Field-trippin' around the
Oklahoma City Lakes
January 25, 2003
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(c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2003
    Saturday morning, Peter Lowen and I rendezvoused with about 15 other Tulsa Audubon-ers and half-a-dozen OKC Audubon-ers on the eastern shore of Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City.  The last time&temperature standard we passed as we turned down No. Council Road toward the lake said 30*F, but with a steady breeze it felt a good bit colder than that.  The lake was mostly frozen over with open pools (or leads, as they say in the Antarctic) scattered here and there, which tended to concentrate the gulls and waterfowl in bunches either on the edges of the ice or in the pools, alas, some of them pretty far away.  One of the leads was fairly large and contained all 3 mergansers, some Ruddy Ducks, and the usual Mallards and Gadwalls.  Two mature Bald Eagles breakfasted on fish out on the ice.  A male Belted Kingfisher zipped back and forth a couple times; apparently, our arrival had disturbed his fishing and he had quite a bit to say about that.  We found a Killdeer on the edge of a small inlet from the lake, and one of our group spotted a Herring Gull among the hundreds of Ring-bills and we all got to see it.

     One thing about field-trippin' with a group this size is, we had about 10 spotting scopes among us so that everyone got a good look at everything and no one felt left out, to the point where as some would turn and discuss a particular bird or how cold it was or whatever, several scopes stood "open" and available to whomever wanted to look.  Not having a scope myself, I very much appreciated the generosity of those who let me look at the birds through theirs.  Thanks, guys!

     Our designated leader, Jim Arterburn, wasn't able to attend due to a family emergency at home and we found ourselves "lost in Oklahoma City" without a leader.  Peter and I asked Jo Loyd if she was the substitute leader, to which she replied, "no, we don't have a leader today, but why don't we move on up the spit to get a little different perspective on what we're seeing here?"  So everyone piled into their cars (our caravan had to be at least 10 cars long, maybe more) and we drove north perhaps half-a-mile.  Peter and I laughed when we saw what happens to a field trip without a leader:  one car pulled off the road, perhaps waiting to see if anyone would go around and take the lead; the car behind that one pulled off behind it, just following the car in front without knowing where we were headed; we pulled up beside the two of them; then a 4th car stopped on the other side of the road a little ways behind us, at which point the rest apparently decided, "okay, this must be the place!" and pulled up, parked, and got out of their cars.  I said to Peter, "well, it looks as if  we're stopping here," and we got out to join the rest.  Clearly the job of field-trip leader entails not only deciding when and where to go, but when and where to stop, too.  We were badly in need of a leader, and lucky for all of us, Jimmy Woodard showed up when he did and, from then on, led the group around Overholser and beyond.

     At our second stop, we added one White Pelican (whom some thought might be sick, to be there all by his lonesome), Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, a few Butterbutts (Yellow-rumped Warblers) in the scraggly trees, and a couple Red-tailed Hawks.  But no new gulls.

     Our next stop was at the north end of the lake, a nice little park area where we found a flock of Harris's Sparrows feeding on the ground and a couple Cardinals.  I heard a Chickadee calling nearby.  But again, no new gulls so we moved on.

     On the west side of the lake, Nancy Vicars said she'd heard a Hairy Woodpecker calling from the cottonwoods lining the parking lot so a few of us traipsed off in search of passerines.  We'd picked up a No. Flicker, Meadowlark, and a few more Butterbutts when Patty Moser hollered from across the street, "LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (bless her heart, she yelled it out twice!! or we might've missed it) and we RAN back to the group to have a look for ourselves.

     Larry Mays and Jimmy had the bird in their scopes.  It was a good ways out and it took a few people some minutes to locate exactly which bird it was among the many because it was surrounded by Ring-billed Gulls and, of all things, Mergansers.  (There was a ton of mergansers on the lake yesterday, a _ton_!!)  Larry said he'd spotted the LBBG (which had been reported at Overholser earlier in the week) as it had landed on the ice, sat down next-to-and-slightly-behind a Ring-bill, dropped its head, and apparently settled in for a nap.  When I got to look, it was frustrating to see only the head and shoulders of what was for me (and others) a lifebird, but still, I could see that the bird's back while sunning itself on the sandbar was verrrrrrrrrrrry much blacker than the gray back of the Ring-bill resting beside it.  Our whole group nattered on happily about spotting this rarity and, for some of us, a lifer, when we finally got lucky and the Ring-bill beside it flew off.  Good looks all around this time.  I think this was also the stop where someone spotted a California Gull out on the ice and we all got good looks at this bird, too, but the LBBG was clearly the bird-of-the-day.... at least, so far.  And, O yeah! I got tickled all over as I watched one Coot walking across the ice.  Apparently, lobed feet aren't much good on ice.  (Y'know, there are birders in Minnesota who claim that Coot never fly; they just march in perfect V-formation as they migrate north and south.)  Be that as it may, one Coot ice-skating was a hoot-and-a-half to behold.

Digiscope photo of the GHO on her nest,
by Patricia Velte of OKC
Field-trippin' around the
Oklahoma City Lakes
January 25, 2003
    Finally, we piled back into our cars and Jimmy led us around to the south end of the lake, near the dam and opposite a very nice park.  As we got out, somebody called "owl!!" and we watched as a large bird flew through the trees of the park and out into the open, hounded all the way by several crows.  Then Larry spotted a large nest and sure enough, there was the female Great Horned Owl in the crook of a tree, maybe 20 feet off the ground and---to our eyes---right out in the open, her ear tufts flapping in the breeze. (See photo above.)   As we moved around the tree, trying to give the bird a respectful distance so as not to flush her off the nest, I found I could see her eyes looking back at me as I peered up at her through my binocs.  Some thoughtful person set up a scope and then each of us got to stare into the face of a Great Horned Owl.  Her face filled the view through the scope.  Except for photographs, I've never had such an up-close look at the beautifully colored face and piercing yellow eyes of a wild Great Horned Owl.  Absolutely breathtaking!! and my personal choice for "Bird-of-the-Day."
(Bill Horn took the picture at left the week after we were there.  Isn't she beautiful??))

     But back to the gulls:  the guys soon relocated the LBBG and from this vantagepoint and with the sun behind us, we all got much better looks at it than before, very satisfying to those of us claiming it as a lifebird.  Twice, a flock of about 30 Cedar Waxwings flew over us but otherwise we found nothing new.
    After a rest/snack break at a nearby convenience store, we headed north toward Lake Hefner where the variety of waterfowl picked up significantly, adding Pied-billed and Horned Grebes, Common Loon, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Lesser and Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and No. Shoveler to our trip list.  As we moved around toward the north end of the lake and parked on the lakeshore drive overlooking the sewage ponds below, Peter spotted a tallish brown bird standing in the reeds near a Great Blue Heron and asked me, "is that a bird or a log?"  I took a look and thought it might be a young Night-Heron (and so did Peter), possibly Black-crowned because of its hunched Peter Lorre posture, but it just as easily could've been a log so I ran off toward where Jimmy and Larry were scanning the ponds and pointed them toward the bird.  It stood SO still and was so well camouflaged by the reeds where it stood, but as everyone focused their scopes on it, we all soon buzzed with excitement for finding an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron in Oklahoma City in January!!

     A small flock of Amer.  Wigeons on the bank of the ponds below us and a couple Kestrel hover-hunting on the hills above the ponds wrapped up our excitement at Lake Hefner.  Most of the group headed over to Stars-and-Stripes Park to continue birding but I decided I'd had just about all the fun I could stand for one day, having left my warm bed at 5:00am in order to attend this event, and Peter was kind enough to agree so we headed for home.

     My trip list shows 50 species plus several Red-shouldered Hawks that we saw along the turnpike between Tulsa and OKC.  It was a really good time and thanks to all of you who were there and made it so.

Subj:  The Overholser Owl
Date:  4/16/03
From:  Patricia Velte

     The surviving Great Horned Owl chick (above) at Lake Overholser has been growing rapidly and has left the nest, although still unable to fly.  Terri Underhill and a birding from Canada were concerned about the owl because of yesterday's strong winds and thunderstorms.  They located the young bird this morning and it's doing great, perched about 6 feet aboveground in a tree quite a bit west of the nest.  There is a large cedar tree next to it for cover.

     While searching for the owl this afternoon, I was startled to find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with it, about 5 feet from its perch.  It does a pretty nifty tree-climbing maneuver -- I backed away quickly.  Thought you might like to see how the bird is doing and have attached a photo I took this afternoon.
_ _ _ _ _

Thanks, Pat.  FAAAAAAAB-ulous picture!!!!
(c) Photo of Great Horned Owl chick
copyrighted by Patricia Velte 2003
(c) Photo copyrighted by Bill Horn 2003