review of Winter Bird Atlas

My review of Dan Reinking’s Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas will soon be published in Great Plains Research. A preprint of the review is available here.

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Know Someone who is Bird-Brained?

The Audubon Magazine Cover

Becky Emerson Carlberg

It is dry.  Last night a partially full water bucket kept in the kitchen was the object of interest for large black ants.  They had collected around the inner edge and barely moved when the bucket was carried outside.  They all went sailing as the water was tossed into the pine needles.

The feisty ruby-throated hummingbirds are exhibiting a powerful thirst. They twitter (they really do!) and chatter around the house during the day.  The noisy birds insist I need to change the feeders more frequently.  Nectar levels are now dropping faster and in the heat for a few days the nectar may go to 50-proof.  I know it is too hot and dry in the afternoon when the hummers and squirrels are nowhere to be seen and the cicadas cry for rain.

Crow bread is a staple at my house. Numbering up to seven at times, the basic crow family consists of four.  One squawks loudly before coming, with two others usually in tow.  Unbeknownst to them, the smallest crow has already silently descended and gathered all the food it can every morning at 11 am. You could set a clock by the birds’ arrival.  They voice their displeasure if no nibbles are present.

My crow next to bird bath

The enigmatic crow.  A bird covered in iridescent black shiny feathers with black bill and legs.  Do you have crows?  One Master Gardener has been watching crows dance over her yard and wondered if they ate bugs.  Yes.  They will eat almost anything from other birds, fruits, nuts, insects, eggs to carrion.  My crow family dines on leftovers and relishes small bones and most breads, except tortillas.

Crows are one of the smartest groups of animals alive.  In the Corvid family, the name crow can be applied to 45 different species.  The raven, a large crow, is ‘Corvus corax.’  Other than in Baltimore, MD, ravens live in Canada, western and eastern mountain regions in the US.  The smaller American crow is ‘Corvus brachyrhynchos’ (long name that means short-billed.)  The fish crow, ‘Corvus ossifragus’, is slightly smaller than the American with a weak nasal call, lives in wetlands and loves eating eggs of water birds.  Both American and Fish crows can be heard and seen in our area.

A nibble of purloined bread

Our American crows probably know us better than we do.  They recognize our faces, know our pets, and even have figured out our schedules.  The March-April 2016 edition of Audubon magazine published a special section about crows titled “The Bird Brainiacs.”  Crows have extremely large forebrains, the part of the brain that handles analytical thought and is responsible for their very adaptable behavior.  One researcher called them “flying monkeys”.  Proportionally speaking, their brain is every bit as large as that of a gorilla. Or some humans’ brains. Okay, the human brain is three times larger than the gorilla brain, but size isn’t everything.

When crows hear or witness other crows in distress, they remember.  They will form a mob, dive-bomb and scold the perpetrator.  Good reason why a gang of crows is called a murder. If crows see a dead crow, they will surround the deceased, loudly caw then fly quietly away.

The Bird Brainiacs article

These birds of long memories share their knowledge with each other, which may be one reason they can better adapt to environmental and habitat changes.  Going it solo is not advantageous. As animal habitats decrease in suburbia land, the Brainiac article suggests backyards be treated seriously as bird refuges.  Replace lawns with native vegetation, mark windows so birds don’t fly into them, and keep dead trees for nesting if in a safe spot.  The only wild animals many people see are pigeons and crows.  Building up suburban, community, town and city bird populations provides better chances for all birds to survive an uncertain future.

Crows are clever.  They can solve problems, make future plans, create and use tools.  Evolutionary biologist Russell Gray says “calling someone ‘birdbrained’ used to be an insult.’

Consider it a complement.

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Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge

Deane and Dobsonfly

Deane and Dobsonfly

On Saturday four of us traveled from Shawnee to the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge where we met our three guides. It was a beautiful, clear, morning, and there were lots of birds singing. As we walked on the boardwalk, Angela pointed out a cottonmouth and a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. We walked down to the river and saw a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk in the power-line cut. After that the birds had quieted down, but we drove to the Railroad Trail and walked to the river overlook, adding Red-eyed Vireo and Red-headed Woodpecker. Here’s the list of bird species we observed:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow?
Barn Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Parula
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting

rosemallow

Rose Mallow

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Spring Birds in the OBX Barrier Islands

Sandpipers scavenging on Hatteras Island

Sandpipers scavenging on Hatteras Island

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Deep Fork Audubon Society

The Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina is the place to be in early spring. The mosquitos have not resumed control of the airspace yet. Birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route either pass directly over the barrier islands or find places to rest at the beaches, the forests of the coasts or the marshes.  The resident birds don’t seem to mind.  North Carolina has spent years developing a concentrated network of birding trails from the mountains to the coast.

The living room and kitchen of our small third floor condo at Hatteras Village faced the Atlantic Ocean.  Every day you could watch the small Sandpipers and larger Sanderlings running back and forth as the waves flowed in and out.  “Obsessive wave chasing” states Cornell.  Assorted gulls would float, dive or fly above the water.  Boat-tailed grackles hopped through the brush on the dunes and washed up debris on the shore.  Dolphins and whales that spouted large plumes swam beyond the breakers in the deeper waters.

Buxton and Frisco Woods are considered a natural maritime Atlantic Coast evergreen forest community.  They have fresh water ponds, sand dunes, grasses, thickets and coastal vegetation.  Several paths traverse the sandy soils that support the loblolly pines and live oaks.  American holly, wax myrtle, yaupon, greenbriers, grapes and poison ivy form the underbrush.  The native Carolina Jessamine vine was in brilliant bloom.  Its clusters of yellow tube flowers could be seen wherever dashes of sunlight hit their living trellises; plants the evergreen vines climbed to get to the top and more light.  The flowers are toxic to the non-native honey bees, but the native bumble bees love the blooms.  In other words, there is ample food for birds and other wildlife.

My goal was to find waterfowl.  We looked at the Hatteras Lighthouse before driving down the road to find the path to the Open Pond and British Cemetery.  In 1942 a British tanker was hit by 7 torpedoes shot by a German U-Boat cruising just off Cape Hatteras.  Half the crew drowned, but two washed ashore and were buried in the Buxton Woods.  The fenced mini-cemetery is considered British Territory.  The Open Pond was reported to be home to a variety of birds.

After two miles of walking down the pine root and needle strewn sandy path, we found ourselves at the Open Pond.  It was a swampy, tree-filled area of stagnant water.  The only things flying around were pine warblers, red-winged blackbirds, Carolina wrens, a few turkey vultures, dragonflies, bumblebees and small butterflies. Had we had the time to cover the entire wooded and coastal area, we might have seen Ruddy Turnstone “Calico Cat” ducks, different dabbling and diving ducks, kestrels, Northern Harriers, plovers, terns, avocets, sandpipers, gulls or any of the nearly 400 species that live at OBX. The Laughing gulls giggled overhead as we ended our frustrating search.

After I threw a small fit, we regrouped, grabbed sandwiches and drinks in Avon, and drove 30 miles north to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.   It was about five in the chilly afternoon with a fierce north wind. What birds in their right mind would be hanging around the large ponds and wetland areas.  Guess again. Two mated pairs of Northern Shovelers (ducks with large, scooped bills; the males have green heads and are patterned in russet and white), 25 Gadwalls or American Black ducks (both resemble female mallards from the distance where I was standing), 3 brown pelicans, 5 snowy egrets, 4 coots, the ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds, 15 Canadian geese, one juvenile Tri-colored heron and two pair of Bufflehead ducks.  So cool.  Bufflehead males have deep greenish purple heads with stark white patches at the back of the head, white necks and bellies.  The females have whitish cheeks.  The ducks dive out of sight, only to pop up later in another place.  No Tundra swans, white pelicans or snow geese were present.  The large birds had departed very early from the refuge a month ago.

Cormorants flying over the dunes

Double-crested Cormorants flying over the dunes

Two hours later we began to drive back south to Hatteras Village.  The sun was setting.  Suddenly hundreds of Double-Crested Cormorants in V formations began crossing over Highway 12 flying west.  Their flashing yellow bills were the only bits of color that could be distinguished as the long necked birds flew in formation.  This lasted over 20 minutes.  Breathtaking.  They fly to the Atlantic each morning and return to the bay every evening.

The next day was a trip to Ocracoke Island via car ferry.  The destination was Springer’s Point Nature Preserve.  This 122 acre tract was saved from development and is now owned by the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.  Its mission is to enrich communities of the state through acquisition of open space and natural areas, conservation education, and the promotion of good land stewardship; much the same way as Nature Conservancy works.  Springer Point has one mile of water frontage along creeks and the Pamlico Sound, two large creeks, canals and small streams as well as upland habitats.  Twisted live oaks and Southern red cedars (closely related to our red cedars) formed the backbone of the evergreen maritime forest that once covered the entire island.  The trees provide nesting sites for the egret, ibis and heron. The nature walk area is thought to be haunted.  Blackbeard liked to hang out here and odd unexplained lights are occasionally seen.  A tiny cemetery houses old Samuel Jones who died in 1977 and his horse Ikey D. They each have their own gravestone, but Ikey D’s is carved in the shape of a horse. Some early mornings people have seen lone horse tracks leading down the path.  There certainly is an atmosphere about the place

Can you find the American Oystercatcher?

Can you find the American Oystercatchers?

Yaupon hollies, wild olives, needlerush (a type of junco grass), southern red cedars and live oaks dominate this preserve.  Oyster shells are being hauled in to be used as fill to build up and anchor the coastline.  I only saw Herring and Laughing gulls hovering above us. But wait.  We drove to the inlet and walked out to see the Civil War Monument by the public boat ramp facing the sound.  Two good-sized birds with large bright orange-red bills and bold black and white markings were busy investigating the water between the loose rocks that formed the riprap stone barrier. They were American Oystercatchers.  These shorebirds mate for life and return to the same place to nest each year.  The pair was foraging for mussels, clams and other creatures that live in the intertidal zone around Ocracoke.  What a great find.

On the trip back to Hatteras Island, the ferry was escorted by dolphins and ever present Laughing Gulls

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The Birds of the Land Run

The Tower at Lake Tecumseh. after the May storms 2015.

The Tower at Lake Tecumseh. after the May storms 2015.

11 March 2017                                                       

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The selling points for Lake Tecumseh are boat ramp, grills, picnic area, overnight camping, a pavilion, a playground and 3 miles of shoreline surrounding 127 acres of water. A small dam is located in the northeast corner.

The “Tower” is a landmark building in the picnic area built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  This organization provided jobs, shelter, clothing and food for young men during the Depression. In return the workers helped develop the natural resources in rural areas.    From a satellite’s perspective, Lake Tecumseh appears as a statuesque face, facing left, with sculpted hair, prominent lips and a short pig tail at the back of the head.  A long neck extends to a truncated bosom.   The profile could have fit in with the other 887 statues on Easter Island.

The Deep Fork Audubon Society had decided to have a field trip last Saturday morning at Lake Tecumseh.  Although the weather was predicted to be cold and rainy, the rain stayed to the north, but strong cold winds came south.  The air flowing over the water made the forty five degrees feel like below freezing.  Even our binoculars and the birding telescope were shivering. The greatest difficulty I had was holding my binoculars in my mittens while trying to keep the Hot Hands from falling out!

Despite the uncomfortable conditions, we managed to see four cormorants coast right above the surface of the water.  Double-crested Cormorants are larger black water birds with long necks.  They hang around our area in the winter to do a little fishing.  Our ornithologist spotted 19 Ring-necked ducks on the other side of the lake…with his telescope.  The male duck wears a striking black and light gray feather coat, does have a faint chestnut neckband but much more noticeable are the two white bands around its bill.  The female is tan, but also has a faint ring around her bill, the reason why these diving ducks are also called ‘ringbills’. Keeping their distance were three Gadwalls.  Gadwalls resemble Mallards in size, but have low-key grey-brown coats and white wing patches.  They like to steal food from other diving ducks and were probably just floating-in-wait until the ringnecks caught fish.

My best find of the day was a Yellow-bellied or rumped warbler.  The little insect eater was streaked in yellows and dark browns and stayed on the left side of the oak tree.  Three bluebirds had taken over the other side.  Spunky Dark-eyed Juncoes foraged for seeds on the ground under some trees and a Great Blue Heron flew overhead.

The Great Blue Heron  look and sound so prehistoric. They not only wade in the water, but walk in fields and pastures.  The birds can quickly strike their prey with pointed bills or crunch them with strong mandibles.   Not only fish, but small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds are all fair game.  The Great Blues hunt both day and night as they have good night vision.

Somewhere in the background trees, the White-crowned Sparrows delivered sweet clear whistles ending in trills.  Crows, no doubt pestering something, squawked in the distance.  A hawk, possibly Cooper’s Hawk, soared above us, but vanished before we could get a positive identification.  Of course there were the dozens of sparrows that flew in tight formations throughout the shrubbery.  Other birds were present, but we left them to go on their own merry ways.

Tecumseh was one of the early towns created during the seven land runs of the “Unassigned lands” in what was later to become the state of Oklahoma.  Stretching from 1889 to 1895, sections of Indian Territory composed of Native American lands were opened to homesteaders on a first come basis.    Tecumseh was a Shawnee Chief and military ally of the British during the Revolutionary War.  His name meant “Shooting Star” or “Panther across the Sky.”

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One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives

one book whole 2

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  2016

201 pages

Bernd Heinrich

Every story of nature revolves around life forces.  Do we know what connects us all?  Can we see the links?  Bernd Heinrich, Professor Emeritus in the biology department of the University of Vermont, has written twenty six books about nature, ecology, evolution, biology as well as birds. Some of his books are about his cogitations about nature and the interactions he has observed over the years.  One Wild Bird at a Time presents snapshots of several different species of birds as they arrive, stay, go, raise families, eat, communicate and spend time around Heinrich’s cabin in the forests of western Maine.  He has had no trouble keeping up with the birds.  The man participated in ultramarathons and set two American track records in 2007 for one hundred miles and one hundred kilometers.  He was sixty seven years old at the time.

Bernd’s family, escaping persecution, lived in a small forester’s cabin in the Hahnheide Forest in northern Germany for five years after World War II. They emigrated in 1951 to Maine.  In his youth Bernd had a pet crow, Jacob.  His familiarity with the woods grew as he searched for his buddy’s food:  frogs, beetles, mice, grasshoppers and other delicacies.  Through the years, Bernd discovered the secret to learning about a bird was by watching where it lives, hearing it sing, taking note of what upsets the bird, seeing how and what type food it hunts, staying hidden and  tracking the bird as it searches for suitable nest sites, and observing family interactions.  Bernd wanted to enter the world of the bird on bird terms.  He states:  “One of the reasons the world can be exciting and beautiful for us is that perhaps we alone have the capacity to enter vicariously into the worlds of others through knowledge leading to empathy. “

One Wild Bird at a Time is based on meticulously recorded observations written by Bernd Heinrich as he followed each of his select feathered friends over months or years.  His short stories are accompanied by his own illustrations that enliven his experiences.

To view flickers, he actually removed part of the wall inside his cabin, leaving a loose panel that allowed him to look at the nest.  For the crows he hunted the snowy roads and fields for dead animals.  He put the carcasses in areas where crow behavior could be monitored.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drummed their mating intentions with vigor, loudness and intensity.  To the Barred owl he fed meat through the cold winter, and his friend returned the next year.  Bernd monitored troops of blue jays, tracked grouse’s sleeping quarters in the deep snow, rejoiced when the red-winged blackbirds migrated into his area each year, and reminisced about the woodcock from his youth.  This gamebird has experienced a downward plunge in population for thirty years due to habitat alteration.  Every spring, since he was a boy at his family’s farm, the man waits for the woodcock’s skydance and display.

Bernd exercises great perseverance when following his birds. He is thoroughly at home in nature. Through frigid temperatures, deep snow, brilliant spring days, life and death, and time, he focused on one aspect of each bird species. He began with a question, looked for a pattern and developed a tentative hypothesis, dodging the twists and turns the birds presented.  At times his explanations panned out, but at others he was left clueless.  Birds can be mysterious.

Bernd Heinrich’s last parting comment sums up his passion:   “And now, sixty years later, I’m still learning by being an audience to a woodcock, and so can anyone learn by watching a starling, a sapsucker, a flicker, or a house sparrow—one wild bird at a time.”

It was an educational, informative and very entertaining book

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Pontotoc Ridge Preserve

Deep Fork Audubon Society Field Trip February 1st 2017

The Start of the Bird Count

The Start of the Bird Count

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Our small group rendezvoused in the dark at six in the morning at St. Gregory’s University.  It was a cold start, but warm car.  The sun began to climb into visibility as we drove to Pontotoc Ridge just south of Ada.  This property of the Nature Conservancy covers nearly 3,000 acres of prairies, woodlands, exposed rocky outcroppings and wetlands with caves, sinkholes, the forest of Cross Timbers and even cacti.  It has a wild diversity of plants and animals, but the focus of our trip was to use our eyes and ears to look and listen for birds.  It was time for the tenth annual bird count held every January.

The usual problems at Pontotoc Ridge involve errant cedar trees, feral hogs, or, from my point of view, ticks. A new concern has now been added.  The Diamond Spring Windmill Farm is setting up shop in Pontotoc and Johnson counties.  Guess where the Nature Conservancy property is?  The farm is expected to generate 300 megawatts of power and slated to be in operation by 2018.  Naturally the firm has done its environmental survey and reported there would be little impact.

Let’s see.  Odds are there will be more than one hundred wind mills aka wind turbines.  The term wind mill sounds so quaint.  One thinks of the Netherlands, tulips, canals, wooden shoes and cheese.  These wind turbines may be 300 to 400 feet tall, with their bases of steel rebar anchored down by thousands of tons of concrete that was poured inside an excavated circle of soil 30 to 50 feet across and 6 to 30 feet deep. Each turbine can weigh over 200 tons.  All trees around each one are removed for max wind generation.  Additional roads must be built for the semi-trailer trucks as they haul in the enormous blades, machinery and other parts.  Ever see windmill parts going down the Interstate?

Cave at Pontotoc Ridge

Cave at Pontotoc Ridge

While living in Germany, we watched the construction of a wind mill farm along the main ridge outside our village of Jettenbach.  The turbines were aligned to harness the prevailing wind. Germany has seriously gone into wind power to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels. It is a good idea.

We villagers noticed every so often a blade would be thrown far away, and one or more turbines usually needed some kind of maintenance at any one time.  This was not nearly as exciting as the ice.  It would form on the blades when the weather was cold and moist and hurled like daggers into all different directions.  The whomp, whomp, whomp sound was continuous and the enjoyment of walking through quiet woods was forever gone.  Only when the blades were feathered down or stopped due to excessive/lack of wind was there ever silence. Computer operated wind-harnessing electricity generating machines, when built in the right places, are fantastic power sources, but when constructed in impoverished areas that have minimal sustainable wind speeds, the perspective takes on a different spin. Get it?  Generate power and jobs. It’s a heck of a compromise with nature. Wind farms certainly alter the landscape in both appearance and function, from low below the ground to high pie in the sky.  Little impact?

Got a tad off track….

The Grasslands

The Grasslands

Jona Tucker is the Pontotoc Preserve manager who has been in charge of the bird count every year.  Professors, students, trained bird watchers and those who simply love birds gathered and were divided into groups inside the preserve headquarters. Each troop was given a clipboard with the list of expected or anticipated birds.  After grabbing some water, coffee, doughnuts, fruit and candy bars, everyone departed to start their morning observations.  We were all to report back to headquarters around noon for some hot tasty chili, crackers, cheese and dessert.

A Dead Tree with Shelf Fungi

A Dead Tree with Shelf Fungi

Our trail paralleled the unpaved county road before branching off over the prairie, past clumps of prickly pear and small outcroppings of rocks, up and down over more rugged terrain with disguised rocks covered by leaves, and along the edge of the ridge. Cross Timbers trees looked at us from the other side.  Carefully going past the rickety old bench, we then took a left and plunged into the woods, walking under the leafless canopies and by tree trunks sprouting leafy mushrooms some call turkey tails. Each fungal “leaf” had faint rings in delicate contrasting earth tones.  The schrooms could have been polypores with tiny spore releasing holes under their caps or smooth bellied crust types, but I didn’t get close enough to look.  Thing is, these thin bracket/shelf-like mushrooms do look like turkey tails (use your imagination.)   We found the spring fed cave with cold, clear water running through it, walked to the side of one small sinkhole and finally arrived back at headquarters.  In the open areas were sparrows, brown thrashers, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, wrens, goldfinches, kinglets, juncos and other feathered friends with crows or the occasional turkey vulture flying overhead.  The woodpeckers dominated the Cross Timbers forest but smaller birds zinged through as well as one red-shouldered hawk. We heard “who cooks for you” from the Barred Owl as its call echoed through the trees.  Included in our tally of 33 species were 8 turkey vultures, 10 red-bellied woodpeckers, 16 chickadees, 23 juncos, and 2 elusive but very cool LeConte’s sparrows.  Diverse bird population, yes, but quantity, no.  There seemed to be token representatives of many species but we did not see the flocks as in previous years.

Pileated Woodpecker Holes in Dead Tree

Pileated Woodpecker Holes in Dead Tree

Headquarters soon filled with birders (aka Twitchers in the UK) grabbing bowls of steaming delicious chili, handfuls of Fritos and crackers, fruit, drinks, cookies and brownies. Each group reported its results (one saw 55 species but no one encountered waterfowl).  We watched the presentation of “Oka’Yanahli and Pontotoc Ridge Preserves Avian Detection Surveys.”  It focused on reasons for the decline of migratory bird populations.  For example, certain grassland species have decreased over 40%.  Two surveys were done in early spring and summer at the Preserve using the small Rufous-crowned sparrow and Cassin’s sparrow.  Eight pairs of Rufous-crowned sparrows were observed, but no hide, hair nor feather of a Cassin’s sparrow were seen.

Oka’Yanahli (1455 ha/ 3595 acres with limestone and granite outcroppings, oaks, prairies, canyons) has 120 riparian species (ex: warblers), 82 grassland species (ex: quail, scissortails) and 68 species live in the scrub (ex: Bell’s vireo).  At Pontotoc Ridge (1175 ha/ 2903 acres with oak savannas, grasses, springs and a canyon or two as well), 100 species were detected.  The vegetative diversity at Oka’Yanahli is richer and both areas showed variable species abundance and differences in habitat utilization.

What a day. Wildlife surveys are so very important.  Volunteers help determine an approximate number of species present in a given area.  This allows comparisons to past levels, which may predict the direction of the species’ future.  Surveys can be used to distinguish species not at risk from those that are endangered and, sadly, the ones whose numbers so dwindled they became extinct.  We must uncover what is now happening so strategies can be implemented to slow or stop future declines.

To all:  Oka’Yanahli will have their bird count this February 11th.  The twentieth annual Great Backyard Bird Count, supported by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, will be held February 17th-20th 2017. Find out details of the GBBC at:  birdcount.org.  Become a citizen scientist and do it for the birds!

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Pontotoc Ridge Winter Bird Count

Yesterday three of us traveled from Shawnee to participate in the tenth Pontotoc Ridge Winter Bird Count. When we arrived, two more hikers were added to our group, which covers the loop trail near the Preserve station. Overall, it was a very successful count, with the largest total number of species recorded to date among all the groups. Our hiking group had low numbers of individual birds for many species that are usually abundant, but we managed to pick up most of the species we usually get. We also got a nice look at a cooperative LeConte’s Sparrow. Here is the list of bird species our group observed.

Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Barred Owl
Red-headed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Cardinal
Song Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
LeConte’s Sparrow
Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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Field Trip to The Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge

Deep Fork Audubon Society

Boardwalk to the wetland outlook

Boardwalk to the wetland outlook

December 10th 2016

Deep Fork Refuge is composed of patches of wetlands, swamps, forests and oxbow lakes.  The oxbows are readily apparent if looking down at the Deep Fork River from an airplane.  The winding river appears as a serpent undulating across the landscape.  The refuge is home to over 250 species of birds and 50 species of animals. It was established in the mid 1990’s and is governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The refuge is constantly on the lookout to acquire adjoining lands in order to expand the sensitive wetlands habitat.

The Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk Trail is part of the National Recreation Trails program.  The trail is composed of sections of boardwalk, asphalt, temporary rock layer that replaced the washed out part of the trail, and concrete.  The easy hike begins outside the refuge headquarters, is less than a mile in length and loops back to the headquarters.  There are two wetland overlooks and the area can remain under water many months of the year.  Not now.  It is very dusty and dry.

A very dry wetland

A very dry wetland

Our group decided to first hike through the woods to the Deep Fork River, which did have running water.  The forests of the bottomland are covered in pin oaks, burr oaks, pecans, sugarberries (hackberry species), elms, willows, hickories, and other trees.  The rapid purrs of the red-headed woodpeckers, the trills of the red-bellied woodpeckers, the squeaks of the downy woodpeckers and high-pitched meows of the yellow-bellied sapsuckers formed an orchestra of birds that surrounded us.  On the edges of the woods and the open fields of grass were the bluebirds, goldfinches, white-throated, song and field sparrows, cardinals and blue jays.  Smacking their bills overhead were turkey and black vultures.

Our return was via the boardwalk where we caught a glimpse of a brown thrasher eating berries deep inside a bush. A female rusty blackbird mesmerized us as she padded around a muddy ditch, tossing a small fish into the air, letting it drop back into the mud, taking a bite, flinging it back up, down, eat, repeat…..until she eventually finished off her fish meal and flew to a nearby tree.  Eastern towhees, my favorite Oklahoma State University bird mascot, were singing to each other as we walked back to the headquarters.

Beaver at work

Beavers at work

The next trail was out at the Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area northwest of Okmulgee. Our caravan of vehicles drove through and out of town.  Kestrels, the smallest falcons, were observed by two sharp-eyed birders on the way.  We assembled in the parking lot.  Suddenly a Cooper’s hawk dived through the trees.  Oh my. We started walking down a mowed path bordering a low, wide ditch that encircled the field.  The Killdeer were hanging out in the mud and grasses.  Two of us spotted a swamp sparrow with its rusty tail and gray breast.  Stephanie was the first to identify the female red-winged blackbird in a small tree.  As if on cue, the other twelve or so soon joined her.  Female red-winged blackbirds tend to flock together according to Donald.  To me, at a distance they looked like song sparrows on steroids.  A pileated woodpecker sent out its wook wook wook sound that sings prehistoric creature in my mind.  Big beautiful bird it was.

In both parts of the refuge we saw trails, narrow and wide.  The narrow paths to water were more likely made by beavers.  Wild boars were responsible for the wider, churned tracks.

Isn’t it funny that people can live cheek and jowl in their neighborhoods and that is considered acceptable, but too many beavers crammed together in an isolated habitat because the people have destroyed  most of their neighborhoods are thought of as pests. At the Okmulgee Wildlife Area we saw evidence of beaver activity and one lodge under construction.

A greater problem lies with feral hogs.  They can truly damage wetland areas.  These escapees from domestication are clever, secretive and smart.  The omnivores roto-rooter their way through the woods and fields.  A mother sow can produce 6 babies each time.  Thus, their numbers are booming.  Blame the Texans, or Hernando de Soto. When his party arrived in 1542 in what was to become Texas, they brought with them 700 wild pigs that were released.  The piggies were looked upon as a future food source.  So, why aren’t we having wild pig bacon, roasts, spare ribs, and other delicacies?  It is reported the dark red meat is flavorful, a little stronger and sweeter with the hint of nuts, and very lean.

A market should be developed for the wild pig.  The wildlife refuges would benefit as they struggle to create a balance of nature and not be overrun by pigs.  It would reduce the need for factory farmed pigs.  Would it dent the intensive pig factory farming industry’s grip on pork?  Think of it.  Pigs that can run and be free before being roasted.  How humane.

Thanks to Angela and Trevor for taking the time on a weekend to guide our group. This was one of our best field trips!

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Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge Field Trip

 

At the gate on County Line Road

At the gate on County Line Road

August 20th 2016

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge was the venue for our birding expedition.  The last time we tried this, unbeknownst to us, it was the first day of duck hunting season there.  The season started later in our area here, so we were as surprised as the ducks.  You can just figure out the rest of the story and how many birds we saw.  I will say we should have counted the number of trucks pulled off the muddy roads here and there and heard gun shots around us as we walked down along the lake.  Does seeing two decoy ducks floating in water count?

The 1,000 acres of Stinchcomb Refuge is northwest of OKC proper and has a section of the North Canadian River meandering through it.  The refuge was named after Lee Stinchcomb who participated in the 1889 land run and settled on 160 acres by the North Canadian River. A point of interest: Lee Stinchcomb and Fred Bailey, an engineer, owned land where Silver Lake, at the very northeast corner of the Stinchcomb acreage, now stands. The lake was built by Stinchcomb’s 3 sons.  One son bought out Bailey and put a fence with gates around the lake.  In the 1930’s he began to sell 1 acre plots where people could build cabins.  Those cabins have morphed into very substantial McMansions at some locations, but it is reported a few original cabins still survive.

Kingbird and Kite

Kingbird and Kite

The Refuge is bordered by Route 66 to the south, W Wilshire Blvd to the north, to the west by the John Kilpatrick Turnpike and east by N Council Road. In spite of the major roads enclosing the nature area, it is remote and wild and…..right now very dry, except for the North Canadian River.  The Stinchcomb Lake is a large mud flat as are the smaller swamps and marshes.  One low area is completely covered in cockleburs. The sycamores, oaks, wild grapes, sumacs, and other plant life still abound and the River was full of people floating in kayaks.

Despite the lack of water, we stood by one tree and watched over 30 Eastern Kingbirds as they dove in and out of grape vines, gorging themselves on ripe fruit.  A few starlings had flown in with the American robins that were flitting from tree to tree.  We heard Indigo Buntings and had a possible Painted Bunting sighting.  The barn swallows soared and twittered over our heads joined by chickadees at the lower levels as we walked down the dry dirt road.

If there were any waterfowl, they were either digging a well for water or hiding in the tall grass waiting for heavy rains.  Turning around, we decided to drive to the other part of Stinchcomb Park Wildlife Refuge by Bethany High School Athletic Complex.  After parking close to the North Canadian River, we walked over and saw a strikingly brilliant white Great Egret on the opposite bank.  The bird was standing motionless, watching each kayak float by.  We headed toward the park and counted eight circling Mississippi Kites that entertained us while they chased insects. Mourning Doves and goldfinches hid in the trees, ragweed, sunflowers and grasses.  Following the road to a path leading to the river netted few birds for us to see, but the turtles and poison ivy looked healthy.

Canoes and Kayaks on North Canadian River

Canoes and Kayaks on North Canadian River

 

It was a cool, cloudy morning, perfect for being outdoors. We discussed out next outing slated for October 22nd to be held at our namesake Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge near Okmulgee.  On August 24th, we were notified that the Deep Fork muzzleloader hunt starts October 22nd followed by archery season, but the refuge will once again be safe for us and the birds after November 18th.  Hey, we learned our lesson with duck hunting season, so our next field trip will be rescheduled!

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