Tulsa Audubon Field Trip:
Nickel Preserve

May 31, 2003
    On Saturday (May 31st), Jim Thayer led 10 other birders from Tulsa Audubon Society to several areas of the Nature Conservancy's Nickel Preserve in Cherokee County.  This is private property and we considered ourselves privileged to be allowed to bird there.  I don't know where it is, exactly, as we zigzagged this way and that to get there, but I knew we were gettin' close when Jim finally announced, "well, I guess we oughta start birdin' now," and so we did.

     At our first stop, on the edge of a broad meadow ringed by wooded hills, we found the first of several Blue Grosbeaks (not singing, alas!) and Summer Tanagers for the day (by the end of the day, it seemed to me we had found Summer Tanagers at every stop!  They were SO numerous, one would almost---but not quite---consider them "junk birds" as in, "oh, it's _just_ another Summer Tanager!"), a very noisy Mockingbird, a Cooper's Hawk flying off in the distance, Turkey Vulture, Chimney Swifts, Great Crested and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, E. Bluebird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, No. Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, American Goldfinch, heard a White-breasted Nuthatch calling nearby, and saw a lone Red-headed Woodpecker flying away just as we spotted it.  Someone pointed out a nesthole in a dead snag from which emanated the nearly constant chatter-begging calls of baby Downy Woodpeckers, and every now and then one of the babies inside would clamber up and peek out the hole at us.  Of course, "Mom" wasn't gonna bring food to the nest with all of us standing around below it, gawking at the babies, and we soon left the little family in peace.

     You're asking yourself, "you saw ALL those birds on the FIRST stop?"  Yeppers! it was just that kind of a day.

     Our first stop in the woods produced Red-eyed Vireo (another abundant species), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher ("PIT-see!"), a singing Wood Thrush, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, No. Parula, and a male Kentucky Warbler apparently catching bugs and delivering them to a nearby nest, altho' we never actually saw the nest.  Kentuckies are beautiful to see IF you can catch 'em with your binoculars long enough to get a look at 'em as they flit nervously from one perch to another!  It took great patience but I think eventually, everyone in the group got to see him.  Absolutely stunning little bird with that great black mask above his bright yellow throat, breast, and belly.

     We stopped briefly beside one of the many gates around the Preserve when I saw a Hairy Woodpecker fly into a leafy tree and called to Jim, "stop!"  The others stopped behind us and got out to look, and we had quite a discussion over whether to count the woodpecker on the group's trip list if _I_ was the only one who saw it, until the bird called and the others recognized it as "Hairy WP" and thus let me off the hook for being the only one to SEE it.

     Approaching a pond/marsh beside the road, we spotted a pair of Wood Ducks who, after looking around nervously, finally took off in panic (as Wood Ducks will do!), leaving a Great Blue Heron and several Red-winged Blackbirds in possession of the marsh.  We didn't see the Little Blue Herons on the pond, either, until they, too, flew away from us.

     At the next stop beside a long meadow ringed by trees, we heard a singing Yellow-throated Warbler (a descending "teer-teer-teer-teer-tweedle-lee-dee!") and walked over to the trees to try to see it, but never did.  We saw lots of Chipping Sparrows and heard Pine Warblers and a Yellow-throated Vireo singing from the distant trees on the other side of the road.  It takes a lot of skill to distinguish the song of a Chipping Sparrow from that of a Pine Warbler, a skill I haven't yet mastered, and it was a challenge to pick out one from the other.  In contrast, the E. Meadowlarks singing all around were easy to identify.

     Several times during the day, we in the lead car got to see Wild Turkeys walking along or crossing the road, mostly hens.  I hope at least some of the others in the cars behind us also got to see 'em.

     We came to a stop on a ridge where the hills on one side of the road sloped steeply down to a deep ravine below us, and on the other side the mixed trees, some living, some dead, all of varying heights, stretched across broken, rolling ground.  And here is where we first heard Prairie Warblers singing, at least two of them, and everyone bailed out of the cars to get a look.  It took some doing because at first, the bird seemed to favor the side of the road where we had to look into the glare of the sun to see him, but before long he settled on a dead branch right out in the open where everyone gathered around and got a good look.  From year to year, I never remember what Prairie Warblers look like and didn't remember how lovely they are, with their dark facial markings around their bright yellow cheeks and black streaks down yellow flanks.  Prairie Warbler was a lifebird for several in our group, and there were handshakes and high-5's all around on finding such a good bird and getting to see him so well.

     Then Bill Carrell and Donna Germany called out that they could hear a Worm-eating Warbler singing from the nearby trees (on the sloping hillside below us), which galvanized the whole group into trying to see the bird.  Alas, this bird, too, seemed to be moving around quite a bit and most of us never got to see it even tho' we could tell by its song that it was "right there!" but in the process of chasing it, several people flushed an E. Towhee (I missed it) who promptly flew away.  They also flushed a Whip-poor-will into flight and found another calmly resting on a low branch, maybe a foot off the ground.  It was awake but chose to stay put while we quietly gathered together "in a single pile," pointing excitedly and helping the others who couldn't immediately see the bird to find the particular branch where it rested.  The bird was awake but never twitched a muscle other than to blink, affording everyone a real kick-ass look at a bird we often HEAR calling in the night but seldom get to SEE.  This was a lifebird for some in the group; indeed, the second lifer for Suzie Tramel in just that one stop, and she was pretty excited about it---and I don't blame her a bit!  And what was more, from time to time, this bird would call---in broad daylight!!

     "_THAT_ is the Whip-poor-will!" I said to my new friend, Jenny Bechtold.

     Jenny is new to the Tulsa area, new to birding, and this was her first real birding field trip.  She reminded me of myself six years ago when _I_ was first introduced to serious birding; she couldn't look everywhere fast enough to see everything, looking around in wide-eyed amazement as one or the other of us would hear a sound and instantly recognize it as White-eyed Vireo, Field Sparrow, or Summer Tanager, all of which were abundant in this area, or any of the other birds that we called out to each other as we heard them around us.  Jenny and I got to talking about what we'd already seen and heard, and which calls/songs went with which birds, as the rest of the group moved on up the hill and away from us, and by the time we decided to join 'em, they were nowhere in sight.  Not wanting to get lost, I suggested that we return to the cars and wait, and while we waited, we got even better looks than before at the singing Prairie Warbler and watched with amusement as two Summer Tanagers dueled in the air overhead for the attentions of a female who perched calmly nearby, awaiting the outcome.  We followed the calls of a Yellow-breasted Chat to finally see it hop up on a branch and perform its full repertoire, just for us.  Jenny was amazed that so many different sounds could come from the same bird!  She also spotted the tail-flashing activity of a female American Redstart bug-hunting in the trees down the hill from us.  That always amazes me about new birders:  they may not know what they're looking at when they see it, but they seem to have the most amazing instinct for spotting bird activity where the rest of us might miss it.... or maybe, it's just that Jenny's eyes are younger than mine. ~:-)

     Eventually, the rest of the group returned, tick-ridden (yeah, the ticks are especially bad this year) and chattering excitedly about the Blue-winged Warblers and Olive-sided Flycatcher they'd found.  "Oh, well," I thought, "I saw Blue-winged Warbler at the Nickel Preserve last year...." so I wasn't too disappointed that I'd missed 'em this time.  There's always next year.

     At that point, we decided to break for lunch and retreated to a nearby hay barn to sit in the shade and eat our lunches.  We heard a woodpecker vigorously pounding a nearby tree, and after some of the more experienced birders-by-ear tried to determine what species it was by its hammering, the bird did us all the kind favor of calling several times:  Pileated Woodpecker.  After lunch, we heard a Louisiana Waterthrush singing from the creek behind the barn altho' none of us saw it.  That Waterthrush and the Worm-eating Warbler were both yearbirds for me, thanks to the ears of more experienced birders than I.

     From there, we plunged back into the woods, deep, dark, lush and green, multi-stored woods that remind one of something primeval from a distant, ancestral past.  We heard the high-pitched whistle of a Broad-winged Hawk calling overhead, and Ovenbirds sang from several directions at once.  We stalked another Worm-eating Warbler but, again, most of us never even caught a glimpse of it.  As we walked along the overgrown road, picking up deadfall and moving it out of the way for the cars, we followed the song of another male Kentucky Warbler to its perch, again, apparently on territory and bug-hunting for its young.  I got an even better look at this one than I had earlier at the other.  I also heard the first Chickadee I'd heard all day; those little guys are normally so gregarious, it seemed odd to me not to hear them calling at every stop.

     As we proceeded along the margin between woods and meadow, someone called out on the radio, "we hear a Hooded Warbler!"  Everyone stopped and jumped out in excitement to try to find it.  There were at least two singing birds, one farther back in the woods than the other, but altho' there was no mistaking that song---"weeta-weeta-WEET-ee-O!"---we never saw it.  And with the ticks as bad as they are, none of us was willing to sacrifice ourselves for the others by plunging into that shoulder-high greenery to find the bird, so we piled back in the cars and continued along the road.

     I use the term "road" loosely here because the trail we were following---if it was a road---was hip-high in grass and, to my eyes, there was virtually no distinction between "the road" and the surrounding meadows.  If Jim hadn't known where the road was because he spends so much time out there, I sure wouldn't have wanted to try to drive that "road" in my Mitsubishi Galant, I can tell you.  And it was along about this time that our ongoing disturbance of all those grasses precipitated in me a monster allergy attack where my eyes began itching and burning and watering and swelling almost shut.  I was in some kinda misery here, to where I elected to stay in the car at the next stop rather than get out with the others, so that I heard, rather than saw, the Orchard Oriole the others were exclaiming over.  Fortunately, I had my allergy medicines with me and after about 20-30 minutes, the medicine finally kicked in and eventually relieved the irritation and swelling of my eyes so that by the time we were on our way out of the Preserve, I could see again and got to watch a couple Bobwhites running along the edges of the road just ahead of the car.  Are they cute, or what??

     At the end of the day, my trip list totaled 65 species, 12 of them yearbirds.  And of those 65 species, 12 were warblers! so it was a good day and I was well-pleased with the results, swollen eyes and all.  Bill Carrell's carload had to get on back to Tulsa but the rest of us stopped for dinner at the Dutch Cafe in Chouteau, and then came home.
(c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2003
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