THREE GREAT WILDERNESS AREAS
In the early 1800's, settlers arrived in this wilderness area to make it their home. Today when you are hiking through, you may find the remains of isolated farmsteads where the old homes, stone fences, multiflora rose, antiquated farm equipment and cemeteries record past inhabitants. On January 3, 1975, 10,950 acres of this rugged Buffalo River area became a part of the National Wilderness preservation system and named, by an Act of Congress, the Upper Buffalo Wilderness.
Two other wilderness areas in the county, Hurricane Creek Wilderness and Richland Creek Wilderness, also offer varied wildlife, rugged terrain, rock bluffs, mountain streams, waterfalls and spectacular beauty. Wilderness, as described in the Wilderness Act is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrampled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Wildlife and Birding
Arkansas is geologically very diverse and this physiographic variation helps determine the vegetational patterns and land use practices that affect bird populations. The Arkansas climate is fairly mild and ample rainfall and long, mild growing seasons favor a broad-leafed deciduous forest across the entire state. Thus, bird life across the state originally favored woodland species of birds. As people moved into the area, more open spaces were created and prairie birds have become more abundant. The 366 species of Arkansas birds and many migratory birds can be enjoyed in a wide variety of environments, from backyards to wilderness. Here's a few of the lesser known feathered folk you may see in Newton County.
Perhaps birdwatching is so appealing because it requires little or no special equipment or clothing and you don't have to travel for miles to enjoy it. For whatever reasons, birding is becoming the most popular reason for visiting Arkansas, according to studies done by tourism groups.
Although you need not move from your comfortable lawn chair to enjoy watching birds, you might want to consider a few hours in the Gene Rush/Buffalo River Wildlife Management Area in the eastern part of the county, along the Buffalo National River in the northern part of the county, or at one of the Forest Service recreation areas at Falling Water, Alum Cove, or Dismal Hollow in the southern part of the county.
Sightings of Bald Eagles are fairly common and you can easily identify this American symbol by his enormous size and the white feathers on his head, although he doesn't get them until he is an adult of about two years old.
Along the river and at ponds, watch for the Great Blue Heron, a common permanent resident. The Herons are a tall, long necked wading bird, grayish brown in color. The center of crown and throat are white and sides of the crown are black, with the stripes meeting at the back of the head, where the feathers lengthen to form a crest. The Great Blue Herons nest on platforms of sticks, usually in tall trees, though sometimes on the ground. Breeding season may start as early as February, but peaks in April and May. After that, large numbers of the birds may congregate in prime feeding areas.
Red Tailed Hawks are permanent residents of open areas all over the state and are especially numerous in winter. Most adults have red tails, but some do not. Likewise, some have a pattern of dark ventral marks or "belly bands", but some don't. Color can vary from light brown to very dark. All have the characteristic raptor head and beak and square tails. They find their prey while perched, rather than when soaring, and soaring appears to be territorial defense and courtship activity.
Ruffed Grouse have been the subject of a successful Game and Fish restocking program in Newton County, where they disappeared by 1900. They have variegated upper feathers of buff, gray and white and irregularly black-barred and tail feathers, and large tufts of glossy, wide black feathers at the side of the neck. The ruffed grouse drums a loud tattoo during mating season in the spring.
The Eastern Screech Owl, one of the many owls common to the hardwood forests, is adaptable to almost any location, including urban areas. He's one of the small members of the family, reaching a maximum length of about ten inches. The Eastern Screech Owl has conspicuous ear tufts, white lower body parts and rufous upper coloring, finely streaked with black. His call, or screech, is a rasping, weird, melancholy sound. His favorite home is an apple orchard, but he's been known to nest in dwellings and barns.
Whip-Poor-Will, a migrant who returns to the Ozarks in the summer is named for his call which can be heard in the evenings and early morning hours. Whistlers who can mimic it can often "talk" back and forth to the birds and even call them in closer. Whip-poor-wills belong to the nighthawk family and comes out at night to catch his dinner on the fly, but may be flushed up from ground level hiding places during the day. He has a head finely mottled with black and white, back feathers mottled with buff and black, black primaries with broken rufous bars, and an irregularly barred tail of black and buff. The end half of the three outer feathers of the tail are white with black on the outer vane of the outer feather extending further down then on the others.
The Northern Mockingbird is Arkansas' state bird and loves urban shrubbery and dense fence rows. He's a skillful mimic with a wide variety of songs and is likely to take an exposed position when singing. His upper feathers are ashy in color and the lower are white, as are the outer tail feathers. Mockingbirds nest in thick hedges from March through June.
You can easily identify many of the songbirds, the scarlet Cardinal with his black mask; the tufted titmouse with his gray upper feathers and distinct crest; the Eastern Bluebird with his red breast; the Indigo Bunting with his darker blue hues; the handsome Blue Jay in blue and white; the Redwing Blackbird with the red oval on his black wing; the orange and black Orioles and the gentle brown wren with its speckled breast and long beak and tail.
For more help with identifying birds, books are available at the local library and at the U.S. Forest Service District Ranger office in Jasper.
Wildflowers and Trees
Roadside blooms begin as early as March and may last into November and you'll see many wildflowers while driving. Others can be discovered on hikes into the woods. Take the time to stop and enjoy, identify and photograph them to add to the enjoyment of your trips through the county.
Some of the early spring flowers include Blue-Eyed Grass, Dutchman's Britches, Bird's-foot Violet, Wake Robin, Dog-tooth Violet or Trout Lily, and Blood-root. Dutchman's Britches has a dark green fern-like leaf and dainty, bending columns festooned with small, creamy-white flowers that look like ballooned trousers hung upside down on a line. Plants are 5-9 inches tall and begin blooming in March on damp, wooded hillsides. Wake Robin (Trillium recurvatum) stands 8-12 inches on a long slender stem with a three-leafed top and a center flower that may be yellow-green or maroon.
The Bird's foot violet is another woods flower. It is a viola and the flowers and leaves look like domestic pansies. Flowers have dark purple upper petals and lavender lower petals. The plants are four inches tall and bloom in April and May. Long banks filled with them are common along the highway in the southern part of the county. The tiny flowers of blue-eyed grass won't be easily spotted by those who dash by the meadows and open woods. You'll have to stop and look for this 8-12 inch plant with its grassy leaves and dainty bright-blue flowers which bloom late March through April.
Spring beauty (Claytonia Virginica) may show up in your lawn as well as woods and open areas all over the county. It's white to delicate pink blooms are veined with slightly darker color and its leaves are long and slender. Flowers bloom in small clusters. The Blood-root's big dark green leaf has a pale underside and comes up wrapped up, gradually opening Out as the single waxy-white flower blooms on the separate stem in the center. The plant is 6-8 inches tall and blooms very early. It gets its name from the red sap in the roots.
Summer flowers include the Black-Eyed Susan, common along the roadsides everywhere, Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflower, Wild Sweet William, Queen Anne's Lace and Tickseed Coreopsis. Black-Eyed Susans are a vibrant yellow daisy with black centers that may bloom as early as May and usually last until October. Plants may be slightly over two feet tall. Butterfly Weed is a tall plant with a milky stem, profuse small, dark green leaves, and big heads of tiny bright orange flowers. They, too, enjoy open spaces and are often found along roadsides. They take their name from their attraction to butterflies. Purple Coneflower grows up to three feet high and bloom from May to July. Pale lavender petals droop downwards from conical black centers of the flowers.
Wild Sweet William is a phlox and ranges from white to dark lavender in color. The sweetly perfumed flower-cluster heads appear on stems about 10-12 inches tall from April through June. Queen Anne's Lace may be as much as 5 feet tall. It has a leaf similar to a carrot and wide, flat heads of lacy white flowers. There are several species of coreopsis and they can bloom at various times from April to September. The eight petals of the flower are arranged around a darker center and stand 2-4 feet tall.
Fall flowers include several species of goldenrod which can grow up to four feet tall and blooms from August to November. The feathery yellow heads look similar to corn tassels. The Aster is purple in color with yellow centers and grows 2-5 feet tall, blooming late July through October on woody stems heavily leafed.
Did you know some of those twisted and gnarled cedar trees on the cliffs overlooking the river may be as much as 800 years old? A study of the story told by their rings is helping scientists understand climate changes and water cycles over the centuries. Trees are valuable Ozark Mountain friends for many reasons - their lumber, shade, fruits. beauty and the role they play in providing clean air. Among them, you can easily identify some of them on your walks or drives with the following information. Visit your library, the Forest Service Ranger Stations, or the County Extension office for more information on trees of the area.
Flowering Dogwood is a beautiful tree averaging, in this area, to be about 25 feet. You can see its showy white flowers between April and May and its fruit, a bright red berry, between September and December. On older trees, the Dogwoods bark tends to be gray to black and broken into small, scaly blocks. Dogwoods are located statewide and are usually found on hillsides, coves, slopes, in shady areas, and sometimes on low ground.
Sarvis is often mistaken for the Dogwood. Like the Dogwood it has white flowers, but these flowers bloom much earlier, between February and April. Its fruit ripen between April and May. Again like the Dogwood it has red berries but these are edible and turn blue as they ripen. The Sarvice, or Sarviceberry is named so because its early flowers were gathered for church services. Sarvices are located statewide and commonly found or open hillsides and rocky slopes.
Another flowering tree is the Red Bud. It is known for its abundance of small, pink or rose colored flowers that bloom from March to May. These flowers appear before the Red Bud's light green heart-shaped leaves. The Red Bud is found statewide except in overflow areas of larger rivers. It can be located on hillsides and in soils that are moist.
The Umbrella Magnolia tree is usually small, hardly ever growing beyond 40 feet. Its bark is light gray and marked by small bumps. The Umbrella Magnolia has large leaves that are often 14-22 inches long and 8-10 inches wide. The large, ill smelling, white, Magnolia flower blooms between April and June. Its fruit, a blunt crooked cone, grows from September to October. The Umbrella Magnolia is often located in the Ozark and Ouachita mountain regions; commonly in valley coves, headwater areas of some streams and mountainous counties.
The Pawpaw is a small tree with smooth gray bark. It has a straight trunk and long straight slender brittle limbs. Its flowers are cupshape of deep reddish brown and appear to look leathery. The flower blooms before the Papaw's light green, eight to ten inch leaves. Its fruit is soft when ripe and greenish yellow to very dark brown. The Pawpaw is located statewide and found most often in moist areas, along streams, rivers, and coves.
The Eastern Red Cedar tree is generally 40 to 50 feet tall; with the crown of the tree pointed. Its bark is a thin, reddish brown. The leave are oblong and flattened and dark green. Its flowers, small and cone like, bloom from January to March. The fruit are berry-like cones, that grow from June to winter. The French-Canadians called this tree "Baton Rouge" or red stick. The Eastern Red Cedar is located statewide and may often occur in small stream valleys, and on flat soils where it tends to grow favorably.
The Black Walnut tree is normally 100 feet tall and four feet in diameter. It's bark is dark reddish brown with ridges. The Black Walnut's leaves are compound leaves (15-23 leaflets on the same stalk) one to two feet long and are usually yellowish green. The male flowers are three inch long catkins and the female are round, without petals, green and are found at the ends of new twigs. The fruit of the Black Walnut is a nut enclosed in a rough green husk that gradually turns black. The Black Walnut's kernels are valuable for flavoring uses. The Black Walnut can be found statewide especially in slopes, ravines, gullies and flood plains of small streams.