Sequoyah NWR:
geese and eagles and snipe,
oh my!!

February 8, 2003
(c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2003
    Saturday morning (2/8), Phil Floyd and I met Sandy Berger of Ft. Smith, AR and about half-a-dozen equally intrepid birders from the Tulsa Audubon Society at the Sequoyah NWR headquarters, to look for geese and eagles.  At 7:00am in Sallisaw (where I spent the previous night; I am NOT a morning person and wanted to sleep a little longer and still meet the rest of the group by 9:00am), it was 16*F---9*F wind chill!!!---making it verrrry hard to leave my warm bed at the motel and venture out to look for birds.  But you know how we birders are: we're a hardy lot and nothing gets between us and the birds, not even subfreezing temperatures!  Nonetheless, with all the layers of clothes I was wearing, I felt like that cartoon of the kid wearing a snowsuit sent out to play in the snow by his mother, but so stiff with warm clothing that he can hardly move.

     After fortifying ourselves with a good, hot breakfast, Phil and I headed over to Sequoyah and arrived about 8:30.  With half-an-hour to kill before the others arrived, we decided to hike the newly paved (to me) nature trail across the road from the HQ building.  It wasn't so much a hike as a stiff-legged but leisurely walk: first of all, it was SO cold!! but also the last time I remember walking that trail, it was still a rather muddy path through the woods, so thanks to whoever opted to pave it.  You probably had to cut down some trees to do so but the pavement sure makes for even footing when you're looking for birds instead of where you're putting your feet.

     We found a kingfisher, both kinglets, juncos and LOTS of White-throated Sparrows; Downy, Red-bellied, and Pileated Woodpeckers; at least one Carolina Wren, Blue Jays and Crows, a couple Com. Grackles flinging leaves off the ground little a la towhee, and of all things, an Eastern Phoebe flycatching over the creek near the concrete bridge where the fishermen fish.  I can't imagine there were THAT many bugs out, what with the cold and all, but that's clearly what this little guy was up to.  I've never seen a Phoebe in February north of Texas before so that was a first for me.  Phil had spent an hour on the trail the previous afternoon and found a Hairy WP, 3-4 Brown Creepers, several Lincoln's Sparrows, and Amer. Goldfinch, none of which we saw Saturday.

     The rest of our gang arrived shortly after 9:00 and after sorting ourselves out, we headed out to look for "geese and eagles," with Sandy Berger and the park ranger in the lead.  We headed straight down the road from the HQ toward the boat landing on the lake where we picked up Forster's Terns in addition to the usual Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants.  A number of Song Sparrows were grazing among the tangled weeds lining the shore and the boat ramp, and I think I heard Donna Germany say she'd also seen a Savannah Sparrow in there (I missed it).  While we were there, we watched a flock of Snow Geese land on one of the cornfields we'd driven by to get to the boat ramp so we piled back into our cars and backtracked to that field, to look for Ross's Geese.  Altho' the geese were beside the road and we stopped there for a good 5-10 minutes to look, I couldn't pull a Ross's out of the flock.  We turned ourselves around and headed off to see what else Sequoyah had to offer.

     At one of the many lakes, we found Gadwall, Amer. Wigeon, Mallard, No. Shoveler, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Duck (more Ring-necks than I'd ever seen together in any one place!).  We looked up to find another huge flock of Snow Geese flying overhead and this time, I found my Ross's Goose.  Both were yearbirds---in fact, I missed both species altogether last year.

     As we moved on, we saw two Amer. White Pelicans flying over the lakeshore.  Later on, we found dozens and dozens of Pelicans but at the time, these two guys looked sorta lost.  We picked up a female No. Harrier flying over one of the fields.  Stopping beside one very short-cropped cornfield, we found a couple Killdeer and Meadowlarks in the dirt and then noticed 6-8 Rusty Blackbirds also grazing on leftover corn and seeds.  One brave Turkey Vulture managed to get up a soar, despite the cold and very little wind.  Our next stop was to view a Bald Eagle nest some distance away and with Bob Germany's scope, we could make out one adult eagle on the nest.

     Moving along, we picked up a flock of female Red-winged Blackbirds, also grazing in the dirt.  As we approached a broad pond of water, we heard someone call "Peeps!" loud-and-clear over the radio so everybody stopped, got out of our cars, and found an Amer. Pipit (that flew as soon as I got my eyes on it, altho' I heard its call as it flew off) and a dozen or so Least Sandpipers in the mud along the water's edge.  Here again, I've never seen Least Sandpipers in the winter north of Texas, but Sandy said she's often seen 'em in winter at Sequoyah.  Must be hardy little dudes to put up with Oklahoma's winter cold!

     As we got going again, we heard Donna call "on the right" over the radio.  I asked, "WHAT's on the right?"  In answer, she seemed to be saying, "Right! on the right!!" again.  This exchange was repeated several times but we still didn't get it until finally someone else called, "SNIPE on the right!!" and sure enough, there were 5-6 Wilson's Snipe (formerly Common) feeding in the mud on the far side of the water from where we'd stopped to look at the Pipit and Sandpipers.  I don't get to see Snipe very often, and with the sun on their backs, I think these birds were the most beautiful we saw all day.  Definitely my pick for bird-of-the-day, and the next time somebody says to me, "Snipe on the right!" I hope I'll recognize what they're saying.

     Moving along, we found a Loggerhead Shrike perched in a spindly tree, a flock of E. Bluebirds, a very handsome Red-shouldered Hawk, at least one No. Pintail drake and some Green-winged Teal in Sally Jones Lake, and another eagle nest around the backside of the lake, this time with one adult perched in the tree near the nest and the other soaring high overhead.

     By now, it was gettin' to be lunchtime so the rest o' the group headed back to the HQ to eat the lunches they'd brought (I believe they were then headed to Tenkiller Lake with Sandy Berger to see the loons), while Phil and I decided to walk the hiking trail one more time before heading for home.  And at the very end of the trail loop, before we turned toward the car and home, we found several Fox Sparrows exactly where Phil had been them the day before.

     I counted 51 species for the day (including 10 yearbirds, even without the disputed Red-tailed/Rough-legged Hawk that I still think was a Rough-legged).  I know some of the others saw a Mockingbird and the Germanys said they'd found a Winter Wren earlier.  But for my money, 51 species on such a bitter cold day is terrific winter-birdin'.

    Six Tulsa Audubon-ers, Dave Klauber (a New York birder presently working in Tulsa), Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Ewing of Mena, AR, and Sandy Berger of Ft. Smith---truly a motley crew---rendezvoused at Sequoyah NWR on Saturday, an absolutely glorious day to be out birding after the endless weeks of intense heat and humidity we've endured here in Tulsa this summer.

     The most productively satisfying part of our morning was our walk along the still-new paved hiking trail opposite the Refuge HQ, where we found Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-throated, and Black-and-white Warblers; Solitary Vireo, Summer Tanager, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (yearbird!), and more young Indigo Buntings than you can shake a stick at!  Catbirds meowed and Brown Thrashers thrashed about, too, in addition to the usual suspects:  Blue Jays, Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice.  A Bald Eagle flew over us, a good omen for good birding if ever there was one.  E. Phoebe and E. Wood-Pewee were our only Flycatchers, besides the still abundant Scissor-tails, and altho' we tried our darnedest to turn the Phoebe and Pewee into empids of some kind, we failed.  Tree Swallows and great numbers of Amer. White Pelicans greeted us at the lake at the end of the trail, along with a Green Heron (Dave and I actually saw two, one of them while we chased a male Summer Tanager through the trees so he could get a good look at it), a couple white Little Blues, and the usual Great Blues and Great Egrets.  And Canada Geese, of course.  No Snow Geese yet.  A few No. Pintails and Gadwall were our only ducks, but then it's still early for ducks.  We managed to pick out at least one Semipalmated Sandpiper from among the dozens of Least SPs and Killdeer on the few exposed bits of muddy shoreline, and then headed back down the trail to our cars.

     On the road to the northernmost part of the auto tour, we flushed a covey of about a dozen No. Bobwhite, and then when we finally stopped the cars a little further west on the tour, we found 4 Pectoral Sandpipers and 15-16 Lesser Yellowlegs, right next to the road, all seemingly oblivious to our presence and carefully watched over by Killdeer.  We noticed this phenomenon several times:  small groups of peeps feeding on the mud and in the shallows, each group apparently being chaperoned by one or two diligent Killdeer.  "Watch" Killdeer.... what a concept!  A most unexpected find at this stop was/were 2 immature Plegadis ibis, with beautiful glossy green sheens to their dark plumage, but we were unable to pin them down as to species, either White-faced or Glossy.  However, the fact that Sandy said, "I NEVER see any birds on THIS side of the road!" made finding those 2 ibis all the more special.

     At another stop, we found even more pelicans along with Franklin's and Ring-billed Gulls, and a few Caspian Terns (altho' they were too far away for me to make out clearly).  Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, and Pileated made up our Woodpecker harvest for the day, and our hawks were Red-tailed and Cooper's Hawk, and Amer. Kestrel.  And we rounded out our day with at least one Belted Kingfisher and a nice long look at a Loggerhead Shrike perched in a bare thorny tree.  About 50 species altogether and, as I said before, an absolutely glorious day to be out birdin'.
TAS Trip Report:
Sequoyah NWR
September 20, 2003
Photo by Bill Horn
American White Pelican
Photo by Bill Horn
Pectoral Sandpiper