A whole new look:
Phil gets a scope!

July 5, 2002

Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
    Friday night (7/5/2002), Phil Floyd and I drove up to Cherokee, OK, intending to participate in the annual Great Salt Plains 4th of July Butterfly Count, but by the time we got there, we'd pretty much decided to blow off the butterflies and go birdin' instead.  Phil's wife had given him a spotting scope for a Father's Day/wedding anniversary (June) gift and I'd promised Phil I'd let him share it with me, so we were both eager to try it out.

     We got a late start Saturday morning after lingering over breakfast at Ms. Dottie's Cafe in downtown Cherokee (really taste home-cooking, if you happen to find your way there) and probably would've been too late to take part in the Butterfly Count anyway.  On our way out Hwy. 11 between Cherokee and the
Salt Plains NWR, we were treated to the always-thrilling sight of about two dozen White Pelicans wheeling and pirouetting in one of their kaleidoscope ballets overhead.  How such an ungainly bird on land can appear so graceful in the air, always amazes me.

     As we turned off the highway into the Refuge, we heard an E. Towhee* singing his "drink-yer-TEEEA!" song---REAL loud and several times in succession---right near the road.  The Date Guide says E. Towhees are Rare in NW Oklahoma, even during their "season" of Sept 30-May 10, but I guess the Towhee can't read, huh?  And neither can the Common Mergansers we found at the School Marsh (Stop #6) along the Auto Tour....

*(Author's note 2005:  I know now this was a Bewick's Wren, not a Towhee.  I was still a pretty new birder back then and hadn't learned the Bewick's Wren song yet.)

    When we first walked up to the lookout area over the marsh, we could tell there were ducks out there but not exactly which "flavor."  Phil asked, "do you want me to go get my scope?"
     "Well, of course, ya big silly!! that's why we're here, isn't it?!" I replied, and in a few minutes he returned with it.  Now I should tell you that Phil---being male---doesn't believe in "reading the directions" (he says that's what he's payin' ME for!) so we struggled for the next 10 minutes or so, figuring out how to keep the new tripod from collapsing, how to pivot the scope up and down, and how to focus the lens.  It wasn't pretty but we got 'er done and soon discovered that the "ducks" we were seeing were one Ruddy Duck and 5 Com. Mergansers**---1 green-headed male and 4 females (or immatures?).  I know, I know, the Date Guide says Oct 29-Apr 28 for Com. Mergansers, but there they were, even so; I mean, you can't make 'em NOT be what they are just because the book says they're not supposed to be there, can ya?

**(Author's note 2007:  After I first published this report, the general concensus of opinion was that those were NOT Com. Mergansers.  However, at this time, I no longer remember what they were. CB)

    (By the way, we ran into a carload of Butterfly Counters at this stop and asked 'em how it was goin'.  "Not very well," they said, which made both of us glad we'd opted to bird instead.)

     We also treated ourselves to good long looks at the dozens and dozens of dark Ibis at the School Marsh and the adjacent Mink Run Marsh.  Phil had talked with Jim Arterburn the night before, who'd said he'd come to the Great Salt Plains to try and get pictures of Glossy Ibis and the Glossy-X-White-faced hybrids that have been seen up there.  We never did see what we could definitively identify as a Glossy Ibis (which would be a lifebird for me) but with the help of Phil's new scope, this was the first time in the 3 years we've been birdin' together that we've been able to say for certain, "THIS is a White-faced Ibis because...," and to know for sure that's what we were lookin' at.  We also got to see how the young Ibis are different from the adults.  Gave us both a sense of accomplishment, like, "hey, we _can_ learn this stuff!"

     Upon leaving the Auto Tour, we headed up to the Byron Fish Hatchery.  Neither of us had been there before even tho' this was our 3rd trip to the Great Salt Plains in as many months.  We'd stop here-and-there along the road whenever we noticed bird activity and/or noise, and at once such stop, we were intrigued by what sounded like a "peek!" or "pick!" repeated 8... 10... 12 times in-a-row, followed by a downward-slurred "Downy-type" call.  Both of us carefully and thoroughly scanned the big ol' willow where the sound seemed to be coming from with our binocs and moved back-and-forth along the road, trying to see the bird or locate it with our ears, but we just could not find it!  And then a female Hairy Woodpecker flew in with a worm wrapped around her beak.  Well, THIS looked promising!  She began calling, too, "pick! pick! pick!" but the other bird---if that's what it was---would shut up as soon as she started.  She seemed to be watching us, trying to figure out whether it was safe to deliver the worm, while we were equally intent on watching her to see where she was taking it.  A couple times, she flitted to another tree and when she did, the other calls would start up again, incessant and---we hoped---hungry!  Then to make matters worse, a trio of young Tufted Titmice flew in, apparently in response to the Hairy mother's repeated calls of "food! food! food!!" which seemed to fluster the Hairy even more.  Well, Phil and I stood our ground and were finally rewarded with the sight of Mama delivering the worm to its baby in the nesthole that we'd seen in that very tree but couldn't until that moment make out that the "peek!" "pick!" and Downy-type calls were coming from that hole; that is, until the baby popped his head out of the hole to receive his lunch.  We swapped self-congratulatory grins and high-fives, and then got back in the car and continued down the road.

     We found 2 Gr. Yellowlegs in one of the ponds to the left of and before the intersection with the road you turn into to get to the Fish Hatchery, but that was the most "exotic" and seeminly rare bird we'd seen until then.  We drove up to the Fish Hatchery Watchable Wildlife Area and, despite the heat, parked the car and walked around the 6-acre hiking trail, picking up Blue Grosbeak and Ruby-throated Hummer along the way, then decided to call it a morning (it was about 2:30 p.m. by now) and headed back to town for a well-deserved lunch.

     After a nap to sleep off the hottest part of the day, we ventured out again about 6:00o'clock, stopping briefly at the cemetery---which was, in a nutshell, "dead"!! (small pun intended ~:-) ---and driving around the residential streets of Cherokee looking for---and NOT finding---Eurasian Collared-Dove (we've heard tell they're all over the place out there but we have yet to find one!), then gave up the chase and headed back out to the Refuge along one of the north-south dirt roads east of town.  Our reward for our diligent search was an adult Bobwhite with about 10-11 babies in tow.  Boy, were they cute!  (Remember, Phil and I worked on the Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas project together for the past 3 years so we "live for" finding baby birds in the summer.)  Our quarry was Night-Herons, and I'm proud to say we topped off our day's excellent birding with one Yellow-crowned and two Black-crowned Night-Herons, right where I'd expected to find them.

     Sunday morning, we headed out again to pick up a few more species we'd missed so far.  Got our W. Meadowlark, and while stopping so Phil could show me some adult Jack Rabbits, we heard a bubbling whistle coming from the opposite field and followed our ears to 4 Upland Sandpipers.  Even this late in the year, those were yearbirds for me, and frankly, I'd about given up finding them this year so I was tickled to see 'em.  We also got reacquainted with Grasshopper Sparrows, another yearbird.

     Then driving out along Hwy. 11, we found an Amer. Avocet in a pond near the road, along with a Great Blue Heron and a number of Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets.  We also noticed a couple other "shorebirds" nearby but couldn't make 'em out from the car so we pulled off the road, got out Phil's scope again, and hiked back to the bridge for a better look.  There were _2_ Avocets and they seemed to be agitated about somethng, repeatedly chasing the Heron and Egrets off into the air for some reason.  Also, rather than just lookin' pretty and feeding at their usual relaxed pace, they both stood "at attention," very straight and tall, looking around warily, with a very un-Avocet-like nervousness about something.... and we soon discovered why:  the other 2 shorebirds were Avocet _chicks_!!!! long-legged and feathered out but with no tails to speak of, just little naked bird butts, sorta spotted/mottled tan plumage above and white below.  The one field mark that stood out above all others were their thin, up-turned bills that they swept back-and-forth thru the water ahead of them, just like "Mom" had taught 'em.  Oh, they were adorable!! and thanks to Phil's new scope, we got terrific looks at them.

     It took until we got to the lake at the State Park for us to find Double-crested Cormorants---pitiful, isn't it? when you have to go _looking_ for Cormorants!!  We also found a female Orchard Oriole feeding her baby in the nest (after she flew off for more food, the baby stuck his fuzzy li'l head up over the rim of the nest to look out at the world---and us, gray-black fuzz on top of his head and orange-y yellow throat below), and another "first summer" Oriole in the next tree over, orange like the female but with a blackish hood already covering his face from throat to crown of his head.  And our last new species for the trip appeared just as we turned south onto Hwy 38, headed for Jet and thence back to Enid.  We love sparrows and stop to look whenever we see "little brown birds" lined up on barbed wire fences.  Well, we'd been pissin' and moanin' all day Saturday about "where are the Lark Sparrows?" and now, finally, as we headed for home, we got our first look at one.  Nice way to end a bird trip, y'know, with that one more bird you've been lookin' for all day.

     We finished the trip with 80 species and had a darn good time doing it, too.
(c) copyrighted by C.Browning 2002
This is where I learned that "sharin' Phil's new scope" meant that
_I_'d set it up and find the birds so HE could look at 'em!!  (That rascal!)