Phil Floyd and I decided to check on the progress of spring in south Tulsa this morning. I hadn't been to Haikey Creek Park since the heat and biting insects finally drove me indoors last summer, so we decided to start down there. An Easter egg hung was underway but otherwise the park was pretty quiet. We found a few Cardinals, a Yellow-rumped Warbler ("Butterbutt") already acquiring the black mask of his breeding plumage, and lots of Chickadees, Titmice, and Juncos, as well as 4 woodpecker species, including a pair of Hairy WPs and a stunning adult Red-head. (You'll recall last year---or was it 2 years ago?---that I campaigned to have the city delay cutting down several trees at Haikey Creek Park because the Red-headed WPs appeared to be nesting there.) We only saw a couple Red-heads today, but over by the woodpecker hollow, we found a lone Song Sparrow "grazing" in the grass and two female E. Bluebirds busily shuttling back-and-forth to their 2 adjacent nestholes in the same dead branch, with grasses in their beaks that we watched them gather. We saw a male Bluebird, too, but he didn't seem to be gathering grasses, only sittin' around waitin' until he was needed.
We spent about half-an-hour looking for owls at the north end of the park where last year we found two adult Barred Owls and their puffball youngsters, but didn't find any today. However, we did see a White-breasted Nuthatch, and found 1 Harris's and several White-throated Sparrows apparently feeding on some nearby berry bushes. We also found my first E. Phoebe of the year, bug-hunting and singing his name-song for all to hear.
From there, we drove down to the sod farms and came across a small flurry of White-crowned Sparrows on the way. Also watched as 3 Red-tailed Hawks displayed for each other right over our heads, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew through, too.
Our only shorebird for the day was Killdeer, and we saw dozens of 'em. I was surprised there weren't more puddles after the steady rain we had this past week, but even the puddles we found were deserted except for Killdeer. There's a rather large lake east of Garnett and south of 141st where we found Gadwall and at least one Scaup species, with Mallards hunkered down from the wind on the other side of the street. Out on a sand island in the lake, we saw about 20-30 Canada Geese and ONE Snow Goose. Wonder what he was doin' with the Canadas.
We did the loop of Garnett to 151st to 129th E. and then back up the bridge north of 141st, looking for any early swallows at the bridge but only finding another Phoebe. We were really disappointed there were no shorebirds around and were heading back across 141st toward Mingo when we spotted a dozen or more gulls on the ground and noticed one with a full black head. It turned out to be a Franklin's Gull in breeding plumage. We got to see it on the ground and in flight.
Then I told Phil to turn left onto Mingo (heading south) rather than right because I always find something fun just south of that intersection. The road there dead-ends in private property, but there's a little creek and a bridge there and I've often found Indigo and Painted Buntings and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in and around that corner in the summer. Phil pulled the car off the road and we got out to look around. Found several Robins bathing in a small puddle, splattering the water around like out-of-control egg-beaters. All of a sudden, Phil called out, "we've got an owl!!" and lo! and behold!! it's a Great Horned Owl and she's sitting on her nest high in a tree west of Mingo as we looked across the fields toward Memorial. This is the first time I've ever seen a Great Horned Owl on her nest. It was really comical to watch her head pivot this way and that as she sat up there looking around, the slight breeze blowing her "horns" back as she moved.
I've assigned myself the task of keeping an eye on Haikey Creek Park and the sod farms this spring and summer, especially on the nesting progress of the bluebirds, woodpeckers, and that Great Horned Owl, and I'll keep you posted.
Bixby Sod Farms Update, March 30, 2002
I'd wanted to head down to Red Slough today but the weather forecast included heavy rain in the southern half of the state, so I decided to stick a little closer to home. I'm still lookin' for shorebirds--and NOT finding any!!! altho' I did watch ONE small sandpiper fly low to the ground at the sewage treatment plant down at the sod farms this afternoon. One very small sandpiper with longish bill, probably a Least, Western, or Semipalmated, but that's all I can tell you about it.
But that doesn't mean my afternoon at the sod farms was wasted.... far from it. The first "spectacle" I witnessed was a male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying for a female. I got tickled at the way everytime she moved to a different branch, he'd hop over after her and try to sidle up close enough to catch her eye and affections. But she was havin' none of it and finally flew off, with her suitor in hot pursuit. I know that for many birders, cowbirds are vermin of the first order, but I find their breeding habits very interesting and I can never resist watching cowbirds---whether males, females, or both---if any are in sight.
My first stop was at the far south end of Mingo where I went looking to see if the Great Horned Owl was still sittin' her nest. And she was, "horns" still flappin' in the breeze as she'd turn her head this way and that. As I approached the spot which affords the best view of her nest, I caught just a glimpse of a light cinnamon-colored, moderately large bird as it flushed from the thin grassy woods on my left. A few minutes later, a couple Blue Jays flushed it again and this time I got a better look at it: a Barn Owl!! I adore their sweetheart-shaped faces. Barn Owl is my favorite owl and I don't get to see them that often so this was a special treat. I waited a bit to see if it would come back for whatever it must've been hunting on the edge o' those woods but it didn't return. However, while I waited, I heard a couple Barred Owls jawin' about who does their cooking. I tell ya, based on this afternoon's activity, it's like 141st and Mingo is gettin' to be a real Owl alley!!
Headin' east on 141st, I watched a Loggerhead Shrike bug-hunting (and catching!) for a bit, then found a second Shrike a little farther on. During the past couple years that I've lived in Tulsa, I've often found shrikes along this stretch of road and can only hope they're nesting down there somewhere.
Turned south on Garnett and enjoyed a private serenade by a Western Meadowlark as he grazed right on the edge of the road. He'd raise his head about every 15 seconds, stand up straight and tall, open his mouth, and sing me his song. I'm still waiting for the Dickcissels to return and listen eagerly for them everytime I go down to the sod farms, but so far have only found the meadowlarks. Then a couple Barn Swallows zipped by. Have you ever watched them fly?? Flying on a Barn Swallow looks like SO much fun, I wish _I_ could do it.
Over in that lake east of Garnett, I found about 20 Canada Geese, a small flock of No. Shovelers, a couple Gadwall, and a Mallard. Only the one sandpiper and a Mockingbird at the sewage treatment plant. I admired the Mocker's innovative song platform: he's learned that if he sings under those open-air steel buildings, his song echoes beauti-fully (and loudly!) from under the roof.
Just beyond the sewage treatment plant, I watched a Mockingbird fussin' with a mouthful of soft flossy lookin' stuff, and thought she was delivering it as a lining for her nest (which was right beside her). I watched a little longer and suddenly realized that she was STEALING the nest lining of some other bird; that wasn't HER nest up there at all!! Well, she kept fussing with the flossy stuff until she had a good mouthful of it and then she turned and flew to an evergreen bush beside a house across the street. I thought, "well, you rascal, you!!"
I drove east down 151st and turned north on 129th E. Avenue, continuing up to the bridge where I always look for swallows (and didn't find any) so drove on up to the levy to turn around. There's a really neat swampy pond down below and east of the road, just north of the levy, and what do you think I found down there?? A flock of about a dozen Blue-winged Teal (which is a yearbird for me) and ONE male Cinnamon Teal. Oh, he was AWESOME!!! Next to him, the Blue-winged Teals looked like black-and-white photographs. I've only seen Cinnamon Teal half-a-dozen times in my life, the first one at the Cache sewage lagoons in 1999, and the last time at Hackberry Flats with Phil Floyd a year ago, so this was a REAL treat!! The sky was cloudin' over getting ready to rain and the wind was pickin' up but I braved the elements to stand out in the cold for about 10-15 minutes and watched every move that Cinnamon Teal made. Beautiful!!
Then back west across 141st and suddenly noticed a flock of tiny birds fly across the road and land in a freshly plowed field on my right. Stopped the car, rolled down the windows, turned off the ignition, and studied those birds. Now, come Mother's Day, I'll have been seriously bird-watching for 4 years, and anymore, I rarely see a bird that I don't have at least SOME idea of what it is. But these little guys had me absolutely baffled. They were small (warbler-sized) with gray backs and wings, thin whitish wingbars and a whitish edge to each wing feather (as their wings were folded against their backs), black underneath their tails but white feathers on the outsides of their tails that flashed when they flew. They had white eyebrows that started just above or slightly behind their eyes, small dark bills, and white lores, throats, and bellies. But the field mark that puzzled me the most was their breast markings: some had dark blackish streaks on their breasts like the dappled collar of a Lincoln's Sparrow (without the buffy undercolor). But others had light brownish "necklaces" of spots on their creamy breasts, and a few even had some light buffy feathers comin' in on their flanks and bellies. I tell ya, I was clueless! In my head, I went through all the sparrows I could think of but I knew these guys weren't sparrows, nor did they look like any warbler I could find in the book. Funny thing was, they _walked_ across the dirt, occasionally spurting ahead in a kind of run when they saw some kind of bug or seed (couldn't tell what they were eating, exactly, but it looked to be tasty from the way they were goin' at it). Then I noticed one of 'em stopped walking/running, stood straight up, and bobbed his fanny. At least, a clue!! and that's when I finally found these little guys in my field guide: American Pipits. The bobbing fanny was the clincher. I've never seen Pipits in a flock before; usually see only one bird by itself. Also, I didn't remember how small pipits were; I remembered the Sprague's Pipit I saw in 1999 as being nearer the size of a robin! Anyway, these were American Pipits, a whole flock of 'em!! and I got to listen to their tinkling little calls as they flew about and must've sat beside that field and watched 'em hunting for half-an-hour!!
All-in-all, it was a very good afternoon despite the cold and I enjoyed it muchly.
|Haikey Creek Park and
the Bixby Sod Farms ("Owl Alley")
March 23, 2002
|Story (c) Copyrighted by Cyndie Browning 2002|