| Last Friday afternoon, Phil Floyd and I trekked out to Quartz Mountain Resort Park on Lake Altus (Greer County) to participate in the 6th annual Oklahoma BioBlitz! It was verrrry windy and rather bird-quiet when we checked in at the BioBlitz! headquarters tent so we drove on into Altus, treated ourselves to a leisurely supper at Applebees, and turned in early.
Saturday morning, the wind had dropped somewhat but it promised to be a hot and very humid day. Not a good thing, but as I told Phil at breakfast, "we're probably going to do most of our birding today from the car, so the weather won't bother us too much." Little did I know!!
Despite the heat, we'd come to bird and were driving over to the Quartz Mountain Lodge when a Rock Wren flew across the road right in front of the car. Good omen! A few minutes later, we parked the car and walked around behind the Lodge to try and find the Lesser Goldfinches reportedly seen on Friday.... and we DID find them!! one male and one female feeding on sunflowers that lined what used to be the shoreline of the lake (alas, the water level is waaaaay down!). Lesser Goldfinch may have been a lifebird for Phil and was definitely a statebird for me; the last time I saw Lesser Goldfinches was in Santa Barbara, California, in Oct. 1999.
At the northwest corner of the Lodge property, at the edge of the manicured lawns, we followed a sign pointing to the "Cave Trail," leading away from the Lodge and up to a cave, as promised. After stopping at the cave a few minutes, we continued along the trail where we both got great looks at a preening Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Here's where my tale gets scary: two women who were counting rodents for the BioBlitz! met us on the trail (coming from the other direction) and said there was a small pond back the way they'd come, so Phil and I ambled along the trail toward the pond. As we walked, I heard a White-eyed Vireo and Carolina Wren calling nearby. Unfortunately, we arrived at the pond at the same time as 3 pre-teen boys (one of them with an annoyingly loud cell phone ringing) who chattered noisily at each other and, with their adult companion/chaperone, began skipping rocks across the surface of the pond. If there were any birds nearby, we couldn't see or hear 'em, so to get away from the noise we continued along the trail past the pond.
When the trail began climbing the mountain we'd apparently been circling, I assumed that sooner or later we'd find ourselves back at the Lodge, so in spite of the cactus, thorny vines, huge boulders, and increasing altitude, I kept climbing---and since Phil is very well-trained, he followed. ~;-)
And when the trail itself gave out, I kept climbing, Phil dutifully following along behind me, until we'd climbed out of the shade, into the sun (and heat!), and a considerable distance UP that mountain. I would add here that those same 3 boys and their adult chaperone came along behind us, as quick and sure-footed as mountain goats, and continued up and over the top of the mountain and were never seen again---at least, not by us.
When we got to the top of the mountain, Phil went around me to look for a way down the other side while I sat on a rock to rest and get my breath back, listening to Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Canyon Wrens calling from the canyon below my perch. Those of you who know me will agree that it's no exaggeration to say, I'm probably NOT in the best shape for mountain-climbing on a hot summer day. So I'm sittin' there, sweating and panting, scratching insect bites and wishing I could fly back to the car, when Phil came back and said there's no way down the other side of the mountain and we'll have to go back the way we came.
"You've GOT to be kidding!!" I gasped.
"Nope," he answered, "I can't see any way through the thickets on the other side. We'll have to go back," adding that he'd already pulled a cactus spine out of his ankle. ("Well, be more careful!" I said. Men!!!) We had about an inch of water to share in our water bottle, it was hot and the air was still since we were on the lee-side of the mountain, and I was hyperventilating and getting dizzy, near to fainting, everytime I looked out across the valley toward the mountains surrounding us. But no one knew we were out there so with no other choice in the matter, I finally stood up and began inching my way back down the mountain, unable to find the way I'd come up and having to blaze a new trail down. Phil picked his own way downhill and then came back up the trail we'd followed earlier to wait for me---bless his heart---as I stumbled along, sitting down to rest every couple of minutes, until I finally staggered out onto the flat near the pond, in such misery that I can't even describe it. In due time, we emerged from "the Cave Trail" back into civilization behind the Lodge.... and I don't EVER want to do that again!!
Back in the car with the air-conditioning blasting in our faces and while inhaling a whole bottle of icy-cold water apiece, we decided to have lunch at the café we'd noticed near the park entrance, and then we'd head out around the lake to look for more birds. We'd spent a couple of hours "mountain-climbing," during which time we accumulated only a dozen bird species, and now we only had two hours to find as many more birds as we could. Well, it wasn't easy and we fought for every one, but in the next two hours, we increased our list to 36 species, including Spotted Sandpiper and Northern Rough-winged Swallows that we found at the OK Penitentiary's sewage lagoons north of the lake. No other birders reported those two species so we were pretty proud of ourselves. And verrrrrrrry tired.
Incredibly, the birding team garnered 96 species for the count, more than at any previous BioBlitz! and especially remarkable when everyone confirmed how few birds seemed to be out that day. Of course, now we've set the bar very high for next year and will undoubtedly feel the need to find 100 or more species at the site of the 2007 BioBlitz! at the Wichita Mountains near Lawton.
I'm sure Phil died Saturday night; I know I did. But after breakfast Sunday morning, we drove in the rain down to the Hackberry Flat wetlands near Frederick. At first, it seemed like we weren't going to find very many birds here either, but when Phil suggested that we drive on around (clockwise) to the southern boundary road, all of a sudden our bird numbers picked up.
I think our best bird of the day, and maybe for the whole trip, was a WHITE-TAILED KITE (see the picture at the top of this page, not the same bird but one like it) that we watched for 10-15 minutes as it hover-hunted in the fields next to the car. We weren't sure what it was when we first saw it but we got lucky: the bird kept circling closer and closer to where we sat in the car, so that eventually we got really kick-ass looks at it, topped off by a blazing flash of that white, white tail which put to rest forever our doubts about the possibility that it was really just a light-colored Mississippi Kite. Nope, that was a White-tailed Kite!! another new statebird for me (imagine, TWO statebirds in the same trip!) and possibly another lifer for Phil. We added 19 birds to our weekend triplist while at Hackberry, then turned the car and headed for home.
|(c) copyright Cyndie Browning|