Many nature buffs are familiar with National Wildlife Refuges such as Horicon, Squaw Creek and Aransas. But there are many others that evade the attention of the general public, some of which are close to home and readily accessible. One such refuge is Bald Knob NWR, just east of Searcy, Arkansas (and south of Bald Knob), at the western edge of the Coastal Plain. Established less than 20 years ago to protect wetlands along the Little Red River, this refuge blends with the the Henry Gray/Hurricane Lake WMA, to its east; spring flooding along the White and Little Red Rivers often precludes entry to southern and eastern sections of the combined preserves.
Characterized by agricultural fields, man-made ponds, sloughs and bottomland timber, the Bald Knob NWR is accessed by a network of graveled roads and earthen trails, most of which run atop levees. On my visit this morning I encountered mixed flocks of ducks and coot, migrant shorebirds, numerous killdeer and a flock of at least 100 American white pelicans; as is typical, the pelicans waited for mid-morning thermals before taking to the air and soaring above the refuge. The highlight of my visit was provided by a lone peregrine falcon that repeatedly strafed and spooked the waterfowl.
Access to Bald Knob NWR is best achieved from the city of Bald Knob, a few miles northeast of Searcy on US Highway 67. From the downtown area, turn south on Hickory St., which becomes Coal Chute Road, the northern entry road for the refuge; during periods of spring flooding, this may be the only route of access.