Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reluctance In Conservation

I knew very little about what a decision like being a voice for the birds was going to be. Not only that, but little did I know what it was going to take to be a voice for the birds in Oklahoma. Let's face it, most humans think and base their daily decisions purely on what they want, need or hope to attain. Money, a better job, comfort at home and work and then of course there are the items of pure enjoyment. You know what I mean; I just spent three months paying off my dream guitar. My point is simple; when you decide to speak for things that don't have a voice, you also make a decision to put your needs and wants to the side (not all, but some).  You make a decision to stand, sometimes alone, sometimes with help but most certainly to stand against things that are larger and far more complicated than your simple life should have been.

I have been digging, dredging, call it what you will, in the world of Oklahoma birds and bird conservation for about five years now (give or take).  I've spent time putting together some of the necessary information for Oklahoma's Important Bird Areas Program. I've put myself out there a few times with concern for the dwindling Lesser Prairie-Chicken population, which also put me into the realm of the national energy development issue/crisis. I've trekked through swamps and marshes in the dead of night looking for a little black bird no larger than a sparrow. All of this and more with the intention of learning more, and helping to understand and protect a group of organisms and their habitats, those of which some people couldn't give a damn whether or not they even existed.

About five months ago everything changed for me, I found myself wondering whether or not I could keep doing it or if I even wanted to. I found myself overloaded, confused, and basically struggling far too much for something that I supposedly loved. If I were to identify my big mistakes, the first would being having said yes to far too many projects. Yes, I was told multiple times by friends and colleagues, and by my especially loving and supportive wife, that I was taking on too much; to that I say, "well if I hadn't done it who would have?" Maybe there was or is someone else but I have yet to see a new arrival (and I am waiting).  Don't let me give you the wrong idea, there have been plenty of successes. But truth be told some things haven't changed at all.

In Oklahoma we are still struggling to find a balance between wildlife and energy, and with the current trend taken into consideration, it looks as though wildlife is getting the back seat.  I mean what do you do when your own state Senator supports beating the hell out of our Endangered Species Act and the species it protects? I assure you Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe are not concerned with our wildlife or wildlands, especially if it stands to slow progress. Even if the progress is ill planned, sides with the wants of a few and stands to change the landscape of Oklahoma for generations to come.

So what's a poor boy to do (using the words from a sad song) when the place you have chosen and the work you have chosen have almost no place in the state, a state that just doesn't want to join the global push to make the world a better place, unless we stand to make one hell of a profit? Well, for a moment I almost folded (truth be told I shut down briefly), I nearly gave up all I had worked for and believed in because, well because I just didn't think it really mattered anymore. I didn't think anyone really cared. Sure I know you are out there: the folks that write letters to the USFWS, the folks that spend their time teaching children how to treat this world with a little respect, the folks that would spend their own money to drive three hundred miles to help the cause for a species of bird that you may or may not get to see in your lifetime.

I know what you are thinking, or at least some of you. It does matter and you are right! Perhaps being run through the wringer was just what I needed. Boughts of insomnia, stomach problems from stress and too much caffeine, tears when I couldn't get enough money together to pay the mortgage, frustration when I was using my own money to get back out in the field even though it should have gone to the electric bill and more. So when I look back at it all, am I sorry about having taken those first steps? Hell no! Have I made errors and mistakes, committed myself to too much, spoken when I should have kept my mouth shut, and generally just ran amuck where and when I felt like it. Your damn right I did, and what have I learned? Well, for one I've learned that having a voice is a gift, if you don't use it you don't deserve to have it. Two, there's nothing wrong with being out-spoken. Three, know when to say no, and when to say yes even if everything inside of you tells you the opposite. Four, well I'll just say be careful and it's very important to take care of yourself. Don't sacrifice your body, because without it you've lost your dream. Five, moderation with everything, unless of course it's really, really good!

I'm still not real sure why I put this tell-all post together, or if I really want people to know some of the truth behind my curtain. But I will say one last thing. Conservation is the most important thing in this modern world, and you had better recognize and think about the truth of that comment. Is conservation work a good place for a person that tends to be a little depressed? Mmm...I guess it depends on who you ask. But one thing's for certain, I'm not going away, I'm reloading the guns and I'm getting back to my business, the business of conservation. Reluctantly? No, with rejuvenated spirit and whole backpack full of lessons learned and all the wiser. Should you be concerned? Not unless you pose a threat to wildlife and wildlands; then I would be very concerned. Am I afraid of the big boys out there, theAlpha Dogs (you know who you are), why should I be?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Into the Pine Woods

Louisiana hot, that's the answer for the question I've been getting as of late. Is it hot down there? Well, not as hot as Lawton, where I've taken to not even looking at the thermometer, it's become ridiculous. It's Louisiana hot down in McCurtain County, Oklahoma and the Ouachita National Forest. But there's plenty to see and do just the same. My days are filled with heat, sweat, bugs, and of course birds. This is my second season on a project trying to understand the Bachman's Sparrow's that inhabit scattered locations in the forest. No, not Michele Bachman but the Bachman Sparrow, the "Pine Woods Sparrow". 
Shrubby St. John's Wort
(Hypericum proloficum)
The 'Blazing Star" found below is a first for me, I identified it as a "Spiny Blazing Star"
but I believe that name may be a bit out-dated or perhaps something has changed and I just haven't figured it out yet. Nonetheless,  I will do my best to figure it out. If you already know, fill me in.

Blazing Star
(Liatris sp.)
Red-spotted Purple 
(Limenitis arthemis)
I approached this butterfly like a mountaineer. One hand holding steadily to my canoe tie-down rope and the other concentrating on camera functions, all the while teetering of the hood of my truck.  And, there are those who might say I can't multi-task!

Variegated Fritillary
 (Euptoieta claudia)

Well just a few photos to keep anyone who might be wondering where and what the heck I'm up to these days satiated. Until later!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Top Ten Things You Missed While Failing to Attend the Lek Treks & More Lesser Prairie-chicken Festival

Number 10: Most likely your lifer Lesser Prairie-Chicken. If you think a few birds along a county road  and 75 yards away is good enough then you haven't seen the photos from this year's celebration! 

Western Snowy Plover,
Buffalo Creek Salt Flat

Number 9: You missed an opportunity to experience the Selman Ranch. It's private and the birding there is a business, so you can still come but you'll need to schedule it. Let's see Snowy Plovers, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and did I mention Lesser Prairie-chickens?

Number 8: There were so many talented artists at this year's symposium and art show you would have had a hard time walking out without dipping into that tight-wad wallet of yours (hey, I'm speaking for myself here too!)

Number 7: The star gazing show at the Selman Living Laboratory, not to mention the expert guidance of Dr. Bill Caire, oh and don't forget the International Space Station flight across the sky that Saturday evening.

Number 6: The Saturday night "Owl Prowl" and your's truly successfully calling in an Eastern Screech Owl, using I might add not a single electronic device. Did I mention that it perched just over top of the sidewalk, in the clear and only about ten feet away; it also allowed each tour participant an opportunity to view? I'm nearly failing to mention the Common Poorwill that also responded to my coaxing, although we failed to get a look at the rascal. Am I gloating? 

Drake Wood Ducks
Number 5: On Saturday's Harper/Woodward County Birding Tour we racked up 77 species for the short day and watched the Fort Supply Reservoir go off like I've never experienced.  Let's see,Marbled Godwit, Bald Eagle, 2 Western Grebes, over 350 Eared Grebes in breeding plumage, American Pipit, Burrowing Owl, Snowy Plover, Least and Baird's Sandpiper, Wood Duck...........that should be enough to wet your appetite for next year's festival!


Number 4: You missed participating in the fence marking conservation event. We helped the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife mark fences on their Cimarron Bluffs property, for prairie-chicken conservation.

Number 2.5: You missed the opportunity to meet Merlin Little Thunder, this year's festival artist, and his beautiful painting "When the Prairie Danced and Sang Under Painted Sky". The original has been sold already so if you want to see it you either need to view it on-line, buy a print, or come out and bird for a day at the Selman Ranch and you can view the original.  Did I forget to mention though that it's a business, and you'll need to schedule a visit.

Number 2: You missed meeting and listening to our keynote speaker Bill Thompson III, editor of Birdwatcher's Digest, writer and blogger, musical meistro and all around fun guy to be around. Did I mention the live performance of a wonderful Wood Guthrie standard, and then later two more songs one of which the whole crowd joined in on.. "Momma don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowbirds". Yeah, you missed that!

I couldn't make up my mind which talented guest deserved the number two slot, so I took them both halfway in some sort of weird, justifiable only in my own mind, kind of way.

and the Number One "Thing You Missed When You Did Not Attend this Year's Lek Treks & More Lesser Prairie-chicken Festival.":

Did I mention the Lesser Prairie-Chickens?

And just in case my top ten list didn't get through to you, how about the fact that all of the photos in this post are from a very talented twelve year old, John David McQuaig. Yeah, you missed him too..

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Visit to Indigo Hills

Julie, Bill and Chet Baker, three fifths of the tribe.
In honor of last year's and this year's keynote speakers for the Lek Treks & More Lesser Prairie- Chicken Festival, I saved this post for just the right moment (hopefully this is it)!  About four weeks ago, well easier put, during "spring break" I made my way to the east coast for a little visit with family.  Particularly pertinent to current topics on this blog I made my way to Indigo Hills, Ohio as well! Indigo Hill isn't exactly a town, more the name of a beautiful house atop a ridge-line in south-eastern Ohio. It also happens to be the home of Bill Thompson III and Julie Zickefoose.

Indigo Hills!
The former is the editor of Birdwatcher's Digest ; the latter, a widely known artist and writer, both well known for being drenched with talent for which it would take too long to describe here. You'll just have to trust me and visit their websites, links provided, see for yourself!

After having missed my exit for the the dynamic duos house, and after a long evening of restless sleep in my car in West Virginia, I finally arrived to a smiling and supportive Julie. Whom, like every good mother ran a hot bath and told me to go chill and to rest my score muscles.  I obliged, with bubbles I might add, and found myself sitting, rested, and ready for some conversation a little later in Julie's kitchen. Perhaps one of the kindest shows of hospitality I have seen through my years traveling here and there! Conversations ran from birds to music, life and then back again. This was pretty much the case for the entire visit.

So for two days and nights I spent the evening in the glow of both Bill and Julie, and their two wonderful kids I might add.  There was talk of a particular new bird guide that didn't thrill me too much, that might make a nice little post for later. Discussions between Bill and I about the life birds we are planning to get him while he is in Oklahoma. Things like how much time do we have to pretty much cover as much of western Oklahoma as possible? Which, let me tell is gonna make for one hell of good time!  Will we be visiting Meers for a famous burger, etc, etc.. Music was of course, mentioned previously, also on topic.  Both Bill and Julie are wonderful songwriters and musicians, something of which I try to live a bit myself, so the instruments were opened up and the three crazy birds took to singing! Reluctantly, only because I'm shy about it, I have added one of two basement recordings (okay so it's been added as a widget on the top left of this web page, song title "When You Gonna Let Me In"), the other to be shared for another post that's coming soon.

Bill giving me a lesson, on my guitar!

So generally, I'm here telling you that when you don't show up to the Lek Treks & More Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival you're missing a sure fire good time and it's your own fault!  Not only that but you're gonna miss Bill Thompson III's keynote address at the banquet Saturday (April 16) evening in Woodward, OK.  I'm sure just like his wife, who we were honored to have last year as the keynote speaker, Bill's address will provide plenty to think about, chuckle at and generally enjoy. This ain't no three day tour though, you get to hear him for one night only! Understanding what kind of schedule this guy keeps I can say with some confidence,  it will be a little while before he graces Oklahoma again!

So what about the birds? Well, I mostly got treated to the smorgasbord that the Indigo Hills feeders provided.  Everything from Eastern Bluebirds to Red-bellied Woodpeckers and even a Fox Sparrow which I hadn't seen in a while.  The entire visit it was either raining, snowing or looking like it was going to in the near future, so we stayed indoors most of the time.  Of course I did get my year's first American Woodcock.  I only needed to step out on their back deck and give a quick listen. So for now that's it, I'm still in the trenches up in prairie-chicken land, "Afield in Oklahoma" or Ohio, whichever fits at the moment.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tis' the Season for Chicken Love

That's right ladies you heard me, chicken love.  If you know anything about anything,  you know there ain't nothin' like it! How can you resist the temptations of the male cock strutting, stomping and cackling it's way into your heart? Well if you think you can resist just read on and you might think differently afterwards!

Eye combs swollen and air-sac vibrating.
"There's a female somewhere, I just know it!"
photo by: Susan Hammerly
Okay, so maybe I went a bit far, but seriously it is time for some chicken love.  Lesser Prairie-Chickens are gathering in the southwest, the hills and prairies of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The sand-hills will be filled with the peculiar sound of cock Lesser Prairie-Chickens doing what they do best, puttin' on for the ladies! There will be feathers lost, air-sacs punctured, close calls with coyotes and the occasional raptor. If the boys are lucky there will also be the occasional successful copulation.

I am currently cruising the country roads of NW, Oklahoma in search of leks or mating grounds. Working with and for the University of Oklahoma, and the G.M. Sutton Avian Research.  The goal of the surveys are to assess habitat, and determine the number of leks in the region. I'm sure the data will be used for plenty of other things, but I'm not completely sure what those other things are. So am I seeing birds you ask? Well of course, as a matter of fact two days ago held two leks and a total of fourteen birds.  Even with less than favorable conditions the birds are out and are really kicking up the scratch..

Two males squaring off for a confrontation, it's time to get serious!
photo by: Susan Hammerly
So, as I sit in front of a nice little fire I've built for myself this evening, I figured I could show you some photos to wet your appetite; just in case you were thinking,  "Hey, I still need that dang bird on my life list."  I've included some shots taken by Susan Hammerly.  She was just one of three wonderful ladies that visited the Selman Ranch this past Saturday for a chance to view grouse in what they called a "scenic setting". Of course they were right on target.  So excuse me while I throw in a little festival promotion quickly.  The Oklahoma Audubon Council with the help of numerous supporters are holding their third annual Lek Treks & and More Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival this year in Woodward, Oklahoma.   There's too much going on to try and summarize it here, but we are going to have one heck of a time! Just click the link and take a look, and then send in your registration because there is still lots of space!

The three researchers/students were from the University of Northern Texas and all have traveled a great deal and shared many stories with me that got my blood pumping for new life birds again.  I dropped them off Saturday morning, wind starting to blow and the heavy fog releasing a dense mist that made observation pretty cruddy. But, they kept the faith through the weather and came up with some great shots. After a morning of photographs and videos, some of which they have allowed me to share with you, I spent the better part of the afternoon showing them around the ranch.  Our list pushed up to around forty species, highlights being the grouse of course, but we also managed to dig up a few lifers for everyone, well except for me that is!

Some highlights for the day, either a life bird for someone or just a fun observation!

Marsh Wren
Vesper's Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
Rock Wren
Greater Roadrunner
Snowy Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
American Golden Plover
Baird's Sandpiper

After an afternoon of birding and some short lessons on sparrow identification they went on their way.  They left behind some goodies they had gathered up for me: cookies, sweets, muffins and a homemade Chocolate Chip Pear Cake which I had never heard of but quickly learned to appreciate, all in all and weather aside it was a great day to be afield in Oklahoma! 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Briefly, the past two months or so..

Admittedly I have been less than successful keeping things updated here at Afield in Oklahoma. Just the same I am keeping things going, and will definitely keep moving along trying to create some kind of place for people to stop and enjoy. I will also try and post a few more times than last year!

These past two months have seen the end of my part-time paid work for the National Audubon Society.  Like a roller coaster that year of being employed, by the organization I have been a member of since I was a boy (on and off though), was a real dream come true.  If things work out in the future, I’m pretty sure all parties involved would love to see it go back to the same state. But until then I’ll keep representing the state as the Important Bird Areas Coordinator for Oklahoma, albeit on a volunteer status. The downfalls of non-profit work!

So what have I been doing you ask? Well lets see, a little carpentry work, trying to find sources of funding for Oklahoma’s Audubon endeavor, trying to manage getting some habitat improvement work completed on the Selman Ranch Important Bird Area and in general trying to stay busy!  Birding has been slow for me, and I drool as I read posts from birders all across Oklahoma reporting the rare and uncommon species that are showing up this winter. But you’d be mistaken if you thought I didn’t have anything rolled up in my sleeve. So here is a smattering of photos from the past couple months with some comments to fill in the blank spaces.

Morning sunrise, breaching the West Range of the Wichita Mountains

Wild Turkey on the Quannah Range of the Fort Sill Military Reservation.  Taken during the 2010/11
Wichita Mountains Christmas Bird Count.


Another amazing Oklahoma Sunset

 What we like to call a "Ditch Parrot" in Oklahoma! Okay so we all know that it's a Ring-necked Pheasant, I'll be honest the ditch parrot name was something I picked up last week from Dave Brown of Dave Brown Outfitters, a Quail Hunting Guide, who visits Oklahoma. Actually its more like what Canucks from Arizona call them, but hey I thought it was funny and decided to share.

So the pheasant took me back a few years.  When I was teenager I hunted every season with my father, uncles and cousins in Pennsylvania. For some reason I never stuck with it, although every now and again I think about some of that White-tailed Deer bologna that he used to have made and I reconsider my position. The bounty of quail that were coming through the doors of the Selman Ranch didn't help either!

Bald Eagle, one of many at Canton Reservoir this season
Below are some documentation photos and information for a juvenile Glaucous Gull that I located and photographed thanks to a little help from Candyce Kline and Sue Selman. It was on Experiment Lake in Woodward, OK on the 14th of January 2011.  It never approached any closer than around 100 yards, fortunately it was a crystal clear day so it wasn't too difficult to observe and photograph. I cropped the hell out of these photos but nothing else was adjusted.

Well, until next time!