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!