Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Few Days Afield

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!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lake Texoma Highlights and Thoughts

Lake Texoma is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to find birds in Oklahoma. I was able to spend the entire day there yesterday and doing so brought back some fond memories of years past on the Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas project. Over the past two years I was able to make only a few quick stops at the most convenient locations on the lake, due to time constraints and schedules.

Yesterday I was able to spend an entire day devoted to it, and it far exceeded my expectations. My day (and count) began at 8am, after having breakfast in Coalgate, Oklahoma just in case anyone showed up to do the Lake Atoka CBC, which no one did. I really didn't have the time to go out and "shake the bushes" for help. I think there were also some weather issues in the north which may have hindered participation. No matter, it was nice to be out and in the silence, something I've needed for some time!
Lake Texoma is Oklahoma's largest conservation storage lake, but it comes up second in surface area to Lake Eufala, therefore not receiving top honors as "Oklahoma's Largest Lake". All of this according to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. I began my survey at the dam and worked my way north and mostly west, finishing near the Hickory Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Visibility was at about 150 yards in the morning, fog lifted in the afternoon and the visibility got up to about a mile in some locations on the largest portions of the lake. Temperatures never really exceeded fifty degrees. My modest total species for the day, 52. There were a few highlights for the day. I had no less than four adult Bald Eagles (blue spots on the map), between the eight locations I stopped at(red dots on the map). Between those locations I counted over eighty Forster's Tern, which don't occur in too many other places in Oklahoma in the winter. Shorebirds were slim but I picked up 8 Least Sandpipers, some Wilson's Snipe, and a Tringa sp. A Merlin late in the day was a welcome and a first for me this season.

Finally the best for last. At 1615 I located two female Long-tailed Ducks at the Hickory Creek Wildlife Management Area. This was only the second time that I had been to this location and each time on subsequent years its proven to be a nice place to find good birds. The area is a little secluded and I think it has some protection from the big winds of the open lake so the water seems to stay relatively calm. The two LTDU's were just off of the southern shore some 200 yards out (and still in Oklahoma boundaries, I might add!). I found them relatively quickly, the facial pattern sticks out pretty well, compared to the rest of our winter waterfowl. I tried digi-scoping them but opted out after much difficulty. Instead I decided to study them for twenty minutes through the scope. They both dove often, more so than the Buffleheads that were floating near by.
Each time I visit Texoma I find something interesting. Unfortunately it is under-birded. Dr. Doug Wood makes visits; I'm sure not as many as he would like, but he gets out there sometimes and usually has a good list when he gets back. Other than that I don't see or hear any reports from the lake. Some do come in from Tishomingo NWR every once in a while, and some of those have been really good, like Fulvous Whistling Duck and Ground Doves in the past! For a few years now I have wanted to take a boat out and really chase some gulls and ducks, but that has yet too happen, maybe next year!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Feeding Time

The Fed-Ex man, no woman, showed up today with a package marked live animals. My daughters and I quickly ripped the package open to find our vial of Drosophila melanogaster , the Fruit Fly! Instead of buying costly bugs at the pet store we decided to purchase a kit to start our own fruit fly cultures. In the long run it will save alot of money, it also allows me to continue to geek out on our new geckos. If we continue to keep up with them, we should have an endless supply of Fruit Fly cuisine! Lets just hope none escape.....momma might not like it!

Oh Yeah the Geckos love 'em, juicy...wingless....easy prey!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fall Break and One More Gecko

Well I can't necessarily call it a break. For a father of two is there really such a thing? Today, obviously was my first day of a four day long fall break. No I didn't spend it birding, although the thought continues to cross my mind. Actually I started working on a presentation I will be giving in a few weeks down at South Padre Island,Texas, at the annual Waterbird Society meeting. Talk about being excited! I'm salivating just thinking of the new birds I may see down there. I am also preparing for a week long visit to my home back in Pennsylvania. I'm not likely to see any life birds there, but can't wait to get back to my old stomping grounds once again. I also have a report to wrap up, as well as some papers I have been wanting to finish, and of course more studying that needs to be done....I'll let you know how all of that goes at the end of the weekend.

The "Turkish" or "Mediterranean"Gecko is still alive and doing well. Having found a home in my daughters aquarium, it seems somewhat content. My wife and I can feel at ease for keeping this wild creature for two reasons....1) it's an invasive species and 2) we have taken to describing the whole scenario as a "science project" Call me cruel if you want, but I'd like to see you explain to a three year old as to why "Joe" has to be let go! Not wanting to leave "Joe" all alone in the much too large enclosure I took a late night post at our front door a few nights ago. About a week after we found the first gecko, my wife saw two more. I thought it was only appropriate to find Joe a friend. So finally after a late night studying and checking the front porch my patience paid off at 1:30 am. Now Joe has a friend! For which we have no name. So here is my challenge, think of a name and email it to me. On Sunday the 19th I will announce the winning name, of course I am the sole judge, and I will be sure to let everyone know who it was that came up with it. Cheers....

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Gecko in Oklahoma.....?

Tonight we decided to go out for Ice Cream and before we got in the car my wife noticed a gecko on our front porch. I know Herps a little, I was actually amazed by them my entire youth and had quite a collection in my bedroom. I think I had a total of seventeen reptiles at one point. Needless to say no else dared to enter my room! That said, I was never previously aware of any Geckos in Oklahoma. After a little searching I finally found a website that had decent photos of the few Geckos that can be found in our region. You know me, I was hoping for some strange southwestern gecko, one that hadn't been reported before in Comanche County, or maybe even Oklahoma. Alas, my notions of grandeur were tossed aside when I located the photo of the non-native Mediterranean Gecko. Sure enough that's what we had found. More on it tomorrow.......

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Success at the Feeder

About a week ago my daughter and I got to work on getting our long last hummingbird feeders hung. We moved into a new house over a year ago, and the final boxes are finally empty! Of course the feeders were in one of those boxes. No matter, this was a great chance for me to do something fun with Walden. She has always been just a little too small to actually mix the sugar solution, just for fear of getting hummingbird food all over the place. Well, she had a great time of mixing (and tasting) the food this time and made the process more fun than it has ever been for me! Unfortunately it was nearly dark before we got the feeder hung so there were no birds that day. I spent the following day at school, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Walden had spotted the first hummingbird at the "new" feeder, while I was gone. It couldn't have worked out any better, makes a father proud! She described it for me with all the excitement you could imagine, and then we watched the feeder together for a while and I finally got a glimpse of one as well. Needless to say we have at least three hummingbirds (all Black-chinned) coming to the feeder every day now.........till the next time!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More from Western Oklahoma

Saying good-bye is hard to do. This weekend I had to say good-bye to my favorite field truck! This was well over due though, and I am once again driving my GMC (blah!). The grey- Toyota had been through two marshbird seasons and one winter bird atlas season. Needless to say it needed a break. The G.M. Sutton Avian Research Center agreed to provide me with this truck over a year ago, my personal vehicle is two-wheel drive, and in my line of work four-wheel drive is required. I haven't figured out what I'm gonna do for future situations in my pickup, but I'm sure something may present itself.

I drove north on Rt-54 through Weatherford and the large wind power farm there. What makes me happy about these windmills is that many of them are on plowed fields for agriculture, not too many are on native prairies like the enormous farm in Harper/Woodward Counties. Some people just never get it! As if our native prairies aren't being eaten up fast enough by encroaching Red cedar. Anyway. There was also a traditional Tee-pee set up very close to the towers, which provided a classic shot of the American prairie!

I also managed to check a few locations on this quest to recover my long lost vehicle. Making time to stop and check Doby Springs, a few playa lakes in northern Laverne, as well as a few ponds. Doby Springs was pretty slow in the bird category, but it provided some nice butterflies and skippers including Monarch (left), Dun Skipper (below), Checkered White, and a lifer Western Pygmy-Blue (below right). The woodpeckers were out and about, and a surprise Philadelphia Vireo presented a great opportunity for study, no photo though.

A spring fed pond north of Laverne produced the most birds of the trip. It was chocked full of dabbling ducks, American Avocets, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as a myriad of other flying friends. I had a good conversation with a landowner that I know, discussing the algal bloom in the pond. If you look closely in the avocet photo you will notice a deep green tone to the water. A light juvenile Swainson's Hawk flew over, after it became fed up with my presence. On the way home I stopped at Canton reservoir and found an adult Sabine's Gull a few hundred meters out in the water! I chased it for a while trying to get a better view but never located it again before the sun went down. I wouldn't even mention the bird if I wasn't completely sure that it was there. Hopefully someone else can confirm again today or tomorrow. I won't be able to get back up there. I watched the sunset over the lake and then headed home,
satisfied that I had finally taken care of the trucks and caught a few good species along the way. Another beautiful weekend in western Oklahoma!.....Cheers

Monday, September 15, 2008


It really is a great privilege to be bestowed the OKie-Birder-of-the-Month for September 2008 That is considering I'm an infiltrating! The only regret I have about this whole thing is the photo I gave Cindy and Phil, jeez it looks liked I crawled out of the backwoods of Pennsyltucky! Yep, that was me at the last meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society/Association of Field Ornithologist meeting in Mobile, Alabama. Oh well!

Just in case you missed my report from the meeting
I was really surprised by all of this when Cindy contacted me, and certainly honored after sifting through some of the past recipients. I've met a good many of those past honorees and a few like Berlin Heck, John Sterling, and Kurt Meisenzahl were the first to invite me out "birding" in Southwest Oklahoma for a day. You should have heard Berlin when he saw the little pair of Bushnells I was carrying at the time. Hey what can I say, I was a broke ,soon to be father, college student....wait a second, nothings changed! Well.....all except for my equipment.

But hey, isn't that what it's all about?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quick trip to the Wichita's

After an exam yesterday in Zoology, the first of the year for me, I decided to make a break for some calm and quiet. I walked Burma road in the Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of finding some migrants, unfortunately there were none to be found. I still had a good time though. I came up with three Black-capped Vireo's still on territory and calling. This caught me by surprise because I had figured they were out of here by now. When I got home I checked the late date in Jack Tyler's (2005) book and found that the 20th of September was the latest report for them, but the average late date he reports is the 9th of September. So I remained satisfied with naming them the birds of the day. The remainder of birds were mostly summer breeders still hanging about. The butterflies were really out and about and I came up with a few species, I'm still just learning these guys so I missed more than I identified. It was overcast and temperatures were mild, elk were bugling all over, it was nice day to be out.
The Birds

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Pied-billed Grebe,

Red-tailed Hawk, Bewick's Wren, Killdeer,

White-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch,

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Tufted Titmouse,

Carolina Chickadee, Rock Wren,

Northern Cardinal, Canyon Wren,

Downy Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron,

Wood Duck, Red-headed Woodpecker,

Barred Owl, Canada Goose,

The Butterflies

Pipevine Swallowtail


American Snout

Goatweed Leafwing

Hackberry Emperor

Cloudless Sulphur

Monday, September 8, 2008

Finally Back!

Wow! I know, I know it's been a while. A friend gave me some advice a while ago (Doc Revels, she probably doesn't remember telling me this, what with old-age kickin' in!), it was to not let the blog take precedence in my life. Allow it ebb and flow that way I keep myself up to-date with my work. I'm finally getting semi-caught up and am taking the opportunity to fill everybody in on my travels of late. Okay so I'm not really caught up at all, but I'll never get anything posted if I wait any longer!

Last weekend I took the opportunity to head to my favorite portions of Oklahoma, the northwest and panhandle. My goals; fix my personal truck that has been sitting in Laverne for a year, visit a few marshes and look for new ones to add in far western Oklahoma for next year's marshbird season, and visit the Selman Ranch IBA and Cimarron Bluffs WMA to get data on Lesser Prairie Chicken fence marking. Goals in place I moved out and arrived in Laverne Saturday mid-afternoon.

My truck wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind when I got there. Actually it was to go and check a few marshes and playas before the sun went down. I quickly scoured the Laverne lagoons which usually provides something (the best being a Western Grebe a few years back), and then moved on to a slough just east of Laverne. For some reason both locations were pretty slow and uneventful, not one to give up so easily I headed north. Precisely seven miles north to a small pond (the same pond that I found American Avocets nesting at this year...can you say new county record!). This little hot spot gave me plenty to look at, including Wilson's Phalaropes, Black Tern, numerous species of duck, both species of Yellowlegs, some Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers and a few other odds and ends, much better than the last two stops. Satisfied I headed back to Laverne where I dined at the local pub ("The Rusty Bucket") and then found myself slipping into my sleeping bag at the Prairie Chicken station for some much needed rest!

The morning came around and I ignored it for a short time, and then got busy getting my truck running. It was actually much better off than I had figured. A tank of new gas, some gasoline additive, air in the tires, and a quick jump and the old beast was running again. Not bad considering it hadn't been started in at least a year! Well it was almost a winning situation, I had forgotten to get my tags renewed, so a little bummed I moved on, with nothing but birds and marshes on my mind. Onward and West to the panhandle I traveled.

I spent a great deal of time checking possible marsh locations on the map, mostly in Texas and Cimarron Counties, I have a pretty good handle on the spots in Beaver County. Fortunately many of the playas are full at the moment so of course I couldn't pass those by. I still have yet to find a rail in a playa or bittern for that would probably make a pretty good study for some Master's student though. Even the very large playas were full. I got fooled into watching a Stilt Sandpiper for a while, thinking for a moment that it could have been a Curlew Sandpiper but good light finally put that quest to rest. Probably my best playa bird were two dowitchers, one a good looking Short-billed still in breeding plumage, very worn, but the golden tones along the scapulars and wings were a sure thing, the second bird never moved and had it's head resting along it's back so I never felt good about a positive on it.

White-faced Ibis were abundant my total for Texas Co. was 13, Cimarron held approximately 27+ that I know of and judging by the amount of water there were probably many more scattered throughout the county. I spent the evening in Kenton after I had received a phone call from Berlin Heck telling me about a Calliope, and Rufous Hummingbirds at a feeder, both good birds for the state. I stayed at the hitching post, which gave me a good opportunity to follow a semi-dry stream bed for a couple of miles. There were plenty of cattails but I'm not sure that it was dense enough cover. Birds were slow around the mesa and my efforts to find really suitable habitat around northern Cimarron county fizzled out, which means I probably won't survey there next year.

Monday morning after a nice breakfast I started my way back to Lawton but not before I got a call from Steve Metz, Kim Wade, and Dan Robinson who were checking playas east of Boise City, I joined them for a couple visits and picked up my lifer Western Wood-Pewee at a small abandoned farmstead turned fallout zone. After that I put my foot down on the gas, arrived at the Selman Ranch three hours later, got my fence marking data, checked out the new Cimarron Bluffs WMA for a short while and then got back to Lawton at 1am. Just in time to get enough sleep for Chemistry class at 8 am!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Blues Heron Express

No these guys aren't blue herons, they're Blues Herons. Why you ask, well they live in the backyard of some longtime friends of mine. Danny and Felicia Dupree. Some folks from the Lawton Area may have heard of Danny's band the Brothers Dupree, a get down and dirty blues/jazz band. Honestly these guys are by far the best blues/jazz group that I have heard in Oklahoma. Actually I've seen a fair amount of blues shows, mostly on the east coast, these guys would definitely be tops over there as well!
Just as I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I took photos of the adults, this is the second time they have nested in the Dupree's backyard. Come to find out it is most likely the third. Yellow-crowned Night Herons typically prefer shady swamps or forested areas near water ( finally got to use this photo from three years ago!), I suppose an older portion of town with mature trees and a decent amount of shade works as well. This particular family of heron is nesting about thirty five to forty feet high in a Pecan Tree. They chose the exact same branch to nest as they did last year, fortunately in plain view which allows for decent photo opportunities. There is also a second nest positioned just above and about fifteen feet to the right of the active nest. Until recently everyone thought it had been abandoned, but just a few days ago we noticed new vegetation in it and a couple of eggs that had fallen out of the nest and had landed on the ground just below.

The five young of varying ages are all very active, and walk about the large branches. The more mature ones of the group usually venture a little further and forage along the main branches. Upon close investigation using a field scope it looked as though all primary feathers on the more mature birds were complete, and correspondingly these individuals are constantly flapping and stretching, probably working up to the moment of their first flight (hope I'm there). Well that's it for now, I'll keep everyone informed of how things turn out and hey, if you're in Lawton on a good weekend you should look for the Brothers Dupree they won't disappoint!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gallinule, Bitterns, and Moorehens Oh My! Gallinules, Bitterns, and Moorhens Oh My......

My surveys for the Slough didn't really begin until Monday (9th) morning, and then they were abruptly held up by torrential downpours in the evening. The totals in Broken Bow were 3+; I think the Red Slough got a little over an inch. Beck base camp was nearly torn to shreds by high winds. Even though my tent is pretty much expedition weight, it was only tied down with a few strings; had it been on the ground, I would have been alright. The winds were able to get under the floor and nearly turn it into a kite. Had David A. not had his knife handy, I would probably still be picking up the pieces in the marsh! Needless to say I spent the night at the Microtel in Broken Bow. A friend made a comment about hippies never sleeping in hotels, I feel good in saying this was a first in two field seasons of marshbird surveys. I mean I even got to take a shower, no late night dips in the slough for me.

After a good night's sleep, I hit the Slough Tuesday morning for a survey route that runs past Bittern Lake on the north side. My first broadcast point held three King Rails, the second point three more (and I could still hear the others from the last point); the remaining points produced Purple Gallinules, Common Moorehens, four American Bitterns, and a handful of Least Bitterns (click on the picture below and try to find the Least Bittern that is hidden!). It's not easy keeping track of all those birds in such a small area, trying to make sure you don't count the same bird twice, and deciding whether or not the American Bitttern that flew past you is the same from five minutes ago, possibly returning to or from the nest with some goodies for its little ones.
After the route I headed over to another location to check on some Virginia Rails that I had located on the previous visit. I had two associating adults, unfortunately I wasn't able to locate them again. Although I feel pretty confident that these guys bred at the Slough, I will probably have to wait another season before I get some solid evidence like a nest. But you never know, maybe we will see some young down there this year. After the check-up, I headed to Pintail lake for a lengthy (and tiring) session of nest searching. My goal was to map as many nests, and get egg counts when possible, for the entire lake.

Four hours later, and multiple trips back and forth across the lake, produced a total of four nests. Three with eggs and one which I came across while the female was building it. She was just getting to the point where the nest was starting to rise out of the water. The three active nests held 12, 10, and 9 eggs respectively, all of which were Common Moorehens. Only a single active nest for Pied-billed Grebe was located, unlike when I checked the lake two weeks prior, where only four grebe nests were found.

Pintail Lake is shaped much like a square; so in order to cover as much of the lake as possible, I criss-crossed its entire length. Not not just once, but enough times to exhaust myself. I tried to keep the intervals at aproximately 75 Meters, anything past that and I couldn't feel comfortable with saying that I found more nests than I missed. There are a few locations in the interior portion of the lake where I can't really get to in my canoe; there are so many downed trees and large, live willows that I end up getting pinned in, and waste lots of time retracing my steps. I have yet to find any nests in this portion of the lake, and that includes Pied-billed Grebes. David Arbour and I spoke about this a little, and we both suspect that close proximatey to trees and perching sites allows for higher predation rates (pure speculation of course).

Upon returning to my truck, I found a yellow slip of paper wedged into the door, surely not a ticket? No, a note from David asking me to check out a nest that Herschel Raney and he had located. His description was: two small white eggs, unmarked, postitioned in a willow treee about a foot off of the water. Instantly Least Bittern came to mind, I quickly hopped in the truck and drove to the location of the nest. As soon as I approached, a female Least Bittern flew out of the nest. I was right! I waded out about waste deep and took a few photos of the nest (yes, there is a nest in the photo on the left), and while I was there the female came flying around again only about ten feet from my head! How exciting! A few minutes later, I left the nest and then located a male foraging along the edge of a large patch of rushes (which is the bird in the first photo, if you can find him!). Soon after the excitement, I met up with David and Herschel and then proceeded to go to Pappa Poblano's for a nice late lunch/early dinner with David. Five hours later I was home, cleaning the kitchen and putting my girls to sleep, whew what a day!

*****One note this is all part of a research project I am working on, please do not try to relocate any of these nests that are mentioned in this blog. When I'm out I do my best to keep from disturbing the birds as much as possible, please practice restraint.....! Not that I think anyone would actually do such a thing.******

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moore from the Slough!

Another night at the Red Slough, fortunately this evening I am sharing the deck and a late evening meal with a green tree frog. I am munching on some almonds and raisins; the frog, an assortment of mayflies, multi-colored beetles, and spiders. We both agree that it couldn’t get much better. There’s a nice light breeze and the mosquitoes aren’t much of a bother.

It has been a very long two days. Yesterday was spent helping the Nickel Preserve do its annual breeding bird count; it’s always a treat to see my good friend Doc Revels, who helps with organizing it. This was my first visit to the preserve and I enjoyed it thoroughly (except for a nasty message from a disgruntled bird watcher when I got a chance to check my email!), even though I had managed to get only three hours of sleep the night before (no I was not partying!). Basically, just a late night drive followed by uncomfortable sleeping arrangements in the cab of the pickup. I met up with Jean and Martin B. and rode with them to the preserve. The count included a few highlights such as a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, a Blue-winged Warbler, and a very nice look at a Snowy Egret foraging in a small woodland stream. I am used to seeing them in large water impoundments or man made wetlands; it was a nice break to see one in truly natural habitat, and me without a charged camera…..duh! Following the count we traveled back to Tulsa and had a lengthy Oklahoma Important Bird Area meeting until around 12:30 ‘ish, and then finally a good nights sleep.

The drive from Tulsa to the Slough was long and uneventful, except for a biker gang that happened to be taking a break at a rest stop. I played the ever watchful observer, and wondered if I could ever be that much of a bad-ass. I mean these guys weren’t your latte’ drinking weekend warrior bikers, they were serious and just their presence demanded attention. Silently I moved on, as if watching an American Bittern foraging for its early morning meal, hoping not to disturb. Onward to the Slough I pushed.
Upon arriving I made the turn onto the road that takes you past Otter Lake, and then over to Pintail and Lotus Lakes, the site of Beck Base-camp for the next couple of days. The first bird or at least my first observation was of a Great-horned Owl cruising past the truck and over unit 37, all the while being mobbed by very unhappy Red-winged Blackbirds. It found a perch in a Willow tree; I snapped a shot and then moved on. The rest of the evening was spent nest searching for about an hour and a half, most of which took place in the dark. I located a single Common Moorhen nest with nine eggs on Lotus Lake (not the same nest from my last visit, this was a few hundred yards further down the levee to the south). I was also able to take a photo of a Purple Gallinule on Pintail Lake before the sun set.
Looking for nests in the dark is not exactly easy. It can be a little unnerving when ever there are two big, orange gator eyes staring at you from less than a hundred yards away in the dark. I would check his position ever five minutes or so, I think it was as wary as I was because it eventually moved out of sight. You know all those years of watching scary movies about attacking gators and sharks doesn’t help you feel at ease in the dark on open water in gator country. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to locate any nests on Bittern Lake, so my tally stayed at one for the evening after having located a Moorhen nest on Lotus Lake with 9 eggs.

My evening companion has shown back up, presumably after a short hunt on the backside of my tent. A bit of a unnatural setting for the guy, but I think he has been pretty successful with his novel approach and use of a man made structure as hunting grounds. That’s it for now, on to bed.

Just a note, this was written at the Slough, I couldn't find any oppurtunity to post it until now. The next post should be very interesting including many shots of various marshbird nest and some fun stories to go along..stay tuned

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Out of My Territory but Still Interesting

I had this one whittled down to White Checkered or Common Checkered Skipper, thanks to everyone who filled me in on it. It is a Common. I am still new to butterflies, but I felt there was to much white on the FW to be a Common. Shows what I know.

An Egg Mystery

This egg was one of three, all of which were likely from the same species. They measured 46-48 mm, were off white to buff white in color, non-glossy, and had no speckling of any sort. Duck species that were present were Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, also present was an Eared Grebe. I am leaning torwards Blue-winged. I also suspect that they are infertile, which may explain them being layed randomly along the mudflat in three distant locations, with no nest in sight. Interesting, feel free to leave some remarks or comments. Good Luck!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Day in My Favorite Region

My first experience in the NW/Panhandle region of Oklahoma began a few years ago working on the Sutton Center's Lesser Prairie Chicken project. From that moment I pretty much fell in love with the region. I just love the smell of Sandsage on a cool morning with a light breeze. But, before I go and get all poetic about it, I'll get to the story. I spent the evening last night driving to Beaver County, and finally arrived at the Cimarron River at about 1 am, put the tent up, blew up my air mattress and snuggled down to some light reading. Bent's Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds, specifically the section on Black Rails, preparing myself mentally for the morning.

A few hours of sleep (about 4) and I was up and making my way to the first calling point. The morning progressed and unfortunately no calling Black Rails. I didn't let that get me to dissapointed, the marsh was drier than I have seen in past years and sometimes birds don't always do what you expect. Still I managed to located a pair of Virginia Rails, and a single Least Bittern, and that is where the story turns almost comical.

I had finished my survey and was walking back to the location where the Virginia Rails were detected, in hopes of securing hard evidence for breeding. I like to confirm breeding in every county with a nest, and have still manged to miss a Viriginia Rails (VIRA) in Beaver County. The presence of associating adults is pretty much a sure thing for breeding VIRA evidence however, this is not always adequate for record keepers. While walking back to that location I heard a familiar call, but just one. I stopped and listened and failed to hear anything else, but felt sure that a Least Bittern was lurking about somewhere. I walked around a small pond and caught a glimpse of something moving, sure enough there it was, a single Least Bittern stalking along the edge pf the pond. Finally something exciting for the morning, nearly making up for the missing Black Rails!

It was still early in the morning and cool, so I decided to do a little nest searching. I placed my gear on the ground and headed into the marsh with my binoculars and camera. I worked my way to the edge of the pond where I saw the bittern, and that's were things began to get a little messy. Before I knew it I was over knee deep in water, I took another step trying to get myself released from the muck on the bottom, and then it dropped off a little more. There I was standing nearly chest deep in water with the muck up to my knees keeping me from moving any further. When I looked down my Nikon Monarch's were completely submerged and my camera only an inch away from the end of its existence. I took them off my neck and held them high and proceeded to use my other hand to pry my legs out of the bottom of the pond. Five minutes later I worked myself out, and managed to take a picture while being only knee deep. My binoculars made it through the ordeal, and never fogged up (thank goodness!). I searched for a nest for another hour but never located anything. I also missed out on the VIRA's, but hey still a good and exciting morning.

After that I took the next few hours to check a few of my favorite spots in the region, including a small pond north of Laverne in Harper County. Much to my surprise there were four American Avocets hanging about. Using my scope I spotted a single bird sitting on what appeared to be a nest. After getting permission to enter the private property I walked out to confirm and was pleased to find it with three eggs. I left quietly and waited a hundred yards away and watched the female return and settle down.

Even without the presence of Black Rails I was pleased with the morning. I have a little reading to do, but from some early conversations with Dan R. at the Sutton Center the Avocets seem to represent a first breeding record for Harper County. The Least Bittern may represent a first record for the Panhandle but that requires some checking. Well for now that's about it.......till next time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Red Slough..part two

Even though I am out concentrating efforts on marshbirds (bitterns and rails, ect.), I do take note of other birds that I see while I'm out, and I picked up a few good species while out there. Take these two Willets (photo directly left) that were hanging around on Sunday, they spent most of the day on the Otter Lake levee. Another interesting species on Otter Lake were the Neotropical Cormorants. Its always fun to see a species like this, you get nearly sick of seeing there cousins the Double-crested Cormorant, so getting some good looks at three individuals of the former species is always fun. Even better getting to see both species together, which provided a nice photo as well as a good chance to compare the two (the smaller bird on the right is the Neotropic).
I suppose I should mention the marshbirds, since that was my purpose for the trip. Lets
just say there were plenty to go around. Least Bitterns are pleantiful there, and if you need this bird for your life list this is the place to pick them up. I had over twenty throughout my four day stay. Most of them I heard, but I did get to see about eight or so, either cruising low over the marsh, or making a quick exit when I spooked one. This is by far the most I have seen anywhere. I didn't really look for a nest, I will probably do that the net time I visit. A few other species were the American Bitterns, a couple of Soras, and the pair of Virginia Rails that I mentioned in my last post.

As mentioned before there were also Common Moorhens around (photo on the right). What I forgot to mention were the Purple Gallinules, which already have a nest which David A. had located well before my arrival. This is the only place in the state where this bird is known to occur, I think it's likely that there a marshes that are close to the slough that probably hold a few individuals, but these are all on private property. I wish I
had a good photo of these guys, I'll have to work on that, they really are in impressive species.
So it was a really great trip, I picked up a couple Oklahoma birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Willow Flycatchers. I will be heading back there in a couple weeks and will have to find some nests and try to get better photos, to share with everyone. So until the next to ya' later.
Oh, don't forget you can click on the pictures for a larger view!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marshbird Surveys at the Red Slough...part one

So I have been at the Red Slough in McCurtain COunty Oklahoma for 4 days, which is why I haven't posted anything. Unfortunately the accomodations at Beck Basecamp were laking an electric plug and internet service(see photo). They weren't short on bugs at night or birds during the day though. Actually the observasation platform was a great place to camp, and it kept me up and away from those ferocious little fire ants. Unfortunately it's a place that is not open to public camping. I was given special permission to camp there while doing my surveys. But don't let that stop you from going to check this place out. The more time I spend there, the more I like it. So for those of you that don't know. McCuratain County, Oklahoma is down in the far south-eastern corner of the state, it shares a border with both Texas, and Arkansas. Its far enough in to the "deep south" that it actually has alligators!

Alligators were constantly on my mind this weekend, but I'll save that for later. Beck basecamp was actually very comfortable and enjoyable. Fortunately it was a beautiful weekend and I slept without the rainfly on my tent, which was nice when viewing the stars, and catching a soft southern breeze. But, one evening it did start to drizzle, which is why the rainfly ended up on the tent by the end of the weekend. Oh, well. I enjoyed the view and the breeze while it lasted. Sounded nice though didn't.

My surveys are in the morning and evening, so a couple of the days I spent a few hours sitting and counting birds on the two lakes that I was camping between, Pintail and Lotus. This was actually also very productive in that I gathered a great deal of information and better uunderstanding on the movements of the Common Moorhens and American Coots, and yes these are rails also, between the two lakes. So during my time hanging at my own personal deck party I did see some really fun birds. Highlights from those day time counts included approximately 300+ Black Terns all feeding on Lotus Lake. They would skim around the surface picking up midges and other things I suspect. After a while they would all start circling skyward, clumping into one large drifting dark cloud of beauty. Oh, it was wonderful. Even better when I was out searching for nests on the lakes in my canoe and I found myself among the mass of feeding individuals, now that was cool!

Yes I did try to get photos of these guys while in my canoe, unfortunately I am not a photographer. Other fun birds where Anhingas, Neotropical Cormorants, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and the occasional Least Bittern either heard or seen to the east of my camp in one of the units packed solid with Spike Rush. On the story goes!

Saturday while searching for nests on Pintail I felt like getting some sun, so off came the t-shirt. Bad Idea! Ouch, can you say nasty sunburn. Yeah I know.....sun screen was invented for a purpose. Mom I know you are reading this, and I can picture you saying exactly that at this moment! Sunburn aside it was a productive couple hours, unfortuntaly I only located a couple of Pied-billed Grebe nests (photo on the left), which would total six by the end of the weekend. This is no big deal. They are actually pretty easy to spot, a floating mass of vegetation that sometimes resembles a nest. The only rail nest that I actually got a good look at was this Common Moorhen (right photo) nest that David Arbour pointed out to me. He had located it a few days prior. If you look at the eggs, you can see how different they are from the Pied-billed Grebe, which has no spotting, and is a completely different color, unless the egg has been stained by the wet vegetation in the nest (so the spots you see on the left are nothing but staining or pieces of dried vegetation, you can see the difference when compairing the two photos). Good things to know when you're out looking for specific species, and their nests.

Nests were on my mind alot this weekend. There are a couple of species that have never been found nesting in McCurtain County or the Red Slough. Hopefully I will be able to locate them and add to the knowledge of these species ranges. One such species is the Virginia Rail. I did find two adults birds, that were associating with one another. David and I looked for a nest for a little while but came up empty. I'll be back down in a week or two and should be able to locate the nest then...hopefully. David described our search as looking for a needle in haystack, so that gives you some idea as to the difficulty. Another rail that I am looking for nests for is the American Coot. I know that sounds crazy, but there has never been a confirmed nest at the Red Slough. I searched in vain for a while, but never found one. This maybe due to the fact that the vegetation in the lakes is still very short. Reference books say they like alot of cover to conceal their nest, right now the Slough doesn't have that much of it in their lake units. But soon enough they will, and then look out.

Well I've rambled on enough I suspose. I'm home and have errands to get to. I'll get some more of the story posted later. Bye for now.