Tex-Birdin' the Hagerman NWR
10/19/2003
Story (c) copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2003
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    I just returned from Sherman, TX where the annual OK Ornithological Society fall meeting/paper session was held this past weekend.  However, while the rest of the OOS/OKbirders in Sherman attended the all-day indoor meeting on Saturday, Phil Floyd and I headed out to the Hagerman Nat'l Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma (on the Red River between Oklahoma and Texas, if you've never been there) bright and early Saturday morning, intending to bird the place "hard."  Phil had never birded at Hagerman before, and while I birded there in January 1999 with Larry Mays and a couple members of my "old" bird club from Longview, Texas, that was 4-1/2 years of birding experience ago, so for me, being at "the Hagerman" on Saturday felt like visiting the place for the first time.

     And who should we run into the very first thing! but
Berlin Heck and David Gill, who'd come out early to look around the Refuge before the first paper presentation began at 10:00 a.m.!!  We greeted each other with "boy, they'll let anybody in this place!!" [hahahahahahahahahahahaha!] and as they drove off, headed for the meeting, David suggested that we might have to "use our imaginations" to find much variety of birds at the Refuge that day, bein' that it's mid-October and most of the migrants have already gone through.  Luckily for us, tho', the birding turned out to be better than expected.

     We soon gathered most of the usual suspects, y'know, Blue Jays and Crows, Mockingbird, E. Bluebird, Downy Woodpecker and No. Flicker, as well as tons o' Coot and Killdeer.  The herons were well-represented by Great Egret, Great and Little Blue Herons (the latter still in their white juvenile plumage), and a goodly number of Cattle Egrets.  We checked every inlet along the water's edge, looking for but not finding any Snowy Egrets.  Our ducks included
Gadwall (most numerous), Mallard, and Green-winged Teal (my favorite teal!), and as we continued searching, we gradually added No. Shoveler, No. Pintail, Redhead, and one Ring-necked ("Ring-billed") Duck, but no scaup.  Having lived in Texas for several years before moving to Oklahoma, it's hard for me to imagine a Texas lake in fall or winter with no scaup, but then you can't make the birds be there, can ya?

     Also, no geese yet, not one!!

     We tried hard to find dryland species---the birds we're more familiar with---but Savannah,
Lincoln's, Swamp, and White-crowned were our only sparrows.  We did find chickadees, titmice, a few Cardinals, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but heard only one E. Phoebe and NO Nuthatches.

     The marshes provided the best birding in the Refuge.  A Wilson's Snipe was one of our first birds of the day, always a welcome find for their relative scarcity.  Gr. Yellowlegs seemed to be everywhere!!  There were several rafts of White Pelicans out on the lake and one congregation of Ring-billed Gulls and
Forster's Terns, with a few Franklin's Gulls mixed in for flavor and texture.

     After the first 40-50 species, we began having to really _work_ for our birds.  We found one Belted Kingfisher perched on a powerline over a backwater near the marsh, the only one we saw all day.  Later, we located No. Shovelers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Long-billed Dowitchers in a few of the smaller "backwater" marshes, not visible from the more open areas at the front of the Refuge (east side of the lake).  And god bless Sue Ann Floyd who gave Phil a spotting scope for Father's Day 2002, for with it we were able to distinguish the "peeps" from each other:
Semipalmated, Western, and Least Sandpipers.  We're still learning the differences between them but the fact is, we ARE learning.  Yeppers, we felt pretty proud of ourselves when we headed back into Sherman to attend the OOS members' business meeting at 4:00 p.m.  Our birding list totaled 57 species at that point, and I told one and all that we had "scouted" the birding at Hagerman for them (as there was a field trip to the Refuge scheduled for the next morning) and left them a copy of our bird list to "ooooh" and "aaaah" over.

     After the meeting, we decided to head back out to the Refuge to see if sundown brought in any other species we'd missed during the day.  A Horned Lark flew over us a few times as we stopped the car near one of the oil pumps and got out to look over the lake again.  A flock of
Com. Grackles also flew over.  Then Phil spotted a Loggerhead Shrike perched on a stick of driftwood out in the mud.  We tried without success to flush a few sparrows out of the weeds where they skulked and into the open but the birds were too sly for us.  An immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron flew in so low, he almost landed on a couple of Killdeer before pulling up and hopping over the road to a small pond on the other side of us.  We wondered aloud if this was the same young bird we saw at Lake Overholser (Oklahoma City) a week ago.

     And then I noticed a "different" bird out on the mudflats and immediately returned to the car to get out the scope.  A little larger and huskier than the many Killdeer that surrounded it, this bird had a boxy, squarish head, huge black eye, distinct cream-colored eyebrow, brown "cap" on the crown of its head, and golden-brown chevron-"scaling" down its neck, breast, and even down onto its lower belly (golden "scales" with brown around the edges of each feather), with darker brown intricately patterned feathers on its back.  The feathers on its neck, breast, and belly looked as if they had been bronzed.... absolutely breath-taking!!  At first we thought it had a black "dot" behind its eye but that turned out to be a dark corner of what I'd call its cheek or ear patch.  I called out to Phil, "we've got a new bird here!" and while he came a-runnin', I hurried back to the car to dig out my field guides.  In addition to its overall golden coloring, the thing that struck me most about this bird was its short, almost petite, bill.  "A bird that big oughta have a bill like a dowitcher!" I thought, not this too-short almost delicate black beak.  It seemed like the bird had to lean over waaayyyy too far to feed on the bugs or whatever it found in the mud.  At one point, I wondered if the bird had suffered some kind of injury, causing its bill to be broken off or stunted in growth.  And the bill stood out even more on the bird's face when it stood upright and looked at us because of the creamy light coloring of the feathers around the bill.  Its gait was also different from the other shorebirds, as it walked a few steps, then paused and looked for food; walked a few more steps, paused again.  Well, we ruffled through the pages of my Sibley's, Peterson's, and Amer. Bird Conservancy field guides, not only comparing the pictures therein to our bird but also reading what each book said about the differences between
Black-bellied Plover and Amer. Golden-Plover (both are listed as "occasional" species in the Hagerman checklist for fall, occasional meaning "seen a few times during the season"), and we finally decided we had an immature Golden-Plover...... a lifebird for both of us!! In fact, there were _3_ of them, and at one point, with the sun setting behind us, one of them stood quietly on the mud near a small puddle with 5-6 Killdeer around it, not 20 yards away from us, and with the magnification on Phil's scope turned up to 45x, we got absolutely kick-ass looks at this fabulous little Golden-Plover!!!!!!!!!!!!

     I dreamed about that bird all that night and announced to Phil at breakfast the next morning, "I never want to look at any other bird except all the Golden-Plovers we can find!"

     With the
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Eurasian Collared-Dove we found outside the motel in Sherman the next morning, and the White-breasted Nuthatch and Pileated Woodpecker we added at Boggy Depot State Park near Atoka, OK, just before we said good-bye and headed home, we finished our weekend trip with 66 species, including one lifer:  American Golden-Plover!! and I never want to look at any other bird except all the Golden-Plovers I can find!
Lincoln's Sparrow by Bill Horn
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