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Oklahoma Adventure

Optima NWR

The next morning I drove all the way back to the Panhandle and checked on Optima NWR in the afternoon.  Had a heckuva time finding the place: the instructions said it was two miles north of Hardesty, but there were no signs whatsoever except for the boundary signs along highway 3!  I couldn't get through to the headquarters (don'tcha love cell phones that keep cutting out...) so I just decided to circle the place, so I headed north on highway 94, and did run into a checkpoint for the Optima WMA.  By now the wind was fierce again, so I couldn't pick up much, but it was a hoot to have both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks singing, the odd flock of Lark Sparrows, and Vespers were all over, despite the checklist's designation of "occasional"!  Also had a single singing Field Sparrow and a Flicker calling from the Beaver River, but other than that it was rather quiet.  Moseyed out the other end of the WMA on the dirt road and ended up in farmland, where there were lots of Horned Larks, and the meadowlarks seemed to like to hide in the wheat fields!  Two nice Ferrugies showed up, as well as a couple of Harriers. 


                                    "Jip" on the WMA road                                                  Horned Lark     Vesper Sparrow

I saw a sign for Optima Lake but got totally lost, but a nice guy at the local diner told me how to get to "the refuge", and I tell ya, without his directions I never would have found the place!  There's an unmarked paved road a couple of miles east of town (with a house on the corner) where you turn left, and this takes you to the now abandoned Lake Optima Rec Area, an Army Corp of Engineers area.  Technically, the place is closed, but the signs say you can still come on in and "recreate" at your own risk.  Boy, was this place overgrown!  Most of the shelters and picnic tables had been vandalized (or else they had just fallen apart); it was spooky!  But the lake was obviously way down from its former glory; in fact, a local OKbirder told me there really was no "former glory": the people who had designed the reservoir did a poor job of planning, and what water it did collect managed to seep into the ground! But the habitat was great for ducks, but with the wind it was really hard to pick out what was bobbing away down there, but there were plenty of ducks, and what I could pick out included Mallard, Shoveler, Wigeon, Ruddies, GW Teal, Coots, and Lesser Scaup, which was new for the trip.  Another road by the dam got you right down to water level, and that was great for viewing the ducks!  Another little rec area (Angler Point) had what looked like a nice little nature trail, but that was closed off, for liability reasons, I'm sure (you start off crossing a wooden footbridge; you can just imagine what that thing could do if not maintained!).


                    Optima Lake                                   The lake from ground level                                    The dam

The guy also told me about another access on the west side of the lake (called Prairie Dog Point), so I found that, and it was more of the same, really.  The area looks wonderful for Cassin's Sparrows, and indeed the checklist says they're supposed to be common in spring, but maybe they haven't arrived yet.  Scaled Quail would be nice, too...  I never did find any access to the actual National Wildlife Refuge, except for a couple of walk-in hunting spots, so I guess what I got was what you get!

Was time to head into Guymon for the night after that (and had a terrific Chinese dinner). In contrast to the day before, the next day was a darn near perfect day, as I left the motel before the crack of dawn and made it to Prairie Dog Point just before sunrise.  Again, both meadowlarks were going at it, and pheasants were crowing left and right, but the real treat was the fact that there was no wind for once!  At the end of the road, a Great Horned Owl was hooting it up as the sun was just starting to peek, and Turkeys were gobbling away down by the river, but the prize for me was a singing Cassin's Sparrow!  I was a little concerned I might not get that puppy in OK!  

Headed up to the WMA roads by the Beaver River next, where a strange-sounding goldfinch bounced over, and Bobwhite were tuning up in the distance.  Where the road got close to the river a Spotted Towhee could be heard, and the sparrows were everywhere; I think they need to revise their checklist and change Vesper Sparrow from "occasional" to "abundant"!  They're really tuning up, too: singing away and chasing each other all over!

At the far entrance where the dirt road continues through farmland, I turned off to see where the fork went (nowhere--just to a staging area), but as I turned this harsh call out the window got my attention, and there was my Scaled Quail sitting right up on a post!  He didn't flinch a bit as he allowed cracking shots (you wonder if he could have read the sign that said "No Shooting Zone"...)!  I almost tuned out the second Cassin's Sparrow singing here, too!  Just before I left a cooperative Sharp-shinned Hawk came tearing in and landed on a yucca.


                        Perfect Cassin’s Sparrow habitat!                                                    Scaled Quail

Down the road were lots of larks (both real and icterid), and a gorgeous knock-out pheasant in one field made me back up for a shot; then I noticed him crouched down, trying to hide!  So since he was in perfect light and fairly close, we both played the waiting game, and I finally won: he got up and allowed one shot before he took off like a shot!  A Jackrabbit did the same thing by crouching in the ditch, and then taking off after a couple of pictures... 

This is a big hunting area, so an animal’s first instinct is to crouch until they figure it‘s safe!




Ring-necked Pheasant

Headed over to Optima Lake (now that I knew how to get there J), stopping first at Hooker Point where there wasn't much but gobs more sparrows, then Angler Point which was more productive: both Barn and Cliff Swallows swooped around the little marsh, and a familiar sound from home, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, called from the campground!  Had another cooing Roadrunner in the distance as well, but I left this one alone... J


                                        Habitat at Hooker Point                                The boat ramp’s been out of use for awhile...


                                      Mourning Dove pair                                         Marsh at Angler Point


                                                Abandoned campground                           Park map (such as it was)

Headed to the lake bottom after that, and what a treat!  Without the gale, I was able to scope much better, picking up many new trip and state birds such as Eared Grebe, Redhead, Pintail, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Duck!  A couple of Avocets were here as well, along with the regular Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwall, Ruddies, teal, etc.  On the way to the overlook I stopped along the fields where yet another Chestnut-collared Longspur "kettled" overhead!  Up on the overlook the air was ringing with the peeps of the Green-winged Teal; there were gobs of 'em!  What a treat!  Also had a Rufous-crowned Sparrow singing from the "cliffs" as well.  At Hardesty Park I took an exercise walk around the abandoned campground and unintentionally disturbed a young Redtail with a substantial lunch; unfortunately he dropped it and then just sat staring at me from a post; it made me hope that they go back to where they drop their prey and don't fall back on some instinctual behavior that dictates that whatever they eat must be freshly killed (if that makes any sense).  The only down side was the no-see-ums: they were everywhere, biting like crazy!  Time to dip the clothes in Off, I guess...But the reward for putting up with that was the Barn Owl I spooked back at the car!


                                    Avocet                                                        Optima Lake and "cliffs"


                                                Abandoned Hardesty Park                                                  Say's Phoebe