Thursday, November 12, 2009

More from the Northwest......Oklahoma

I spent another 4 beautiful days in northwest Oklahoma had a grand time, as usual, and got a great deal of planning and field work done for the Important Bird Areas program! I made it to the Selman Ranch IBA late Friday evening, mid-nightish, and was promptly woken by Sue at 4:30 am. Nothing like a few hours of sleep to get you fresh for the morning! Sue had mentioned to me that she was heading over to the Salt Plains NWR to take photographs and see Whooping Cranes. Having never been to the Salt Plains during this portion of the year, especially Whooper
(Whoop..whoop) season I sort of invited myself. Sue obliged, and even drove!

Sue spent the morning surrounded by American Avocets and Am. White Pelicans; I ran about trying to locate as many species as possible. Overall the first few hours we were there were very enjoyable. Sue got some great photos, and I managed to see a quick smattering of birds. It was nice getting back out in the field after a few stress filled weeks. A lot of the winter migrants have descended upon Oklahoma. Not all of them, but it took me back to my days on the Winter Bird Atlas. I found myself surrounded by loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Juncos, and of course the little brown jobs (sparrows).

After Sue's photo session was rudely interrupted by a seemingly-less oblivious park goer, we moved away from the spillway area and over to a few other portions of the refuge. Quick note, if you are walking around at a State Park or Wildlife Management Area, or National Wildlife Refuge and you see someone with a large camera and lense patiently being still and looking very focused; do not interrupt. Wait until they move and find something else to do for a few minutes and then go ask them what they are doing and what it is or was they were looking. But if the person is obviously intently doing something, for gosh sakes be polite and wait!

The sound of Sandhill Cranes could be heard from all over the area. I was standing on the top of the spillway of the reservoir and all that you could hear were cranes. They were at least a mile off or more, their presence could be felt everywhere. As we progressed closer to the refuge headquarters and the Sand Creek Bay area, the sound got louder and louder. At Sand Creek, there were at least a few thousand Sandhills but no Whooping Cranes. We stayed and spotted the whole area with a scope but never came up with a species that was of great need to document; I made some notes. We moved on.

Next was the shorebird viewing area. There were at least 300 gulls of varying species. Most of them were Franklin's and Ring-billed, they were far enough out of reach that really picking through them for subtleties was near impossible. As we were getting ready to leave the boardwalk the flock did finally get up and move, directly overhead I might add. In typical Franklin fashion they swirled in the blue sky, no more than a hundred and fifty feet away, and then slowly, individually or by small group, the birds rolled out all headed northeast of us to a smaller more sheltered mud/sand flat. Watching the behavior of Franklin Gulls on migration is wonderful, the way they move as a flock is one of my personal favorites. Probably coming in a close second to blackbirds, in my opinion.

After stopping in Cherokee for a few minutes we made our last stop for the morning at the crystal digging area. It didn't take long before we located three large white crane at the north end of the reservoir. Pretty soon after that they took off and got mixed up with a few American White Pelicans, at which point I ended up following the wrong large white birds and lost them. Oh well! All in all, it was great few hours. Sue got some great photos, I got another look at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge and more fuel for the IBA summary we are preparing for National Audubon. We traveled back to the Selman Ranch and later went out for an evening survey. One of my last for the season at the ranch. More on the weekend later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Afield in's only temporary

Due to an unfortunate turn of events my family and I have spent the last few days in Houston. While my wife tended to family business I have been working diligently to keep my girls interests peeked, my mantra, keep the boredom monster from setting in!

We've had two fun trips, one to Galveston where we managed to not get run over by the thousands of bikers who were attending the Texas Biker Rally. We spent the afternoon walking the beach and running from the waves, loads of fun! In between photos of my girls I managed to see a bird or two, even managed to photograph a couple of them. I was surprised by the numerous Piping Plovers running about. Far more than I have seen in one sitting, none of them were banded. There were also numerous Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, and lots of gulls and tern. Unfortunately my Laridae list is shorter than it could have been, no scope, and certainly not enough time to pick through them all. Don't forget I had two little sanderlings of mine own scurrying about! There were loads of Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls, also twenty or so Royal Tern. I was able to spot a Black Skimmer at night while walking the beech in the light of the full moon. Not bad for having two handfuls.

The girls had loads of fun gathering shells, poking dead jellyfish and chasing around dragonflies, which were numerous for November. Of course I'm not real sure they follow the seasons like birds. Maybe someone else can fill me in, but it seems they depend more on the current temperatures than the actual seasons.

Following Galveston we spent the next day checking out Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We only spent a few hours there but had a great time. Our main purpose was to see an American Alligator, after some persistence we finally found one. The girls just loved it, this being a first for both of them. It was a young one, maybe 6 or 7 feet in length and still pretty small in the body. There were loads of birds around, but I didn't spend nearly enough time picking through them. Lots of Marsh and Sedge Wrens, Tri-colored and other common wading heron and egret. Neo-tropical Cormorants were plenty, we also manged a few American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. Maybe someday I'll get down there for a rope drag and get a Black and Yellow Rail or two.

We are getting ready to leave Houston, so it's time for me to go. Stay tuned though I am working on a post about wind development, Lesser Prairie Chickens, and a call to action for Oklahoman's and birders alike....Till then!