Mary Beth Stowe's Website

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Oklahoma Adventure

Great Salt Plains NWR

Next morning I headed back to Oklahoma through the same storm that blasted Denver with snow, I'm sure, and thankfully it had quit by the time I made it to Great Salt Plains.  But the wind was horrendous!!  I stopped first at the Sandpiper Trail on the north side, and thankfully at the overlook a few Baird's Sandpipers were close enough to the platform that I could easily ID them, but the wind was rocking me so much I couldn't really tell if the smaller peeps were Semipals coming into breeding plumage or Leasts, as I couldn't get a handle on the leg color at all!  I thought there were a couple of definite Semipals that the Bairds' were bullying, but I'm just not sure.  Also had a Snowy Plover in there.


               The Sandpiper Trail on the north side of the refuge                        Baird's Sandpipers


Views of the area from the overlook

From there headed to the headquarters and the auto route, where instead of getting out periodically I opted to stay in the car for the most part; I couldn't hear anything anyway!  There was a sheltered area on the entrance road where I did hop out for a minute, and picked up Carolina Wren and Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cardinal, and Downy Woodpecker.  In a more open area a Field Sparrow was singing close to the road, an Eastern Bluebird came sailing in, and a flock of Blue Jays yelled in the distance.  A Pied-billed Grebe was in the fishing pond, and along the auto route the ducks were pretty skittish, but there were oodles of Blue-winged Teal, Shovelers, and Gadwall, with lesser numbers of American Wigeon.  In one pond a Little Blue Heron hunkered down with the ducks, and there was nothing except a distant flock of Canada Geese at the blind overlooking the big field.  The big mammal surprise of the day was an Armadillo poking around on the bank of one of the ponds; I didn't realize they got up this far north!


Entrance road


                    In case you’ve always wondered...                                            Fishing pond


      One of many ponds along the auto tour route                        Fields with obliging Turkey Vulture


                                                                                                                                    Blue-winged Teal

After doing that I wheeled back to the nature trail (had to work off the BP&J bagel I just ate), and really didn't expect to see much because of the wind.  At the Eagle Roost overlook the big lake had several Avocets and a handful of Greater Yellowlegs close to shore, and somewhere in there scared up a pair of Wood Ducks as well as more teal and some coots.  A Hairy Woodpecker "peeked" in the woodland, and chickadees, wrens, and gnatcatchers were all pretty common in the sheltered areas; also had a Butterbutt near one of the overlooks.  A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers was pretty cooperative as well, and almost back at the parking lot I heard some Cedar Waxwings squealing from a blowing tree above me, hanging on for dear life!  But other than that the songbirds were really hiding.


                                     Self-explanatory...                                                Greater Yellowlegs        Blue-gray



                                            Avocets                                             Pond along the nature trail (note the ripples from

                                                                                                                                    the ferocious wind!)

Had to get into Enid after that, but got out to the refuge again first thing in the morning, and what a difference!  The wind had died down considerably, so I basically did road birding all morning, stopping every mile, and picked up quite a few more passerines: a Bewick's Wren was singing at the entrance road, and a pheasant crowed and beat his wings quite close as well!  The usuals were all in the same places as the day before, and on the auto tour added singing but unseen White-throated Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets to the list.  Heard the raspy, upslurred note of the Hermit Thrush on a couple of occasions, and was surprised to see that the checklist considers them rare!  Another "rare" bird was a yelling Red-shouldered Hawk near the blind (at least if it was a Blue Jay it was pretty convincing!).  But the best bird on the tour to me was a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night Heron in one of the ponds, serenely fishing away!  In the waterfowl department a female Hooded Merganser showed up among the regulars, and a couple of pairs of Wood Ducks flew over the road.  At the Big Marsh a Marsh Wren was rickety-racketing away.  A squealy sound was shortly followed by a flock of Franklin's Gulls flying overhead, with a few token Ringbills included.


The auto tour on a sunny morning!


Yellow-crowned Night                     Blue-winged Teal                                        Blind along the auto route


Circled around to the headquarters building and checked out the pond again; the grebe was still there, but in addition a Spotted Towhee was singing, and a phoebe was trying to nest (evidently) under the picnic shelter!  Took the dirt road to 38 and picked up a calling Bobwhite at one stop.  Found a road by the lake that I guess was technically part of the state park but went by a residential area that turned out to be quite productive: I stopped to enjoy some Purple Martins that had set up shop in someone's martin house, then heard a plaintive three-noted same-pitch song, and jumped out to look for that Harris' Sparrow!  I spotted a female Cardinal out in the open, and the sparrow just happened to be on the same branch!  Great bird!  I had the picnic area there all to myself, and picked up Pine Siskin and had great looks at a pair of bluebirds feeding away, diving from the tree to the ground and back up, just like ours in San Diego!


                                    The Big Marsh                                  Harris' Sparrow        Female         Eastern Phoebe from

                                                                                                                                Cardinal                 outer space   


I poked around the spillway after that (at various access points), and while not terribly birdy it was quite a sight to see whitecaps on the lake (the wind had picked up)!  Several egrets of both kinds were guarding a part of the spillway where the human fishermen usually set up, and a big flock of White Pelicans sat further down the river.  In the lake were a few Ruddy Ducks, and heard a Brown Thrasher singing in the parking area.  On the other side of the lake where the neat-looking "cliffs" are, an Osprey flew overhead on the way in, and scared up a mob of Robins feeding in some leaf-litter.  The Jay Recreation Area was kinda quiet, so headed on over to the Crystal Digging Area, stopping along the dirt road on the way there, and managed to pick up Lark Sparrow and Mockingbird that way.  I was disappointed at the salt flats: I remember there being oodles of shorebirds at this spot when I was here several years ago (1995 I think), but the place was dead this time; I drove out to the digging area (and covered poor Jip's whole left side with salt when we hit a puddle; I was hoping I could find a good car wash before the paint eroded away...) and there was nothing as far as the eye could see bird-wise.  I did happen to hear a couple of Snowy Plovers before I left, but I couldn't spot them. 



View of the Salt Lake spillway parking area from on high                   Pretty area on top with redbud tree



Lakeside cliffs taken from both sides of the lake



        Salt Fork of the Arkansas River from the parking area                        Same view from the other side



    White Pelicans and Snowy Egrets waiting for lunch...                          Fleeing Turkeys            Eastern Bluebird



                    Loggerhead Shrike                                        Digging hole at the actual salt plains

After slip-sliding back outta there I made my way back to the Sandpiper Trail, and it was pretty much a repeat of the other afternoon with the Baird's dominating the shoreline, but this time I heard some Least Sandpipers, so in all probability that's probably what I had before as well (and the light was still bad to boot).  Did manage to pick up a couple of sparrows: the first seen Field of the trip, and a Savannah Sparrow trying to hide from the wind near the parking area.

Had to head to Tulsa after that, but possibly the best bird of the day was along US 60: a pale raptor with pale wing patches flew eye level with me on my left, and I just assumed it was a Ferrugie until I saw its underside: it was a Rough-legged!!  Thankfully he stayed put on a post as I wheeled around, but not for long: he soon took off and hung in the wind, giving great views of his pattern!  (And he looked surprisingly like a very pale individual we had in Alaska!)

Headed in to Tulsa and settled in, ready to bird with Cyndie Browning the next day! 


Rough-legged Hawks still hanging around after the winter