LOCATION: Lake Thunderbird and Lake Thunderbird State park
Contributed by Larry Mays
35.124510 N 97.181061 W
Lake Thunderbird is located in Cleveland County east of Norman. The lake covers approximately 6,070 acres, and has about 86 miles of shoreline. The state park covers 1,874 acres on the north and south shores of the lake.
Birding the lake is best during migration and in winter when the crowds have gone. Lake Thunderbird is one of the most used lakes in Oklahoma, but most of the visitors have gone when the waters become too cool for skiing and swimming. The state park lands, however, can be birded all year with interesting results. Just be aware that ticks and chiggers abound, and be alert for pigmy rattlesnakes and copperheads when birding off the trails.
The visiting birder can expect a variety of resident birds in the mixed habitat surrounding the lake, and the lake itself attracts many species. Such species as chickadees and titmice, and several species of woodpeckers are common year round. American Crow, Blue Jay, Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Northern Mockingbird are some of the species which are permanent residents in the park. Migration and summer bring good numbers of neotropical species which both pass through and nest in the park. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting and Painted Bunting are some of the species that can be quite common.
The easiest access to the lake and park is from State Highway (SH) 9. From Interstate 35 on the south side or Norman take the Tecumseh (SH9) exit. There are approaches from both north and south and SH9 goes only east from this point. From the exit travel east approximately 11 miles. Look for the intersection with East 84th Street. This is the easiest way to access the north side of the lake. State Park lands are adjacent to the road at several places. Two and a half miles north on 84th Street brings you to Alameda Street. Turn right and follow Alameda to Robinson Street. Robinson Street runs east until it dead ends at the lake. There are many places to bird in this area. You can find several spots to glass the lake as well.
If you return to SH9 and continue east 2 miles, you can then turn north on 108th Street. Go north one mile, then back west on Lindsay one mile to where it turns north onto 94th street. Look for a pulloff spot just west of this corner. Birding here is almost always good. This is a regular spot for Prothonotary Warbler. Mourning Warbler has been seen here during migration, and Kentucky Warblers have spent the summer here.
Back on SH 9 continue east another 2.5 miles and watch for the state park sign on the left. You can follow the roads down to several campgrounds, boat ramps and such, and birding can be good anywhere.
Return again to SH9 and continue east another mile and turn left at the marked road. This road leads to the dam, and a nice campground and picnic area. There are also several hiking trails here which access good birding areas. You can also glass the lake by walking out onto the dam a little distance.
Once more back to SH9, and follow the highway as it turns north. In about a mile look for an access road to the left. Although the road is now closed to cars, you can pull off (be sure not to block the roadway when you park), and bird the woodland below the dam.
Another area worth exploring is the Little Axe park at Lake Thunderbird. Turn north on 156th Street NE and follow signs to the park area.
Continue east and look for the intersection for Little Axe School. Turn right on to 168th Street, and follow the road to the bottom of the hill. About a half mile south on the left is an oilfield access road onto which you can pull off and then bird from the road. This wooded creek and surrounding areas can be an excellent birding spot during migration. Frequently Barred Owls are heard here as well as Pileated Wodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawks and Parula Warblers.