Important Bird Areas

Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge

Arkansas

Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is a wildlife oasis in an agricultural desert. An excellent diversity of habitat exists, comprised of open shallow lake, bottomland forest, cypress/willow swamp, and slowly reforesting old fields, all linked by miles of nature drives, foot and canoe trails. Fishing is allowed, and small game and archery deer hunting are allowed in season, but waterfowl are preserved. The refuge is particularly rich in numbers of snakes, Broad-banded Watersnakes and Cottonmouths, being the most visible. It also is an excellent place to see Bobcat, River Otter, Mink and Beaver.

Ornithological Summary

Over 20 species of Waterfowl are observed annually during the winter number 100,000+ and an average of 500 pairs of wading birds are observed in summer annually according to observations of refuge personnel. An average of 1000 shorebirds annually when mud is exposed during migration were observed by Norman and Cheryl Lavers. The Refuge regulary supports significant densitites of one or more of the bird species considered by Audubon as vulnerable in Arkansas (explained below). In some years up to four adult Anhingas are present during the nesting season and are generally associated with the rookery. Nesting is suspected but has not been confirmed. Adult Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are regularly present during the nesting season. Nesting is suspected but has not been confirmed. Hooded Mergansers regularly nest in small numbers in Wood Duck boxes in the site. A dozen or more Mississippi Kites are present on the site every summer and are presumed to breed. A paid of Bald Eagles has nested annually for the past eight years. American Woodcocks display every spring and are presumed to breed. Least Terns nesting on nearby Mississippi River islands use the site lake extensively (15-20 usually present at any one time) for fishing and can be seen carrying their fish riverwards. Red-headed Woodpeckers are usually present in large numbers during the nesting season. Acadian Flycatchers and Prothonotary Warblers are regular nesters. Swainson's Warbler is present in migration but is not known to nest. Painted Bunting nests occassionally. The site regularly supports 10,000 waterfowl (excluding snow geese) or more: in winter there are often 100,000+ ducks present on the reserve, as manay as 40,000 of which can be Pintails. During hard freezes when Wapanocca has the only open water, their number skyrockets. As many as a million Snow Geese can be present, and since Snow Geese flocks contain as much as 0.1 percent Ross's Geese (personal observation, Norman & Cheryl Lavers), 1,000 Ross's Geese is of importance. Also the Snow Goose flocks seem to draw in with them at these times tens of thousands of White-fronted Geese. Historically, Wapanocca was set up as a Canada Goose refuge but as the climate warms, the Canadas seem to be staying farther north, and so their numbers have declined at the lake recently, although a very cold winter still brings them in. In addition, the refuge raises more than 1,000 Wood Ducks annually in artificial nest boxes. The site regularly supports 1000 shorebirds or more: in especially dry years when mud is exposed at the south end of the lake 1,000 or more shorbirds can be seen in Fall migration. The usual species are Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, Western, Stilt and Least Sandpipers, and Longbilled Dowitchers. Other species of plover, plus stilts, avocets, and phalaropes regularly put in an appearance. Site regularly supports 25 breeding pairs of more of wading birds (any species): a Great Blue Heron/Great Egret rookery on the south side of the lake was first censused in 1993 when 103 nests were counted. By 1997 this had climbed to 470 nests. Subsequently the herons moved to a less accessible area on the north side of the lake, and have not been censused, but to judge by the numbers of birds present on the reserve in summer, the rookery is continuing at an equal rate. Anhingas, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have been seen in association with the rookery. The site includes one or more outstanding examples of the following special bird habitats: 1,760 acres of Bottomwland Hardwood Forest and 1,350 acres of Prairies. Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, located along the critically important Mississippi Flyway, is a single island of rich preserved aquatic habitat in a large sea of intensively sprayed and managed agricultural land.

Conservation Issues

Wapanocca's lake and bottomlands are fed by rainwater and ground water. A combination of drier and hotter weather and, especially, the decreasing ground water due to irrigation of the surrounding agricultural land is a critical problem. Damage has already occurred. Surrounding lands were drained and deforested. Big Creek, which was once a fishery source for restocking the lake, was degraded through channelization and lost its fishery value. Additionally, Big Creek was the major fresh water source for the lake. In 2001-2002 the shallow lake almost dried out completely, and though it has since recovered, the danger was clearly demonstrated.