Red Slough Weekend
with the Tulsa Audubon Society

     A week ago, I spent the entire weekend (Friday afternoon, 12 hours on Saturday, and Sunday morning 6:00am-to-noon) "runnin' through the briars and runnin' through the brambles, runnin' through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go"!!  The Tulsa Audubon Society was headed to Red Slough for the weekend, and Phil Floyd and I went along for the fun.

     I met Phil in Idabel on Friday, and after lunch, we drove up to the Broken Bow City Park, one of the few reliable places in the whole state of Oklahoma where you can hope to see Brown-headed Nuthatch.  Oddly enough, we didn't hear their "squeegee-squeegee!" calls as we usually do.  Phil said he'd visited the park earlier that morning and altho' he found ONE bird, it wasn't calling either.  Well, as we walked around the small lake at the park, we came upon a dead tree stump in the lake, shaped like a chimenay (sp? those Mexican pear-shaped outdoor fireplaces), and Phil spotted a single BH Nuthatch perched on the side of the stump (verrrry well camouflaged) near a small hole in the stump, holding a small insect in its tiny bill.  We stood stock-still for about 10 minutes before the bird finally decided "the coast is clear" and delivered the bug to whomever was occupying that nesthole.  We also found a Spotted Sandpiper stalking back and forth along the muddy bank of the shallow end of the lake, fly-catching!!  I got tickled watching this fanny-dancin' little bird jump up in the air and catch a fly outa thin air!!  The Spottie and a Bobwhite we heard calling nearby were both yearbirds, not to mention the BH Nuthatch.

     From there, we drove on up Hwy 259 to Beaver's Bend State Park where we'd birded in September 2002 while helping count birds for the
2nd annual Oklahoma BioBlitz! Here, we picked up Black Vulture for a yearbird (OKbird for the year for me, as I'd previously seen them at Tommy's farm in NE Texas while bird-banding in February) and our first Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  There's a really nice, broad hiking path south along the Mountain Fork River that goes on for miles, so we sauntered down the trail quite a ways, soon picking up Little Blue Heron, Hairy Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher and E. Kingbird, White- and Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, and Warblers!!!  Prothonotary, Kentucky, and Yellow-throated, as well as Louisiana Waterthrush and Com. Yellowthroat.  We also heard our first Summer Tanager of the year picky-tucking from the woods.  By sundown, we'd gathered 55 species for the day, with 17 of 'em being new yearbirds for 2004.  And the "real" field trips hadn't even started yet!

     That evening, we joined the Tulsa group in one of their motel rooms for a bit of wine-and-cheese before supper.  A walk out to the lake behind the motel added Tree Swallow to our trip- and year-lists, along with a few other birds we'd already seen that day.  Altho' initially we'd all planned to go out to dinner together, some people wanted Mexican food while others wanted to try the steak-and-pie restaurant just down the road.  Phil and I ended up joining
Marty Kamp and Jim Thayer from Tulsa, Mia Revels (who's studying Swainson's Warblers at the Little River NWR down the road---see below), and Berlin Heck (who lives in Broken Bow and shows up whenever there's a gathering of birders where wine or beer is being served ~;-) at a nearby Mexican restaurant where we enjoyed a rowdy good time and great food.  All by himself, Berlin (which rhymes with Merlin) is a "group"!! and kept us in stitches through the whole meal.

     Saturday morning came mighty early as we had to be at the rendezvous point in the motel parking lot at Broken Bow (and Phil and I were staying in Idabel, to be closer to Red Slough) at 7:15am!!  Well, we made it with minutes to spare and then caravaned to the Little River NWR just southeast of Broken Bow.  Dr. Mia Revels, an ornithology professor at NE State University in Tahlequah, is, as I said before, studying Swainson's Warblers at the Refuge and led some 20-25 of us out into the tick-infested woods at the Refuge to net and band Swainson's Warblers---if we were lucky.  I saw the first little tan-and-creme-colored bird fly into the bushes beside the first net Mia set out but didn't get more than a passing glance at it, and when it went down, it stayed down.  However, at the second stop, I happened to catch a glimpse of the bird that came in to the tape and then got to watch it for 5-10 minutes.  It seemed nervous and absolutely refused to drop down into the net where Mia could've given us a real up-close-and-personal look at it, but I had a kick-ass view of it straight up through the trees over my head.  Hadn't seen a Swainson's Warbler since my lifebird in May 1999 in Texas so this was a real treat.  We failed to get any Swainson's at all on the 3rd stop but did hear a Hooded Warbler singing nearby (another yearbird).  Also, there were Wood Thrushes (yearbird) singing all over those woods!!  I'm usually lucky if I find one-a-year, but I'm sure I heard no less than 6-8 while at the Refuge!!  And I got my first Ruby-throated Hummer of the year out there, too, and Black-and-White Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat (yep, all yearbirds!).  At our 4th stop, Mia finally managed to coax a Swainson's Warbler into the net but by that time I didn't feel like testing my luck with ticks (I'd already picked up one of the little buggers out of my hat, for cryin' out loud!!!) so I stayed on the road with the rest of the group while others who hadn't had as good a look as I did waded into the undergrowth.

     That Swainson's Warbler at our second net stop (my kick-ass look) was my 299th Oklahoma bird species since 1998, and the Anhinga we saw flying overhead was #300, so I guess I can consider myself a bona fide Oklahoma birder now, huh?

     The trip to the Refuge broke up around noon-1:00 o'clock, and Phil and I offered to lead the pack back to the Broken Bow City Park so that those for whom Brown-headed Nuthatch would be a lifebird (and there were several among us!) could get a good look at one.  When we got to the park, we gathered around a concrete picnic table near the tree stump/nest but didn't see or hear the bird(s).  Phil and I decided to go find some lunch in town and left the rest of the group there with their picnic lunches.  We learned later that they'd moved a little farther away from the "nesting stump" before eating, and no sooner had they sat down to their lunches than the nuthatch showed up with insect-lunch for its brood in the nesthole.  Mission accomplished!!

     Meanwhile, after our own lunch and a much-needed nap (I HATE early mornings!!), Phil and I drove down to Red Slough to see what we could see.  We found two Eurasian Collared-Doves (yearbird) at the foot of Mudline Road, and more White-crowned Sparrows than you can shake a stick at! even more White-crowns than Savannahs.  Out in the water, we found Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (yearbirds), Wood Ducks, No. Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal and one Green-winged (that Dave Arbour found the next day, citing it as the "only Green-winged Teal at Red Slough!!"), Wilson's Snipe, Upland Sandpiper, and Long-billed Dowitchers (the last 2, both yearbirds).  We stayed until it was too dark to see anymore, then headed back to town and called it a night.

     Sunday began even earlier than Saturday:  6:15am!!  Hell, it was still dark out! but off we sped at warp speed down the back roads to Red Slough, following Dave Arbour who's been surveying the species there for the OK Dept. of Wildlife (I think.... one of those, anyway) for the past several years, so he knows it better than anyone.  The OKC group had apparently gone back to the Little River Refuge, trying to find Hooded Warblers.  The rest of us Tulsans collapsed ourselves into 3-4 cars and followed Dave out onto the levees in search of King Rails.  And found 'em!!  In fact, I think I saw at least 7-8 King Rails!! (which, when I saw them 2 years ago, were lifebirds) as well as 4-5 American Bitterns, American Golden-Plover, Green Heron; Least, Solitary, Pectoral, and Semipalmated Sandpipers; and Mississippi Kite, all yearbirds.

     After that, we took a vote and decided to go look for
LeConte's Sparrow.  Now, I hadn't seen one in Oklahoma since September 2001, and hadn't seen one at all since February 2002 in Texas, so I was all for going to look for it.  However, after tromping about a goodly distance through the briars and brambles and hip-high thorny bushes, my lower back, hips, thighs, calves, and soles of my feet hurt SO bad from all the hiking, and my eyes itched so badly from the hip-high grasses we were walking through and the two quarter-sized insect bites on my right arm, that it was all I could do to keep going---and yet I knew if I sat down to rest, they'd probably just leave me there!! so I kept on walking.  (By mid-morning, I sat in the car while the rest of 'em got out to tromp around some more; I just couldn't go one more step!!)  However, I was rewarded for my pain when I came up to where the rest of the group had "cornered" a LeConte's Sparrow, perched low in a spindly willow for about 5 minutes before it flushed, giving everyone a really kick-ass look!!  Then we managed to circle and corner it again on the ground where everybody (all 12-13 of us) got really good looks at him.  It was a great moment in birding!! a lifebird for several in our group, and it made me glad I'd stuck out the briars and brambles long enough to be there when we cornered him....

     ...but boy, I faded fast after that.  I left Idabel about 1:00pm Sunday and got home to Tulsa at 4:30, unpacked as much of my stuff from the car as would get me through the night, climbed into bed at 5:00pm, and slept straight through to 7:00 Monday morning when the alarm went off!!!!  I wasn't sleepy on Monday but man-oh-man, I hurt _everywhere_!! and gettin' dressed and goin' to work that day was about all I could manage.  The soles of my feet were SO sore I could hardly walk; have you ever tried to walk without actually putting your feet on the ground?  Yeah, that's about how hard it was, almost like not remembering how to walk normally.  Well, I managed to make it through the day and went to bed early again Monday night, and by Tuesday morning, was feeling pretty much like my "old" self---which seemed appropriate since Tuesday was my birthday!!  Happy Birthday to me!

     By my count, we saw 106 species of birds on the weekend, almost half of which were new for this year.  And if you think about it, I've now seen 300 species of birds in Oklahoma---and saw more than a third of that list over this ONE weekend.  Now THAT's a lot of birds!!!!  But it WAS fun and I very much enjoyed spending the weekend with this group of birders.  There were about a dozen of us from Tulsa plus another 6-8 from OKC, all ages, sizes, interests, skills, and sexes, and we all got along like a house afire.  Yeah, it was a really good time and I'm glad I was there, altho' I think I'll wait a few weeks before goin' out to bird THAT hard again!!
April 25, 2004
Looking north on Mudline Road
(c) copyrighted by C.Browning 2004