Piles of fish on Lake Saracen walking trail a mystery

A member of the Three Rivers Audubon Society has no explanation for the piles of fish that have been found on the first phase of the walking trail at Lake Saracen, but he’s willing to make a guess.

Delos McCauley said the fish could have been dropped by pelicans who inhabit the area around the lake after they were frightened by the gulls who are also inhabitants of the area.

“Pelicans are pretty good catchers of fish and other species tend to dive-bomb them and try to scare them to give up the fish,” said Eric Maynard, director of the Delta Rivers Nature Center.

“Sometimes the birds will eat too much and have difficulty flying, and if they get frightened, will regurgitate the fish so they can get into the air,” Maynard said.

Maynard said he had noticed a lot of sea gulls in the area near the walking trail and speculated that the gulls may have caught the fish, then carried them to the walking trail to eat them.

Both Maynard and McCauley said they had not seen any pelicans on the trail itself, but McCauley, who is in the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park on a regular basis to photograph birds, said “I’ve seen them start to fly over the trail now.”

The piles of fish, mostly shad, were seen about 75 yards from the beginning of the walking trail on New Year’s Day, and Maynard said shad is “good fish food for either the sea gulls or pelicans.”

“I was worried about the pelicans for a while but we counted about 700 recently and I believe there are probably a thousand in the park,” McCauley said.

Brett Timmons with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission offered another possible explanation, suggesting that it’s possible that raccoons or other animals might have pulled out the fish, piled them and were getting ready to eat them when they were scared off.

“Raccoons, otters and some other animals will actually eat the bellies of the fish because that’s where the nutrients are and leave the rest of the fish alone,” Timmons said.