Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Selman Ranch, birding, bugging and herping...oh my!

I am preparing to hit the South-east region of Oklahoma for yet another adventure with the Bachman's Sparrow. Before I set out, and after a short honey-do list I decided to put down a little something about my visit to NW Oklahoma over the weekend. I spent 3.5 days doing morning surveys, gathering fence work data (for future fence marking volunteer events) and then splitting my time trying to document the breeding species of birds on the Selman Ranch and working to beef up the county list of Odonata for Harper County, before a certain frontiersman from McCurtain County comes up and plunders the place!
Great-crested Flycatchers are common on the ranch, their cousin the Ash-throated Flycatcher not so much, I have only located them once in the past five years.

The days are long and the summer heat has been turned on in the high plains of Oklahoma. The kind of days when you wake before the sun, put a good morning in, take a break and then wait for the cool evening to arrive before embarking on another adventure. Unless of course you like the punishment of an unforgiving no-mans land mid-day burn-athon. It depends on my attitude as to whether or not I approach something like that!

The birds were a little slow, most of the migrants have pushed through the area and now the locals are paired up and nesting. The Selman Ranch is home to numerous species that show up on the National Audubon Society's Watch List, which is exactly why it is considered an Important Bird Area. It was designated as such on the state level, and being nominated on the international level because of the presence of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (of course, and shame on you if you haven't kept up enough to know that fact!), but what people may not know is that 14,000 acres ranch boasts a fairly large population of the Northern Bobwhite. The quail were out in full force, just about every stop you made in the ranch you could hear three to four in the local area calling back and forth. Red-headed Woodpeckers and Painted Buntings, both global species of conservation concern, are also present though not in great numbers; but, common enough that you're sure to find at least one or two a day. I didn't spend much time on the Buffalo Creek Salt Flat, but if you need another example of how significant this ranch is you can spend the morning or evening looking at the local breeding populations of Least Tern and Snowy Plover (former being federally endangered, the latter a state listed threatened species). If you want to know more about visiting the Selman Ranch just visit the website by following this link.

As I ramble around on the ranch while looking for birds I tend to gather fence marking data and also manage to get distracted now and then on the occasional dragon or damselfly, okay more than just now and then admittedly. There is just so much beauty to behold while in the field I pretty much allow myself to be swallowed up whole by the experience, full immersion and really I wouldn't have it any other way. Just get blown away by it all, flowers, birds, bugs, reptiles; you name it and my curiosity gets the best of me

Sue Selman (seen laying about in the photo below, okay she was actually getting some wonderful macro photos of a very photogenic Texas Horned Lizard) and I spent one particularly fine morning in the marshes of Sleeping Bear Creek, hopeful to find some kind, any kind of marshbird. However we were unsuccessful in our hunt, but I think the both of us made up for it with taking photos of common bird species, damsels and dragons and the numerous spiders which seemed to be everywhere. We moved on through the ranch stopping at different locations for the occasional bird, snake or whatever else needed some type of investigation. I managed to locate three Texas Horned Lizards much to my excitement, including one little fella no larger than my big thumb.
A very tiny, and most likely unhappy Texas Horned Lizard; I was gentle with it though!A particularly photogenic individual, i think I was about three inches from it at this point.

Dung Beetle....
Mites on the abdomen of a Blue-ringed Dancer

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis- Six-lined Racerunner
One last short bit, the Odonata were a good deal of fun. I managed to add three new species to the Harper County list. The opening photo of the post was of a pair of Desert Forktails (Ischnura barberi), one of the only species I located along the Buffalo Creek Salt Flats, the others consisted primarily of Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civile). Above is the documentation photo for a Plains Clubtail (Gomphus externus), I found this female along Buffalo Creek as well, a little further west and not along the salt flat. The final addition to the county record list was a Sulphur-tipped Clubtail, I chose not to add the photo but it's a good looking bug! Well, onto the next adventure. Next time around, more stories from SE Oklahoma and the Bachman's Sparrow Overdrive show!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Dash of the East

I stopped chasing rare birds almost two years ago. Unless the adventure involves "work" I don't take the time to go look or chase a species that I haven't seen, although that does not mean I have an issue with anyone else doing it. Time doesn't allow me that treat any longer and honestly I would feel too guilty about using the resources to do so, call me crazy! But I am okay with it, I have plenty of time ahead of me and the wonderful journeys that will come with it. The Bachman's Sparrow, named so by John James Audubon a grandfather of mine ( I can claim as many grandfathers as I like!), has been a bird that I have not had the fortunate opportunity to observe. Just like the Greater Prairie Grouse (I support the effort for changing the nomenclature for the Prairie Chicken species of the Great Plains), I knew at some point in my life it would come to me, time on my side sure enough the opportunity presented itself.
This weekend I found myself in SE Oklahoma, amongst the mountains of the Ouachita National Forest and hills of the Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area. My first stop was Pushmataha WMA, this site is being nominated as a Globally Important Bird Area for the state of Oklahoma. Now that I have actually seen the place and taken a few photos, I finally feel like I can finish the packet for it! It is being nominated because of the Bachman's Sparrow (below, a somewhat grainy photo from Friday) population that is present at the site; this is a species that sits on the National Audubon Society's Watch-list.The first thing I learned about Bachman's Sparrows...if you don't hear the first call note, which is a clear single extended whistle, the warbling or trilling notes that follows can be easily confused for a Pine Warbler maybe even a Chipping Sparrow if you're not careful. It took my ears a little longer than normal to get it straight, but soon enough I was tuned in and chasing birds through the fields hoping to get a look, which I did.
A bird of open Pine/Oak Savannas, the species now relies on modern habitat management practices, which replace the practices of Native Americans as well as unchallenged fires started by lightning strikes; there is evidence of such practices, if you will take notice, in the above photo where the charred bark from a recent controlled burn can be seen. I was impressed with the WMA, with a total acreage of over 19,000 it's pretty significant. Not only that but it was pretty obvious that the manager took his job seriously and did a fantastic job of keeping the roads, campsites and in general the area free of litter; which is no easy task. Speaking of litter, Kevin whoever you are I found your Styrofoam cup and am not pleased at all, you can do better! I can't even imagine how much work they have to do in order to keep that understory from overgrowing every few years and suitable for the sparrows, good work guys!

At least eleven Bachman's Sparrows and a few Brown-headed Nuthatches later, and feeling pretty comfortable with the call and the species I moved further east and into the Ouachita National Forest. By the time I got to McCurtain County it was getting pretty late in the afternoon so I called it a day. Having waken at 4:30, driven a few hundred miles, hit the field for numerous hot hours and then hitting the road again I was pretty much wore down. I bunked down, woke the next morning and hit an area south of the Broken Bow Reservoir dam. It was a nice cool morning, fisherman were out in full force taking advantage of the cool water and the trout that could be found in its pools and eddies. A few hours of hiking produced no Bachman's Sparrows, although I never did find what could be considered appropriate habitat. However there were plenty of Pine Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, a few Louisiana Waterthrushes and of course the numerous Carolina Chickadees, Wrens, Tufted-Titmice and Norther Parula. Moving on and further north I spent the rest of the day surveying the National Forest roads for appropriate habitat, which I found, and Bachman's Sparrows which I did not find. Needing to get back home, I rolled on back west and landed at home Sunday morning. That's about it for now, got things to do, reports to right and paperwork to finish. Till' next time and while you're waiting how about some more photos from the adventure!

(male Orchard Oriole, Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area)

(the Mountain Fork of the Little River, mist rising in the morning)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just Captions

Tyrannus forficatus, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nest
Abaeis nicippe, Sleepy Orange

Castilleja sp., Indian Paintbrush
Icterus spurius, Orchard Oriole (female)
Cupido comyntas, Eastern Tailed Blue

Libellula pulchella, Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Ischnura hastata, Citrine Forktail
Lestes disjunctus, Common Spreadwing
Stryman melinus, Gray Hairstreak

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Texas County Highlights

Back in the field and will be for the next three months. Currently I'm in Texas County, I've spent the last few days participating in prairie chicken surveys in the morning and then poking about taking a look at different sites and soaking up the western species and the lone migrant here and there. The high-plains provide a nice place to gather ones energy, rejuvenate and heal; so, I've been taking some time for that as well.

Maybe there should be a black and white theme to this post. Between the Black-billed Magpie (above) and the Lark Buntings(below left) flitting about it, it would seem appropriate. The Magpie would be my first in Oklahoma, and the nest (right) it was using would also be a first. I climbed well into the tree, but couldn't find footing to get close enough to tell whether or not there were any young or eggs.
When things with birds are slow I tend to turn towards smaller objects of fascination. It is still a little cool so the pickings are slim, but I did find a few little beauties here and there. There were two species of dragonfly about, Variegated Meadowhawks (below and to the right of the breeding plumage Bonaparte's Gull) and Common Green Darners. Damselflies were also slim pickings but I did manage to find three species, after much digging about. Below are two examples of the first Texas County record of Eastern Forktail, adult male (below) and an immature female (below the adult male).

The multiple Eastern Forktails were located at the spillway of Optima "lake". The second Texas county record would come from Schultz Wildlife Management Area. There were plenty of Familiar Bluets and Eastern Forktails around, but the Fragile Forktail (adult male below) was by far my favorite catch (bugs that is) for the past few days. My first visit to the Schultz WMA was a lot of fun. There is a spring fed stream which provides plenty of cover for dragon/damsel flies, the passerines liked it too.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were out in full force with the Audubon's race outnumbering the Myrtle's and intergrades by about 2:1. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were pretty numerous, as well as Ash-throated Flycatchers, Wilson's Warblers and Lincoln's Sparrow. The best bird of the trip, well they are all good if you ask me, would definitely be an Olive-sided Flycatcher (last three photos).

Have a look at the photos and feel free to leave a comment...don't forget you can click on them to enlarge the view.