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!