Sunday, October 10, 2010

Red-necked Phalarope

Well, on my way to the Selman Ranch for some fence work and conversations over mesquite smoked ribs and home made, well home made everything, I managed to swing by an alkaline pond that has provided numerous good birds over the years.  It is extremely dry in Harper County at the moment and the pond I visited has never been as shallow as what it was on Friday evening.  Usually there are at least a few birds around its shores and flitting about here and there. However, that was not the case this day.  There was a single bird on the water though, and much to my excitement it was a Red-necked Phalarope.
It took wading out a hundred yards in two and a half feet of mud to get a few good photos but it was certainly worth it.  The bird was extremely patient, it allowed me to approach as close as 15 feet away and never flew.  I watched and recorded it feeding for around twenty minutes and then turned my attention to wading back to the car and figuring out how to keep the inside of the vehicle clean.  I've included a few of the best photos, enjoy!

The celebratory after photo, and yes those are bare feet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There's Still More Work to be Done!

So hear is the meat of the situation! The second weekend of October, the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program with support from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Sutton Avian Research Center, TogetherGreen, SIA the Comanche Nation Ethno-ornithological Initiative, The Selman Ranch LLC, the Oklahoma Audubon Council, and the Tulsa Audubon Society.......surely I'm forgetting someone, will be holding a fence work weekend at the Selman Ranch IBA and other properties nearby.  We will meet at the Selman Ranch starting on Friday the 8th of October in the evening. Work will begin on Saturday morning, the 9th and will wrap up on the 10th.  Volunteers are welcome to show up through out the weekend, staying the entire weekend is highly recommended.  I will post directions to the event in the near future and will accept questions via email,  phone calls, facebook...ect...The weekend will not be limited to just work, there is always plenty of time for wildlife watching, good conversations, and a lot of fun.  Food details are being worked out and there will be more information coming out about that in the future. If you can't attend but still would like to contribute, through a donation to the Tulsa Audubon Society you can help pay for food, beverages or help off- set other costs such as lodging compensation for the Selman Ranch ect. Just contact me or John Kennington ( for more information on that.

So while you consider the event let me take you on a short trip to the prairie!

The thermometer has begun its decent into the fall and young, male prairie chickens are beginning to gather at the lekking grounds for a chance to work on next spring’s repertoire of ritual song and dance. The annual migration is well on its way as well, and every once in a while the sound of an overhead Upland Sandpiper charms your senses. As you continue to walk along the fence line, every few moments you are reminded by subtle beauty, the reason you have come to western, Oklahoma. Sure your taking some time out of your day to make a few miles of fence safe for a local population of threatened game birds, but you also realize that quiet moments like the one you are in now are truly what life is about.

A week and a half ago I spent some time in the Texas panhandle working to remove and mark fences in prime prairie chicken country. Lipscomb Co, Texas to be more precise.  By the end of day three my body was already starting to feel pretty worn over. Marking fences is pretty relaxing, removing fences on the other hand is dirty, hard work. Blood, sweat, and well, there are no tears but you get the picture.  Even with gloves you sometimes get scratched; numerous times I found myself working away and completely oblivious to the fact that my whole fore-arm was covered in blood. Really a simple scratch but had someone seen me they would have freaked out, believing it to be a bit more serious

Lesser Prairie Chicken (one of two), Lipscomb County, Texas. September 7, 2010

 Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because, it apparently got confused by the fence that was blocking its way.  Not unlike a Guinea Hen this particular bird, pictured above, would not follow it's companions  example and fly over the fence.  Instead it ran up and down the fence line then turned around and high tailed it back over the county road and into an unfenced area. Yet, there are still those who continue to argue that fences don't pose some particular type of problem to prairie grouse! Or that the problems cease to exist in particular states, seriously! Did I go there...
I don’t like to refer to it as “fence removal”. I much rather prefer a description, something like: “breaking the prairie free of its steal and wood barriers.” Recapturing what was once the Great Plains, and making it so again. That sounds far more tantalizing to me! I like to imagine what it was like when you could stand on the knoll of a hill and gaze upon the seemingly endless ocean of prairie. Winds create ripples upon the surface of the grasses; Northern Harrier’s moving, not at all unlike an albatross across an open sea. The smells of sage, and ragweed draw you into the scene more deeply.

One of the best feelings I have ever had was that of turning around, after having removed about a half mile of old fence, and catching a glimpse of a fenceless prairie. For that brief moment, there in front of me, in my small field of vision was that ancient prairie from our not so long ago past. Like the harrier pitching and rolling over the sandhill, my mind was free and so was my body. I want to share that feeling with as many people as possible. I want to show you why I, and so many others have dedicated our lives to ensuring that these special places and the flora and fauna found within them persist. I want you to hear the sounds and smell the air, and then decide for yourself that these birds, wildlife, and the lands they depend upon for survival can and will be preserved for future generations.

I have come to our community numerous times with the same request; time and time again people step forward and willingly make the excursion to northwest, Oklahoma to work and share time. We have shared sunrises and sunsets that set the earth afire, all standing silently in awe as the the shy shared with us vibrant purples and reds. Some have seen mountain lion bounding over the prairie. Bluebirds have stood out starkly against a background from a whole different color palette, amazing onlookers with the brilliant hues that were deeper than the blue sky above where we stood.

All of this beauty was shared during a volunteer event that was coordinated for the benefit of a local population of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Through the many volunteers hours that have supported the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas program we have been able to make thousands of acres safe for travel for the prairie chicken.  Your support has allowed us to show the different state, and federal agencies that this issue is important and how we are willing to put the time in to show how much we support any work for this threatened species.  It's important to keep moving forward with this work, for a number of reasons.

Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
The battle over land in western, Oklahoma continues to drive on. Slowly but surely the permanent plans for oil, gas, wind and transmission line development are being agreed upon and the lines in the sand are drawn permanently.  Thousands of acres, many native prairie, are being lost to new energy development every year. In the case of wind farms and transmission lines their development carries on with only the suggestion of voluntary environmental reporting. Areas like the Selman Ranch Important Bird Area and public properties like Cimarron Bluff and Cimarron Hills Wildlife Management Areas become the sites that we need to turn our attention to.  These places will serve as holdings for this and other species in the future, and it is all of our duties to make sure that the lands are in good order for them and the rest of the wildlife present.  Managing lands for the Lesser Prairie Chicken is pretty simple.  Summarized (hugely) it all boils down to invasive plant species control, a good fire regime, seeing to it that fences are removed and marked, and ensuring that we keep these large land holdings public and that if we can, see to it that they increase in size over time. Sure I know some of you hard science types are saying, "well it's a little more complicated than that".  Honestly it is, but the actual heavy lifting that needs to happen, when your feet are firmly planted in the soil, is simple and can easily and quickly be taken care of, that is no lie!  If you want to argue with me about it then stand your ground at the next volunteer event and I would be happy to have a conversation!

See you in the prairie!

Sachem (Atalopeded campestris

A very young rattle snake, only about seven inches long and as thick as my pinky finger.  Never figured out what species it was.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pollinate Me Baby!

I don't often watch cable television, but sometimes I find myself in a hotel for a night and will "plug in" for a bit. One particular evening at a hotel, a commercial came on the television for a hardware store. The point of the commercial, "don't waste your time turning your backyard into an oasis, come to so and so (it may have been Ace, but that doesn't really matter) and get the job done quickly so you can watch the game, or read some comics." Well this post is a tribute to that commercial and my continuation of living a life in a world of beauty, sweat, hard work and some fun in there too!
For the record, I will turn my backyard into an oasis! Here's an idea, next time why don't you tell me to stop using my brain or stop filling it with new ideas. Or better yet teach me one way and tell me it's completely okay to be so narrow in my thoughts that I shouldn't look for answers to life's questions anywhere else. As if the answer or answers can be found in only one corner of the world, yeah, not likely! I like my dreams and using my imagination, and I'd like to keep it that way! I will spend as much time getting the job done as is required and I will not be persuaded to sit in front of the television constantly (sure I enjoy movies and the John Stewart show...Colbert too for that matter) instead of relaxing and watching the birds pick bugs from the compost pile or the butterflies and bees pollinate my wildflowers and plants. So this is my tribute to the on-going work in what will be my first masterpiece for a yard. Just saying....

No captions just the beauty that can be found in my yard, your yard, and your neighbors yard. Just stop and take a look; in my opinion some of the answers to the worlds problems can be found in our backyards....Oh yeah and when I'm finished with this post if you need me you know where I am!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Take Two from McCurtain County

The trip was more bust than bang, although it really depends on how you look at the world. To me locating a new population of Bachman's Sparrow is a pretty important little find. After Thursday there wasn't all that much more that happenened in the way of the red list species, unfortunately. Just the same I still managed to enjoy myself while searching more areas, with good company from Tim Ryan until Saturday morning. At one point on Sunday I located a wonderfully large Blackberry thicket and proceeded to plunder it for it's juicy goodness which I added to my lunch a little late; plain yogurt, honey and blackberries...mmmm. Carter Creek was tucked away pretty far up into the forest and it took a little while to get there, and was the boundary for one of my search areas. It served as a nice break/lunch spot during an extremely hot (98 degrees) and humid (80%+) day, admitidaly I took a little break in the water which served as a great recharger to get me through a very long and bust day in the field. It was more than just satisfying.
I also took a few minutes to take note of as many of the butterflies and odonates as I could. The stream had thousands of Water Willow (above Justicia sp. with a Dainty Sulphur doing its job) blooms throughout its pools and the beautiful little purple and white flowers were pretty popular for the pollinators. Below are a few of the species I was able to get photos of.
Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
A wonderful little Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans), first I've identified but seemingly common.

A pair of Powdered Dancers (Argia moesta), caught in the throws of bugginess!

Reakirt's Blue (Echinargus isola)

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) on Water Willow
I ended up leaving the area on Tuesday of last week after being handed a couple of hints. Hint number one: Sunday evening I spent inside the tent in the middle of a pretty severe thunderstorm and shower. What made it even more interesting was the amount of water flowing under my tent, at least two inches worth, enough so that it made the tent floor into a water-bed of sorts. Hint two: Monday afternoon I was traveling an especially littered and rough forest service road, later I would find that I had picked up a nail which was leaving enough air out of the tire that it was completely flat in about 2.5 hours and me without the spare. Two signs is enough for me, I spent the night in a cheap hotel had breakfast early in the morning which is a whole other story and the fuel for a song I wrote. It didn't take long to get the flat fixed, and shortly thereafter I got the hell out of McCurtain County!

I added a few more photos below just for the sake of sharing, taken at different moments during my last foray into the frontier.

Ipomopsis rubra - Standing Cypress

Coreopsis tinctoria - Plains Coreopsis

Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed
Reversed Haploa (Haploa reversa)
Diana Fritilary (Speyeria diana)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A quest for the Pine Woods Sparrow!

On a quest for the elusive Bachman's Sparrow and unknown populations of this Audubon Red list species. I arrived late in the afternoon on Wednesday of last week, Tim Ryan had already arrived and was patiently waiting to hit the field, set-up camp and just get moving. It didn't take long before the tent was up, and we were off for a little bit of scouting. By the time that was over I think we were both pretty worn out, enough so I couldn't even begin to muster the energy to get my guitar out and pluck a few chords like I had promised; it would have to wait until the next evening.

Up and out early in the morning, we spent all day Thursday checking recently thinned and disturbed stands of mature pine for any sign of the species. For most of the day we had no luck. Driving miles and miles of beautiful National Forest roads is not such a bad thing, even if you are not locating the species you were looking for. We had ample opportunity to take in all that the Ouachita National Forest had to offer and at given times, when we would find seemingly decent habitat, we would stomp around and give the area a good search. No Bachman's to be found, but let me assure there was plenty of flora and fauna about and I've provided a few of the photos that go along with the journey. My wife and I (but mostly my wife since I'm not home much) has been building a nice little garden of wildflowers and herbs around the house, and I have been paying attention to those a bit more when I'm out in the field; I'm always looking for some new beauty to add to the collection at home. Of course I relocate the same species along the highway and gather seed stock from there. Why? Because it is illegal to harvest anything from a National Forest without the proper permit, which I do not posses. In order to figure out exactly what it is, I have been taking photos and making sure to take good notes and label any samples that hop in the truck with me from the road side.
Beauty to be found in Ouachita National Forest; above: Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)Below: correct me if I'm wrong; White Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Late Thursday afternoon we hit the jackpot. After having struck out all day and getting turned around on the seemingly endless National Forest roads, we found ourselves in some particularly good habitat. I remember saying out loud, "now this looks like exactly where a Bachman's Sparrow would want to be." About ten minutes later, we heard it; I gave Tim a wide eyed look and he said "what do we do now?" Stumbling for my gear and moving as quickly as possible to get myself out of the truck, I responded, "we chase it!" And off we went down through the woods. Five minutes later I was on a sparrow, a few minutes after that we kicked another out of the grass accidentally (no, not literally!). All of the sudden, as if they detected our excitement, numerous birds started calling in close vicinity. I estimated no less than four calling individuals in the general area. A very exciting ending to an extremely hot and long day!

I decided to return to the same location Friday morning, but not after Tim got to finally hear me play a few tunes around the campfire on Thursday evening, after a celebratory Shiner! He also insisted on taking video of the whole experience which he later threw into a nice little edited highlight reel, which I have thrown in here just for the fun of it; just don't expect all that much! We returned Friday morning to the same area from the afternoon before. I wanted to check the entire location and get a better handle on the number of Bachman's present, no such luck though. There was a dense fog well into the late morning and the birds were not calling, moving or making themselves known. We ended up mapping the roads and checking around the peripheral areas for more potentially suitable spots. Finding ourselves at the lake at one moment, we took a few minutes to snap some photographs of the foggy situation.

Birds, birds what about the birds? Well, the resident warblers were out and making themselves very apparent (wish I could say the same for the Bachman's Sparrows), Black & White, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Pine and Prairies as well. I was pretty surprised at the number of Prairie Warblers we actually heard and observed, far more than I had expected. Yellow-breasted Chats were out making their ruckus as well. We had an exciting moment with a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, it had been at least five years since I had last heard the chekkk-brrrr call of the male. It filled my mind with memories of NW Massachusetts in the spring; a nice way to bring back fond memories! We ran into two Broad-winged Hawks throughout the couple days Tim was with me, unfortunately no photos to go along with it. Hmm, let's see, of course we had a number of Brown-headed Nuthatches and lots and lots of the other smaller but much more common species like Carolina Chickadees, wrens, Tufted Titmice, ect, ect, ect. . . There is far more to talk about, having spent seven days out in it so I think that will warrant a part II.

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