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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Stinchcomb

Today three of us walked around Stinchcomb Refuge in Yukon, OK. Despite previous prognostications of an impending deluge, there was no water in the ponds. Here is a list of bird species we observed:

1 Great Egret
a flying heron, maybe Little Blue?
Turkey Vultures
Mississippi Kite
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
3 Killdeer
several Mourning Doves
1 Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpeckers
1 Northern Flicker
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Western Kingbird
many, many Eastern Kingbirds
Barn Swallows
Blue Jays
American Crows
Carolina Chickadees
Carolina Wrens
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
American Robins
1 Brown Thrasher
European Starlings
Northern Cardinals
Indigo Buntings
1 Common Grackle
1 female Baltimore Oriole?
2 American Goldfinches

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The Hunt for the Painted Bunting

Deep Fork Audubon Society Field Trip

In front of the tri-level tree-house.

In front of the tri-level tree-house.

Saturday June 25th 2016

Several members of our Deep Fork group assembled at St. Gregory’s early Saturday morning.  When all were present and accounted for, we drove to the outskirts of Tecumseh in search of 18 Oaks.  This was to be our bird-watching site as the sun woke up and began to slowly rise in the clear blue sky.

In front of the long porch were bird feeders, Chinese Pistache trees, Vitex, hollies, Coreopsis, soon to bloom Liatris (gayfeathers) and other bird-friendly plants.  In the corner sat a round-faced man holding a black shotgun.  On second glance we discovered this guy would be just as home in a corn field.  He was stuffed head to toe and dressed in work clothes.  His eyelids sat above circles of white yarn.  From a distance he appeared to have real eyes.  The man’s firearm was a piece of black painted wood shaped like a rifle.  We were told he likes to keep an eye on the property and moves around.  During hunting season, you can find him sitting in different tree stands.

The chairs on the porch were in shade so we could observe the birds without disturbing them.  The goldfinches and male house finches were in brilliant color.  The female house finches were in typical drab camouflage and blended nicely with the sparrows.  An intrepid red-winged blackbird accompanied by a cowbird dropped in for a bite.  The tufted titmouse darted in and out while Northern cardinals sang from the tree tops.  A white-breasted nuthatch came in for a few forays, but soon abandoned the area. Hummingbirds hovered as they tanked up at one of two feeders hanging from opposite ends of the porch.

Time to do a walk-about.  We hiked along a path with black-eyed Susans to keep us company.  Our resident ornithologist quipped there was an easy way to remember Rudbeckia hirta, the scientific name of the black-eyed Susan.  Rude Becky hurt ya, It’s a clever mnemonic and as I recall, there’s more…not only did Susan get a black eye, she was kicked in her ass-teraceae.  The plant family is asteraceae! Right. You should remember this plant now.

We arrived at an amazing three level tree house.  On the first set of stairs everyone had to dodge the tricky tree branch before getting to the platform.  There had been two rubber duckies hanging from that low limb to warn people to “duck”, but the ducks had taken flight.  The next level was accessible by a short ladder and a table and chairs were waiting.  The third ladder took one to the cat perch or crow’s nest, whatever you prefer to call it; a chair all by itself high above in the tree canopy. It had previously been used as a hunter’s tree stand.  We stood at the various heights looking through binoculars aimed in all directions, peering into trees, gazing over fields and scrutinizing the small pond in search of birds.

Back on the ground our group rounded past the brush pile alive with the infamous brush pile sparrows.  Here we heard, not saw, the Indigo bunting.  The bird taunted us as we walked into the former deer pen now filled with delicate asparagus fronds, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, pea vines, watermelon and other delectable veggies and fruits.  The fence had rings of sliced white PVC pipe tied along the top wire to warn the flying birds.  Good idea. The search continued for someone to actually physically see the Painted Bunting, but it merrily sang away well hidden in the trees.  The singing mythical bird was soon joined by the Blue Grosbeak.  This bird was seen and positively identified by several witnesses.  The Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak songs are somewhat similar, but the Bunting song is clearer and sweeter.

In the deer pen

In the deer pen

Our final stop was at the empty Guineafowl Emporium, an elaborate guinea house with roosts, indoor and outdoor play areas, a grass feeding plot and many other amenities.  Many old and young guineas had lived here, but one-by-one they have disappeared. Bobcats, hawks and other predators live in this area as well as roaming stray dogs and cats.  The only dogs are one neighbor’s three chained Labradors. Cruel.

We heard a heart-warming Guinea love story.  Mr. G was constantly chased by another male Guinea while the one female watched from a safe place.  All day long the two males ran about in circles and flew in and out of the trees, until….the tormentor was found dead on the ground without a single mark.  Mr. G and his lady could be together at last.  They made an endearing couple.

We hot bird observers retreated back to the cool shade of the porch to sit and give our feet a rest.  Delicious doughnut holes with a variety of fillings were brought out to accompany the bottles of cool water.  The group discussed birds, hydrated, and got a sugar high while being entertained by the birds flying to and from the feeders.

Our time was growing short and so would be the last hike.  The birders either walked or rode in the golf cart to see the owl house.  It had been designed and built to attract owls. The large box had a platform and was so positioned that if the young owls fell out of the nest, they could use their beaks to help climb back up the tree to home.  The nesting box was positioned on a post oak tree growing at the edge of a small copse of trees.  It faced east toward an open meadow, the direction owls prefer.  Are they Hindu or Muslim?  You recognize these birds at night by their “who cooks for you” call.  No owls have taken up residence yet, but they probably will before the next breeding season.  It’s a lovely home.

We had good weather, enthusiastic bird watchers and a great time.

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18 Oaks

Today six of us toured 18 Oaks near Tecumseh. Ruth showed us the tree house and the new Barn Owl house. Here is a list of the bird species we observed today:

Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Black-and-white Warbler
Field Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Painted Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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A Fall of Woodcock (from Becky)

Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart

Note from Donald–We visited Sacred Heart on 20 February to watch the woodcock display. Here is Becky’s account of that outing…

The Fall of Woodcock
Becky Emerson Carlberg, 21 February 2016

This is your climate on steroids. How high can you go. Temperatures have been hitting the seventies and eighties in mid-February with the nighttime lows at fifty degrees. Wow. Our normal day temps should be in the fifty degree range, with nighttime lows at or below freezing. Any bets as to what we might experience in the spring and summer? Not to fear. By next week we swing back into a more ‘normal’ temperature cycle, but will we see any precipitation? Snow?

Friday morning on my way to the Japanese Garden I saw a turtle crossing the road. Further along were black birds spread out across the asphalt surface. As I came closer, the black birds turned into two dozen crows. Did you know a group of crows can be referred to as not only a flock but a murder? Yes, a murder of crows. This possibly dates back to the 15th century, but the origins are hazy. Crows and ravens were often seen at execution sites and cemeteries (sources of food), but folklore has it that crows are territorial and will punish crows that have done terribly bad things or are not from the group. Pretty well not based in fact, but makes for a good story.

Along a similar note, a flock of owls is known as a parliament of owls. Owls look very wise. The owl is the symbol for Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The gaggle of geese is attributed to the noise a bunch of geese make. A group of domesticated turkeys is known as a rafter, but the wild turkeys group together in a flock. Rafter? Nothing pops up, but one naturalist proposes it would take a strong rafter to support a group of turkeys. The wild turkey group has broken up into smaller flocks. A month ago, over fifty turkeys had gathered together and were grazing in an open field. Today I counted fifteen close to my house.

Turkeys do this. They flock together in the winter, but as the spring mating season arrives, the males hang together in smaller groups and start their strutting, booming, drumming and spitting to attract females. You have to love the bluster of a good male turkey.

The woodcock (Scolopax minor)

A collection of woodcocks is called a fall of woodcock. They travel solo or in small groups known as ‘flights.’ The woodcock is the size of a robin, but is disguised in camouflage pattern of russets, browns and blacks. Since the bird savors earthworms as well as insects and larvae, its bill is quite long and sturdy; just right for poking into the soil. This bird that resembles a snipe is another shorebird, as is the Killdeer, who has moved inland. It may not have been a good idea.

The habitat of the woodcock is disappearing as its open fields and woods are developed. The land across from St. Gregory’s University had formerly been prime woodcock territory, where males would perform their courtship dance in the air, followed by mating with the female and the formation of a new family. No more woodcocks can now be seen or heard as houses have covered the area.

Oklahoma, especially the eastern part, has year-round woodcock populations. The number of woodcocks is in decline as their habitats are being destroyed. Wake up people. Conservative development not only cuts the gobbling up of land for its human occupants, but allows preservation of the habitat and homes for wildlife.

Woodcocks like the edges of thickets, cleared areas and abandoned fields with trees ringing the perimeter. The normal singing range of a male is about ¼ acre and the nesting site may be only 90 meters further away. To find our woodcocks, the Deep Fork Audubon Society drove to Sacred Heart, nine miles east of Asher. The site had been a mission established in 1879. An academy for girls, boarding school for boys, convent, blacksmith shop, sandstone bakery, stables and a model farm eventually were built. The mission was destroyed by fire in 1901, leaving only the bakery, a log cabin, foundations of former buildings and a few small structures.

Sacred Heart reverted to a priory, but, beginning in 1910, most things were moving to St. Gregory’s College in Shawnee. The priory closed in 1965. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1914 and a short distance away from the mission site, still stands on Bald Hill, the highest point in Pottawatomie County.

The mission site is quiet, with landscaping that stands as testimony of a former community. Thick trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) hedges still delineate boundaries, and the remaining quince shrubs are beginning to show red blossoms. Pecan groves dominate part of the 640 acre property that also has a meandering creek and a few ponds.

creek pool

creek pool

bluebird

male Eastern Bluebird

Hundreds of American robins began winging it over our heads, apparently on the way to their night roosting area. Bluebirds, crows, titmice, chickadees, wrens, four-wheelers, motorcycles and woodpeckers were seen or heard. A pigeon sat on the top of the log cabin and watched as we opened, and closed, the gate on our way into the pastureland. The dirt road took us past tall grasses and woods. As dusk fell, we heard the first ‘peent.’

The male woodcock has a spectacular courtship display. In order to attract a cute lady, he has a plan. Either right before sunset or sunrise, he begins his ground display. On the ground the male woodcock emits several peents that sound oddly like a large insect buzzing. The guy then takes off into the air, chittering and twittering away as he climbs higher and higher into the sky. He is into his flight song. At the right moment the bird suddenly begins his rapid descent, chirping into silence as he lands at the same spot he started his performance.

Our male began his show at 6:32 pm. We heard the vibrating peent of the woodcock, accompanied by a chorus of toads, spring peepers and white-throated sparrows coming from the creek and the trees. Another peent was heard further away. Ah, two males in the general vicinity. Our bird then flew into the sky as he chittered constantly, but darned if I could ever see him. Up, around, down, up, around, down he went. The guy peented at 6:37 pm, chittered into the sky, began chirping at 6:38 pm and was done by 6:39 pm. At 6:41 pm he had completed a quicker display. At 6:43 pm I tracked with my ears his chittering and silent fall back to earth. The bird went up again at 6:44 pm after another series of peents, chittered across the sky then chirped downward at 6:45 pm. Pause. Once more into the air at 6:47 pm and done by 6:49 pm. At it again at 6:50 pm and by 6:52 pm…… silence. By 7:00 pm, the exhausted woodcock had called it a night. By now it was quite dark except for the brilliant moonlight. He needed a good rest to be ready to perform before the sun rose the next morning. Nearly 30 minutes of non-stop display, and I figure at least 10 full-blown ground and flight cycles. Never glimpsed him. I hope he finds a beautiful damsel for all the work he did.

If you want to know more, check out www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/Woodcock-Facts.

Moon above Sacred Heart

Moon above Sacred Heart

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Pontotoc Ridge Winter Bird Count

creek from the cave

The creek from the cave

January 23, 2016

Pontotoc Ridge Preserve Bird Count

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The day began early, dark and cold with temperatures in the upper twenties. The Deep Fork Audubon Group met at St. Gregory University and drove to the Nature Conservancy Pontotoc Ridge preserve. This site is 2900 acres of low rolling hills with stony lime outcrops, prairies, woods, springs, creeks and ticks. Pontotoc Ridge recorded an amazing 88 inches of rain for 2015. Fittstown Mesonet station, about 6 miles north, received over 77 inches.

It was time for the 9th annual winter bird count, under the direction of the Pontotoc Ridge manager Jona. Bird fanatics gathered at the new Pontotoc Ridge Headquarters building and filled up on doughnuts, cinnamon rolls and coffee. We broke into several groups and were assigned various areas to survey. My group followed a muddy, but frozen path along the county road fence and veered off into undulating land covered in exposed and buried limestone rocks of various sizes. The path then dropped down into an open prairie that took us along the edge of the woods. The final leg was through the oak forest, across two streams, past a cavern containing the Oklahoma cave amphipod, and back to the complex. The circuit was over 4.5 miles.

A very silent Northern Harrier hawk flew ten feet high directly above our heads. The black vultures with white tipped wings and a fan tail, and turkey vultures emerged as the sun warmed the land. Assorted sparrows, noisy crows, insistent woodpeckers, more sparrows, brilliant Eastern bluebirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, yet again additional sparrows, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, juncos, gold finches, flickers, and other birds, yes sparrows, were either seen or heard. Wave after wave of robins kept winging it north. The highest number one group saw was over 400, my group counted143, but a third group recorded only 4.

The wetlands group was treated to cormorants and ducks. Another group saw quite a diverse mixture of sparrows. My prairie/woodland group traipsed over woods and dales and our outstanding birds were the various woodpeckers that lurked within and at the edges of the trees. The clouds eventually broke and the sun appeared. Thankfully, there was little wind.

When all groups had completed their counts, we returned to headquarters for vegetarian chili, broccoli cheese soup and Subway sandwiches, plus desserts and cold drinks. Bird tallies were posted. Two groups identified 38 different bird species. We counted 37. Year-round, over 194 different bird species have been verified at the Pontotoc Nature Preserve.

It was a good day for birding.

limestone outcropping

Donald and Becky

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Stinchcomb (Becky’s account)

the hikeDeep Fork Audubon Society Waterfowl Field Trip
Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge

Halloween, October 31st 2015…..The first day of duck hunting season in Zone 1!

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Well, well, well. Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge is considered to be in the northwest corner of Oklahoma City, with Lake Overholser forming its southern border. Two miles of the North Canadian/Oklahoma River flow through Stinchcomb’s 1,000 acres. Bottomland hardwood forests (with oaks, sycamores, soapberry trees, etc), vegetation-lined ponds, reed filled marshes having no woody plants, swamps populated by trees, deer, beaver, beautiful white Great Egrets, and other wildlife populate the area. Tulsa Audubon Society in the past has reported Wood Ducks found along the river roads as well as goldfinches, woodpeckers, kinglets, owls, hawks and an abundance of sparrows.
Our small group slogged down one river road. It had rained 2 inches the day before. We saw Red-bellied Woodpeckers, cardinals, robins, doves, Blue Jays, sparrows, one Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-winged Blackbirds, a few crows and heard flickers and…..loud gun shots. Coming from all over.

Dirt-encrusted trucks were parked along and off to the side of most of the muddy river roads. As we walked carefully over rough, soaked terrain further toward water, we thought we saw a real duck. It turned out to be a decoy set up on one river bank furiously flapping its fake wings in the air, going nowhere fast. There were the three other Mallard decoys floating on the water. Sure enough, numbered duck blinds were strewn along the road. As we passed duck blind number 25, I wondered if we should have shown up for the limited duck blind drawing held September 26th. Lucky participants that are selected fork over an OK hunting permit fee and this enables them to sit in their cozy hidden quarters to……initially hunt, in the visual sense, for ducks. It would have been the only way we could have possibly seen any ducks that October 31st.

Stinchcomb is barely tucked into Zone 1, an area stretching through the northwestern quarter of Oklahoma. Who knew? We in the Shawnee area, east of US-177, are in Zone 2. The zone lines are very gerrymandered, but drawn according to the duck migration patterns. Zone 2 duck hunting season starts Nov. 7th. Duck hunting began in Zone 1 on Oct 31st, the day we picked weeks ago to have our little waterfowl field trip, and extends until Nov 29th. There is then a break to allow the ducks and geese a breather before the next execution date that runs from Dec 12th to Jan 24th 2016.

Futile efforts aside, we decided to go to another place less likely to have hunters. A large flock of over 200 Franklin’s and Ring-billed Gulls circled over our heads. Why? Apparently gulls love to float on updrafts to save energy. They can also form gull-nadoes when seeking food. Perhaps we looked tasty. A Great Egret quietly flew past as we trudged along the old paved road, more cardinals flew between the trees, a Brown Thrasher made sharp tsuck clicks, but the loud feisty female kingfisher zoomed around, getting our full attention. What a bird. The noisiest animals of all came in the form of three guys we could clearly hear somewhere close to the river. They soon drove out from one horribly muddy red clay side road in their mud-spattered but shiny Chevy SUV with canoe strapped to the top. The young men jumped out, all clad in their camouflage waders, and saw we had….binoculars…. not guns. Wow, comments were made amongst themselves about our binoculars, cameras and spotting scope, but they considered us harmless and warned that the road was almost impassable. They looked around, we assume for something to shoot, but soon left. Two minutes later we saw four ducks, dark silhouettes against the cloudy sky, safely escaping to another area. Our work here was done.
birders at the Baluu
For your information, only non-toxic shot is allowed when hunting in wetlands. The daily bag limit is 6 waterfowl and may include no more than: 5 Mallards of which 2 may be hens, 3 Wood Ducks (colorful perching ducks), 3 Lesser Scaups (abundant diving ducks), 2 Redheads (one of the least common North American ducks), 2 pintails (widely distributed), 2 Canvasbacks (largest diving ducks in North America), 5 mergansers (streamlined fish eaters) and 2 Hooded Mergansers (secretive and strikingly marked smaller mergansers who have lost a large percentage of their nesting habitats.) The Canada Goose season is from Halloween, Oct 31st until Nov. 29th and begins again Dec 12th, but ends on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th. Hey, nothing says love like giving your lover a dead Canada Goose on that special day.

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