Red Slough:
What the Heck?
by Cyndie Browning
June 11, 2002
(c) Copyrighted by Cyndie Browning, 2002
    At about 8:30 Saturday morning (6/8), Phil Floyd and I turned left at the Getty sign and headed up Mudline Road to see what we could see.  The last time Phil had visited Red Slough was Nov 2000, and I was excited for him to see how much it had changed from the virtual desert we'd seen back then.

     In no time at all we'd grown sick-to-death of the sound of Dickcissels.  We LOVE sparrow-birding and everytime we saw a small brown bird fly over or perch on the barbed wire fence along the road, we looked hopefully after it.... and in every case, it turned out to be just another Dickcissel!  But we were also pleased to see and hear many other species, including Yellow-billed Cuckoos (also abundant at the Slough), Red-headed and Downy WPs, E. Phoebe and Scissor-tailed FC, E. Bluebird and No. Mockingbird, Blue Grosbeak, and E. Meadowlark.  A Black Vulture flew in and perched in a nearby dead tree, giving us great looks.

     In due course, we arrived at the middle parking lot and hiked out to the observation tower east of Mudline.  Out in/on the water at Unit 44, we found Great and Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great-tailed Grackles (apparently nesting in the reeds), and TONS of yodeling Great-billed Grebes.  (No, I'm only kidding.... of course, they were Pied-billed Grebes.)  And the Grebes have babies!! stripey little puffballs that bounce on the water as if they weigh nothing at all.  Boy, were they cute!  A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron flew over us and landed nearby, a yearbird for both of us.

     We were up in the tower lookin' around when we noticed
Berlin Heck's red 4x4 creeping down the levee road where we'd just hiked.  Immediately, it became clear that the difference between walkers and riders at Red Slough is KEYS to the gates!!! and that Berlin has a set of those keys.  A good man to know in this situation.  The car came to a stop and Berlin and his friend, Ford Hendershot, soon joined us on the tower.

     We noticed a goodly number of Least Terns wheeling and dipping over Unit 40, and as one tern flew near us, Berlin remarked that its wings were dark, not light like the Leasts:  this was a Black Tern, immature or female with a white head.  (I guess I'd never realized that all Black Terns are not black all the time.)  This was the first time I'd ever seen either tern species at Red Slough.  We learned from Berlin that the Little Blue Herons who're losing their white plumage and taking on the blue, are known (at least locally) as "Calico's."  The name fits their appearance, and before the end of the day, Phil and I giggled self-consciously whenever we called out "Calico Herons" to each other, as if we'd always known the term.  Two Neotropic Cormorants were perched in a tree to the east, apparently their usual hang-out this year.  Three Tree Swallows perched in a dead snag sticking out of the water.  A small flock of White Ibis flew over.  Berlin scoped the edges of the reeds south of us, searching for (and not finding) Common Moorhen or Purple Gallinule, and then invited us to join them in the car to go look for King Rails.  We eagerly accepted.

     We rode out to the far NW corner of the Slough around Unit 27, where the rails had been seen just two days earlier, but alas, we didn't find them.  (We checked that pool twice on Saturday and didn't find the rails either time.)  We did find lots of Bell's Vireos back in there and more than one Yellow-breasted Chat croaking from the bushes.  Also, I began to suspect that Dave Arbour spends part of his survey time at the Slough each week diggin' on the levies we were drivin' on, to make them more "challenging" to 4WD vehicles like Berlin's, because Phil and I bounced around in the back seat like WE were mounted on springs!

     We continued on around and on the back side of Unit 27, Berlin noticed an immature Bald Eagle flying overhead whereupon we all bailed out of the car to have a look.  A little further on, we watched an American Bittern fly off and then located two young Bitterns standing stock-still in the reeds.  One of the two had the most comical "halo" of downy feathers covering its head and long neck (which were all we could see of either bird).  I think this was about when Berlin broke out the beer---a 6-pack he carried in a small cooler in the back of the car---and at about the same time, I'm sure Phil concluded that "it just doesn't get any better than this:  sippin' cold beer and birdin' the Slough by car." ~:-)

     By the time we were through, we'd covered most of the levee trails in Berlin's car but failed to find any really "good birds," like Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, altho' we DID look for them everywhere.  We watched a Bobcat saunter across Mudline, on the part of the road that leads north out of the  Slough, and identified about a dozen different wildflowers.  But I can only tolerate so much muggy heat before I wilt so after returning to Idabel for a scrumptious lunch of Mexican food, we retreated to the motel to sleep off the hottest part of the day.  We drove back down to the Slough sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. but the only new and interesting species we found there were a lone White-faced Ibis in Unit 30 and a Barred Owl perched beside the north end of Mudline, right out in the open.

     We knew the Tulsa Audubon group would be arriving on Saturday in order to bird on Sunday but they planned to gather in their motel parking lot at 5:30 in the freakin' a.m.!! which means we would've had to get up at 4:30 and go bird without breakfast (let alone hot lunch!) even before the sun was up.  Waaayyyy too early, if you ask me, and we are NOT morning people!!! so we slept in a little, ate a good breakfast, and arrived at the Slough by about 9:00.... which means we missed the Wood Storks, the one King Rail they found, and a few other species.  On the other hand, we added Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, and Baltimore Oriole to our trip list that morning and finished the weekend with a respectable 70 species altogether.  A terrific weekend; I loved every minute of it.  Thanks for your help and guidance on Saturday, Berlin and Ford, and thanks for the lift, too.  "It's the o-o-only way to fly!!"
OCT 2001
Dickcissel by Bill Horn
(Berlin Heck)