|Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
(NOT the CBC!!)
January 3, 2004
|(c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2004|
I picked up my friend Jenny Bechtold in Owasso this morning and we headed for Bartlesville to find the Trumpeter Swans. As we drove back through Owasso to the highway, a flock of Snow Geese flew toward us over the road, or rather, 5 blue Snow Geese, all the same size, with ONE smaller and all-white Ross's Goose in their midst. Whereupon I pulled the car over to the side of the road, and Jenny and I dove into Sibley's field guide as I explained to her the differences between Snow and Ross's Geese---the most pronounced difference, of course, being their relative size. We also watched a large flock of Canada Geese flying over, so that within a few miles of the start of our trip, we'd already seen 3 of the 4 regularly occurring geese in Oklahoma for 2004. And it's only January 3rd!! Not a bad start for yearbirds.
However, there were no swans at the pond in Bartlesville. (I'm startin' to feel like Berlin Heck here: people report seein' good birds on OKbirds, I drive up to the spot where they were seen at 2:00 p.m. yesterday, but there are no such "good birds" there now. Oh, well, ya can't make the birds be there, can ya?) Instead, I gave Jenny a lesson in the "chimp! chimp!" call of Song Sparrows, after pishing and flushing up one yappy little Song. And as we drove back toward Bartlesville, we had just stopped to check out another pond when Jenny spotted a Brown Creeper on a tree near the car, and we got great looks at the little guy. They're SO cute!
I met Jenny last May during a TAS field trip to the Nickel Preserve in Eastern Oklahoma. She had recently become interested in "serious" birdwatching and Nickel Preserve was her first "real" field trip. Can you imagine gettin' Prairie Warbler as a lifebird on your first official day of birding? What luck!! Let alone finding a Whippoorwill resting on a branch near where we'd parked the cars to find the warbler!! (Jenny still talks about that Whippoorwill!) Well, Jenny and I hit it off back then and have enjoyed each other's company several times since, and she's always sayin', "if you ever want to go birdin', call me," so I called her on Friday and now here we were, out on our first real birdin' trip together.
There being no swans at the pond in Nowata Co., we headed for the Tallgrass Prairie. I knew the TPP CBC was goin' on today and had originally planned to help count birds there, but they didn't assign me to a specific team so I decided instead to invite Jenny to the Tallgrass and introduce her to winter hawks and ducks, if we were lucky.
And we were.
We spotted a "duck with a big head" on a small pond along Hwy 60 and promptly hung a U to turn back and get a better look. It was a male Hooded Merganser and several females. Jenny couldn't believe how stunningly beautiful he was. (And he WAS, too!!) There were some other ducks there, too, but I was so busy pointing out field marks on the Hoodie that by the time I was ready to really look at the other birds, they spooked and flew off. RATS!!!!!!!! So we turned around again and resumed our drive to the Tallgrass.
As we drove into the preserve, we flushed up a flock of sparrows beside the road and got kick-ass looks at Savannah Sparrows, especially one verrrrry cooperative bird who perched calmly on the barbed wire fence right beside the car. Now THAT's the way to teach sparrows to a new birder.
The next bird we found was one of the BEST of Oklahoma's winter hawks: Rough-legged Hawk! I only saw a couple Rough-leggeds in 2003, but today, I'm sure we saw at least 6 individuals and maybe more, from very, very dark birds to very light ones, and I enjoyed pointing out the dark square wrist patches on the undersides of their wings, readily apparent even in the one more lightly colored bird we found. Jenny was soon able to distinguish for herself the difference between the wrist patches on the Rough-leggeds and NO wrist patches on the Red-tailed Hawks. We watched several Rough-leggeds hover-hunting over the prairie, and had up to 3 individuals circling overhead at any given time. Seemed like an unusually good day for Rough-leggeds.
At another stop, I thought we had more Rough-leggeds, and we did!! only there was also an adult Balt Eagle circling with them. "There's nothin' else that big and white at both ends!" I told Jenny, and she was thrilled to see it. Followed by more study of field marks in the Sibley's, how to distinguish the Bald Eagle from his Golden cousin, discussion of dihedral, etc.
Later, after having pointed out the white rump and dark-banded tail on several Rough-leggeds, we found a male No. Harrier, also with a white rump, thus demonstrating to Jenny similar field marks on two different species. She also noticed immediately the differences in the underwings between the Rough-legged and Harrier: the Rough-legged's dark wrist patches vs. the Harrier's dark wingtips. We also got tickled watching a flock of about 30-40 Amer. Pipits flying this way and that "in a single pile," apparently spooked by one Rough-legged and one Harrier flying over at the same time. At another stop, we watched one each Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawk "kettling" with a young Bald Eagle with a very dark brown head. As I say, it was a great day for Rough-legged Hawks at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, to say nothing of the other hawks and hundreds of bison we saw.
I was taught to bird by a patient and dear friend in Minnesota going-on 7 years ago, and I'm just now realizing with Jenny what fun it must have been for Blaine to take an awe-struck new birder like me out in the field and show her the magic for the first time.
It took us nearly an hour to reach the HQ building, avail ourselves of indoor plumbing, and then we needed to start heading back to Tulsa as Jenny had other plans for the afternoon. But it was so gorgeous out, we decided instead to take our sandwiches over to the picnic tables opposite the hiking trail and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air before getting back on the road. While we ate, we were entertained by what looked like fly-catching antics of an immature Red-headed Woodpecker, looking rather bedraggled with his half-brown, half-red head. A Red-tailed Hawk circled just above the trees over our heads, giving us a textbook demonstration that I called, "THIS (pointing) is what a Red-tailed Hawk looks like." We also watched titmice, chickadees, Blue Jay, a Downy WP and Flicker, goldfinches, bluebirds, and a Caroline Wren with its thumbnail-drawn-across-a-comb call.
We finished our morning with about 30 species altogether and already plan another trip to the Tallgrass next month to see what else we can find. Thanks, Jenny, for your company; I really enjoyed it!