mink - White River near mouth of the Buffalo
Muskrats - These guys are smaller than nutria and have flattened tails that aren't nearly as broad as those on beaver.  While walking without my camera, I saw one of these in southern Missouri in a pool on a small spring-fed stream.

River Otter - I haven't seen many of these and so far I've either been too excited or it has been too dark to get good photos.  These guys are lots of fun to watch slide in and out of the water.  They often follow kayaks and are quite playful.  They kind of look like large minks or slightly small, athletic beavers with hairy tails.
Family of Deer - Little Rock, Arkansas via Game Camera

American Mink - The first time I saw one of these I mistook it for a baby river otter.  Mink are smaller and usually a darker brown that otters.  This site shows a comparison.  Mink can be found all over Arkansas and much of the US and Canada.  I saw a family of them swim across the White River near the mouth of the Buffalo and it seemed like quite an undertaking.

Let me know if I've messed up on any of these.  While pretending to be an expert for the purpose of writing this piece, I'm definitely not one.  Are there any I've missed?

Updates: I've thrown a couple more mammals in here at the bottom.  They are rarely confused for other animals, but they are small mammals seen in Arkansas.

Head on over to this post if you want to see some other small mammals like pikas and marmots. Or this post with lots of great game camera videos and photos. My Youtube channel has lots of additional great wildlife videos (and videos of Buddy).
Groundhog in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Groundhog in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Coyotes on Game Camera in Central Arkansas

Coyote Canis Fourche Bottoms Little Rock Arkansas Wildlife
Coyote - Fourche Bottoms, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Brown Bat Little Rock Arkansas
Little Brown Bat
Canis lupus familiaris - Commonly spotted on trails in Northwest Arkansas
Fox on a Game Camera in West Little Rock
Possum on Game Camera in West Little Rock
Raccoon and Possum On Game Camera in West Little Rock
Raccoon Profile Caught on Game Camera
Squirrel Caught on Game Camera

Armadillo Near ADEQ in North Little Rock

Possum Walking at Night

And just for completion (or closer to completion since I won't be doing rats, mice, moles, etc.):