Early Saturday morning, 17 birders (mostly from the Tulsa Audubon Society, but we were also joined by about half-a-dozen other birders from around Oklahoma) gathered at the Sunset parking lot in the Wichita Mtns. Nat'l Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma, and followed Joe Grzybowski and one of his field assistants, Vic Fazio, up the side of Eagle Mountain to look for Black-capped Vireos. And quickly found them! A male vireo was singing from a bush right next to the trail before we'd even gotten out of sight of the parking lot, and many in the group got to see it---including me!!
This was a lifebird for me and for many others in our group, but I'll tell you right now: I was NOT looking forward to climbing a mountain on a hot summer day in June, even for a lifebird!! when it was already too hot for me before the sun ever rose above the horizon. In short order, the group stretched out along the trail, and because I just couldn't get up any speed going up-hill in the heat, I quickly fell back with several other slower hikers. Joe eventually led the more hardy birders up as much as 2/3rds of the way to the top of the mountain, and everyone with him got good looks at the vireos. Vic, on the other hand, stayed with the stragglers (including me), and we listened to one male singing on territory, found another with two juvenile birds in tow, flitting here and there among the trees, and on our way back to the parking lot, I got a really kick-ass look at a mature male bird singing in the trees just over our heads. Alas, not everyone in our small group got as good a look as I did. As Pat said, "well, I did see a bird and they all said it was a Black-capped Vireo, but you couldn't prove it by me." However, Pat's consolation prizes were 3 lifebirds, including a Black-and-white Warbler he'd seen from the parking lot, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow that we found on our way up the mountain, and a Rock Wren that we saw flitting among some boulders higher up the mountain. I don't recall whether or not Pat ever heard the Canyon Wren singing.... what a glorious song! (and for me, a yearbird).
Before we started our climb, Joe gathered everyone in the parking lot and gave a brief but very interesting overview of conservation efforts being made to promote the breeding success of the Black-capped Vireo, and about his study of the species. (And forgive me, Joe, if I get any of this wrong; I didn't take written notes.) For instance, in addition to the vireos being rather picky about their habitat (they prefer early second growth after a fire where the trees are not too tall and are separated from each other by broad gaps between), Brown-headed Cowbirds parasitize BCVI nests something fierce. It was determined that something like 1.7 nestlings from each clutch of eggs must survive to fledge in order for the species to sustain itself (let alone increase). However, at the beginning of his 20-year study, Joe was finding that only about 1 egg (and sometimes none) from each clutch survived. Early in the study, cowbirds were trapped near or around the nesting territories of the vireos and subsequently removed, and by that method, Joe and others involved in the study began noticing some success in reducing the parasitizing of nests so that, on average, 2 or more eggs from each clutch were surviving. And then at some point, Joe (and others?) noticed that cowbirds congregated in great numbers around the cattle/buffalo herds to feed in the afternoons, and suggested that the cowbird traps be moved to those locations. And after moving the traps, they discovered that nearly all the eggs in each clutch were surviving. Over time, the numbers of nesting pairs of Black-capped Vireos increased to the point where I believe Joe said they'd recently counted some 2,000 nesting territories in the Refuge and at Ft. Sill.
Black-capped Vireos are hard to see because they're sooooo small, smaller than your average sparrow. And they're verrrry nervous; Vic told us that they're not particularly sensitive to sound but they tend to spook at the slightest movement. Joe, too, urged us to move slowly and deliberately whenever we heard the birds singing nearby so as not to spook 'em, and certainly not to point excitedly and wave at the birds or jump up-and-down if/when we saw them. (And then I laughed to see Vic pointing at them each time we found one. [hahahahahahahaha!] ~:-)
When we finally climbed back down the mountain, we found a couple Burrowing Owls at the large prairie dog town that straddles the highway between Sunset and the Visitor's Center, and everyone got good looks at them. A couple No. Bobwhite scurried nervously through the prairie dog town, and Killdeer screamed "Bloody Murder!" most of the time, as usual. There were many young prairie dogs around with their mothers, always adorable to watch.
From there, we followed Joe and Vic to a section of Ft. Sill where they hoped to show us a colony of Lesser Goldfinches they'd recently discovered, but alas, the goldfinches were somewhere else that morning, and it was HOT!! so we finally hiked back to our cars, a little disappointed. Joe and Vic then led us to a bit of prairie where we found nesting Tree Swallows, an Ash-throated Flycatcher (a yearbird and new OK species for me), and Rufous-crowned, Cassin's, and Grasshopper Sparrows.
At that point, the Wichita Mtns. portion of our field trip was over, and Phil Floyd and I headed over to Meers for their famous buffalo burger lunches (well, _I_ had a buffalo burger, while Phil "made do" with a super-de-dooper BLT. Mmmmmm, good!!). By now, it was about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon, and since we'd been up since 4:00 in the morning, I suggested that we retreat to the air-conditioned motel for badly-needed naps through the worst heat of the day.
Some hours later and refreshed by a couple hours of napping, we emerged into the afternoon heat and drove out to Hackberry Flat. About a dozen TAS members had planned to drive out to Frederick after leaving the Wichita Mtns so they could bird Hackberry Flat on Sunday morning, but Phil and I had opted to bird Hackberry for a few hours in the late afternoon/early evening on Saturday and stay in Lawton that night.
Arriving at the northeastern corner of Hackberry Flat from Hollister, we began a slow clock-wise circle of the area. Barn and Cliff Swallows were abundant, as were Bobwhite, Dickcissels, and Meadowlarks, and we watched a few Common Nighthawks, always fun to see, but the only "water" birds we saw for a while were one Snowy Egret and one Little Blue Heron. There seemed to be a family group of 7 American Kestrels along the south-most road, who were apparently disturbed repeatedly by our car and couldn't seem to settle on the wires overhead.
There's a road along the dike into the heart of Hackberry from the western perimeter road, and when we got in there, we found a long series of pools of water south of the road with many Avocets (they were thick through there!!), several screaming Black-necked Stilts, 4-5 Snowy Plovers (SO cute!!), as well as Cattle, Snowy, and Great Egrets, several Little Blue Herons, and of course, Great Blues.
And then as we got up to the main east-west road at the northern end of the Flat, we found the very large body of water north of the road with several large colonies of nesting herons and egrets. I don't remember seeing so much water at Hackberry in 2001, the last time I'd been there!! We laughed watching a young Black-crowned Night-Heron trying to get the hang of wings, flapping furiously and trying not to fall.
Continuing east, we eventually came upon a small caravan of Tulsa Auduboners (2-3 cars) and joined them to see Pied-billed Grebes, at least one Ring-billed Gull (being hassled by Avocets for some reason), an adult and one immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (yearbird for me!), and both flavors of Yellowlegs. I believe the group said they'd also found a Canvasback along the way; all I saw were in the way of ducks were Mallards and Blue-winged Teal.
As the light began to fade, the TAS group left us scanning the large "lake" north of the road near the northeastern corner of Hackberry, where we found a very crippled sandpiper that we finally decided was a Wilson's Phalarope. The funny thing about this bird was, it seemed to have no wings! I mean, I've never heard of a bird without wings, but if it DID have wings, it must've been holding them very, verrry high on its sides or even folded across its back. The white underparts on this bird extended up almost to what would've been its shoulders, and it staggered back and forth in the shallows as it fed, limping on a very badly crippled right foot without (apparently) any wings to steady it. I felt badly to realize this bird probably won't be able to leave this one pool of water, and I wondered how it got there. Had it hatched nearby? did it suffer some sort of birth defect? or had it been seriously injured by a predator?? I don't know.
Just before we left, two Least Terns flew by, another yearbird for me. They're so tiny!!
After breakfast Sunday morning, Phil and I drove back up to the Refuge where Phil was tickled no end to recognize the song of a nearby Black-capped Vireo, which he then located in the trees near the restroom at the Sunset parking lot. (By his own admission, Phil isn't very musical and usually recognizes a bird's song AFTER you tell him what it is, so he was really pleased with himself to recognize the Black-capped's song after only one "lesson" the day before.) We recalled Vic saying on Saturday that they'd found a male vireo whose territory encompassed the parking lot; that may have been this bird. I got to see the bird, too, a young male with a black mask, gray crown, and the back of its head was also gray. And we were both pleased to see it so well and NOT have to climb that mountain again!
We walked into Charon's Gardens (which was verrry overgrown) but didn't go far or for very long because of the intense heat, altho' we added White-eyed Vireo and Blue Grosbeak to our triplist during the short time we were in there. Then we sat for a while on the stone picnic tables---in the shade, mind you---and watched and listened to Black-and-white Warblers and a White-breasted Nuthatch. We stopped briefly at the Visitor's Center to watch the nesting Cliff Swallows again, especially the babies peeking out of their nestholes.... and then headed for home.
Many thanks to Vic Fazio and especially to Joe Grzybowski for showing us "your birds." It was well worth the trip, despite the dreadful heat!!
|Photos © Patricia Velte, BackyardBirdCam.com
and displayed here with her permission.
|Here are 2 photos taken by Patricia Velte.
L-R: an adult male Black-capped Vireo and a fledgling
|story only © copyright Cyndie Browning|
(Wichita Mtns. NWR)
|(awww, isn't he cute??)|