When I pull out my old Birds of North America, by Robbins et al., words such as Lonoke, Keo and Scott appear in the margins, indicating first sightings of various birds. These are towns east of Little Rock where my birding jaunts increased significantly in the early 1980s. On my visit to eastern Arkansas this past week I was thus anxious to revisit these areas, recognizing their importance in my life and hoping to relive some of those birding memories.
As one might expect after 30 years, the landscape had changed, though not nearly as much as one might find in large urban areas of the country. Development had taken its toll on some of the fields and wetlands that I had once explored while access to others had been withdrawn. Just west of Lonoke, a large group of man-made catfish ponds had once been the local hotspot for waterfowl viewing and it was there that I first saw many species; while the ponds and ducks remain, "private property" and "no trespassing" signs now rise at every entry point and all viewing must occur from the bordering roadways. Wetlands south of Scott, my favored site for herons, egrets and other waders, are now unrecognizable, surrounded or replaced by housing developments to the point that I could not locate my old birding haunt. Of course, the farmlands that introduced me to many raptors and shorebirds remain intact and, on my visit, a huge flock of lesser golden plovers had stopped to forage on a muddy field.
Such efforts to feed our nostalgic urges often lead to mixed and disappointing results. We humans tend to erase the landscape of our past and, in the case of natural habitats, wildlife that depended on them must relocate or adapt to human development; of course, some fail to do so and their population suffers accordingly. Until we become more committed to the protection of open space, the welfare of our wild neighbors will be threatened and those of us who enjoy their company will be unable to revisit our past.