Springtime in Oklahoma is for the birders
For folks interested in bird watching, early April is when large waves of migratory birds start coming back through Oklahoma on their way to the breeding grounds as far north as Canada after wintering in warmer places such as Mexico, Central America and South America.
In particular, a dozen different species of colorful warblers can been seen during one birding adventure in the spring, said Nathan Kuhnert, an avid birder in Oklahoma City and member of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society.
Around the state, places like the Beavers Bend State Park and McCurtain County and the J.T Nickel Preserve in Cherokee County are hot spots for neotropical migrants.
In Oklahoma City, lakes such as Hefner, Overholser and Draper are usually productive for bird watchers. Sightings of black and white warblers were being reported last weekend, Kuhnert said.
"Black-and-white warblers have returned to Oklahoma as one of the more early neotropical migrants and some rare ducks, longtailed duck and black scoter, are still present at Lake Hefner," he said.
Another easily accessible "migrant trap" for birds in downtown Oklahoma City is the Myriad Gardens, Kuhnert said. Lake Thunderbird State Park in Norman offers a diversity of habitat and bird watching opportunities while smaller, urban parks such as the Martin Park Nature Center and Mitch Park in Edmond can provide small birding adventures.
Out in the state, places such as the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in Tillman County and the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area in McCurtain County are hot spots for shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers and dowitchers) and wading birds (i.e. herons, egrets and bitterns). The birds can be colorful and usually much easier to find using a spotting scope.
The Red Slough WMA is the site of its 11th annual birding convention May 4-7, where experienced birders and newcomers meet and tour McCurtain County's popular bird watching areas. Hosted by the Idabel Chamber of Commerce, participants not only tour the Red Slough but the Little River National Wildlife Refuge and the McCurtain County Wilderness Area.
“We’ve timed the convention with some of this area’s best bird-watching opportunities,” said Robert Bastarache, U.S. Forest Service district biologist and event committee member. “Migrating warblers are a tour staple, but we also expect to see a variety of marshbirds, shorebirds, and songbirds.”
More than 150 species were tallied during last year’s convention. Group field trips are scheduled for both morning and afternoon with morning tours focusing on the area’s diverse bird life while afternoon outings showcase dragonflies, wildflowers and champion trees. Registration for the convention is $125. More information can be found at redsloughconvention.com.
In southwest Oklahoma, Hackberry Flat is a prime birding destination and offers organized bird walks in the spring. More than 225 difference species have been identified during bird surveys on the wetland, from doves to less common species such as the black-necked stilt, stilt sandpiper and snowy plover. To learn about free public tours, visit wildlifedepartment.com and search "Hackberry Flat."
Other areas popular for bird watching in Oklahoma include the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Oklahoma, Roman Nose State Park near Watonga and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma.
March is a big month for crane migration at the Salt Plains, Kuhnert said.
"The Great Salt Plains is the premier spot in Oklahoma to see both species, sandhill and whooping," he said. "You usually start seeing good movements of waterfowl too in March that includes the first spring sighting of blue-winged and cinnamon teal. And March too can be good for some land birds like mountain bluebirds where Roman Nose State Park and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge are great locations."
A good source to learn about birding in Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Ornithological Society (okbirds.org). It has an annual spring meeting in early May and this year's location will be at Lake Wister State Park, Kuhnert said.