Oh the tranquility of having no classes! Providing me time to visit some sites associated with the upcoming Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Woodward Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas program! There'll be more on that later. For now the birds that I encountered and a little about my first visit to the Cimarron Bluffs Wildlife Management Area (WMA) . My first stop was Hackberry Flats WMA in Tillman County, Oklahoma. They just opened a new visitors center and I had hoped to talk to someone about setting up a display for the IBA program when and if Hackberry is recognized as an Important Bird Area within Oklahoma.
The morning started fairly decently, I arrived just before sunrise and was rewarded with nice looks at a single Short-eared Owl pitching and rolling for small mammals. Unfortunately I didn't see the fifteen or so reported a week previously, but I was still happy. The reservoir was loaded with waterfowl. White-fronted, Cackling, Canada, Ross's and Snow Geese were present; ducks were all common for Oklahoma and most, especially the Mallards, were present in high numbers. In all there were probably upwards of ten thousand or more Anseriformes on the reservoir. Perhaps the best birds for the site that morning were a single adult male Common Yellowthroat and some fly-over Sandhills that provided me a nice opportunity to change the header photo of this blog!
I also viewed a few mammals in the morning including a few White-tailed Deer, Striped Skunk, Armadillo, and Coyote. The large White-tailed Buck (photo) was seen around 7am crossing into the only unit with water in it just below the visitor center. It startled me while I was picking through sparrows species with my back turned. I heard a loud splash only 30 feet or so behind me, jumped to look around and managed to snap a quick shot while he and two doe were wading through. A really amazing scene, I'm glad I was there to see it!
Shortly thereafter I headed north to Woodward, with a two hour stop at Canton to do a waterbird survey. Canton Lake has been well known to Oklahoma birders for its large gathering of waterfowl and sometimes large and rare gulls. A few of which I have seen over the past couple of years include the Western Grebe, Glaucous Gull, and Thayer's Gull all good birds for Oklahoma. This visit didn't prove to be as thrilling as some of my past, but I still had looks at two adult Bald Eagles harassing a flock of waterbirds, mostly comprised of around 7,000 or more Common Mergansers. There were also plenty of gulls in the flock but they were just too far out to distinguish. Oh well, I think having a sea kayak next time I go would be perfect for getting out there with them. On to Woodward and a good night's rest.
The following morning I ran through a route for a Bird Tour I will be leading in April. First stop was Boiling Springs. A small state park filled with beautiful large Cottonwoods and bubbling natural springs. I was able to find a Barred Owl, and likely two Pileated Woodpeckers. Woodward is about as far west as this species can be found in Oklahoma. My last stop was the Selman Ranch area. I decided to take sometime to check out the new Cimarron Bluffs WMA which was just purchased in 2008 primarily for the Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat present, it borders the Selman Ranch IBA and let me tell you it's nothing but wide open space and scenery. I nearly made it to the Cimarron River before I needed to turn back to ensure I got back to the truck before dark. Perhaps the most exciting event of the evening was finding a decent size marsh, and a pair of marsh wrens to go along with it. I will have to check this location in the spring for rails, it looks ripe!