As December was ushered in I was reminded that summer and fall are definitely past history. But as a birder, my thoughts begin to turn toward Christmas Counts. I’m not a very enthusiastic Christmas shopper, so I’m content to be tramping through weeds, woods and fields in pursuit of feathered friends to add to a CBC list when most are out at malls. Well, most of the time I’m content. I may grumble about being wet, cold and tired, but once we’re on our way to another round of CBC activity, I’m good.
On December 17, 2010, Brian and I did our first and favorite CBC at Washita NWR, located west of the town of Butler, in the western part of Oklahoma. In keeping with our tradition, we drove to Elk City the night before, treated ourselves to dinner at Simon’s Catch, SW of Elk City. Their shrimp, catfish and hush puppies are some of the best to be found.
Friday morning’s weather was not exactly CBC friendly! Light snow began as we left Elk City before 7:00 AM and became heavier as we neared refuge headquarters. Forecasters promised it would quit soon. As we arrived at headquarters to get our assignments, the snow did stop. For about an hour, we were duped into thinking we might even see the sun.
As we turned onto Highway 33 and into our CBC area, we spotted an adult Bald Eagle in a large cottonwood. In the adjacent field were thousands of geese of several varieties, but mostly Snow Geese (We didn’t have to count geese.) As we approached, the eagle launched out over the feeding geese, scattering all of the geese and causing a large flock of roadside sparrows, cardinals, goldfinches, etc., to pop up out of the weedy ditches beside the highway. The eagle was making this easy! The sounds were music to our ears.
We continued with the anticipation of better weather. Soon we noticed low, dark clouds moving in and light rain commenced. Had we been close to home and in urban traffic, I may have considered giving in to being a wimp and going home. But…it wasn’t raining hard and we had rain gear and the wind was not blowing, and we were on the refuge, so we kept going. There were no surprises, but it was overall a good day because we were outside stalking birds in one of our favorite places. One amazing bolt from the blue was hearing the beautiful call of a Common Loon as it resonated across the lake.
The following day (Saturday, December 18, 2010) we were back in OKC and up early and heading to the far NW area of Oklahoma City to participate in our Oklahoma City CBC. Habitat destruction and development have swallowed up most of our territory in this area and birds were a challenge to find, but there were a few havens where we had access. A friend on Memorial Road invited us to bird on her five acres of undeveloped woodland that contained a small stream. On this property we found our only Winter Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Fox Sparrow and Brown Creeper. Another friend on NW 150th west of MacArthur told us to make ourselves at home on his 30-acre horse ranch. We found several hawks and some meadowlarks. We also birded around the pond at New Church and found several species of cooperative ducks that wouldn’t fly away if we exited our vehicle, even when Brian forgot and slammed the door!
In the afternoon, we took pity on our good friend, Jimmy Woodard, and helped him walk the overgrown tall grassy field north of the Purina plant. Jimmy neglected to tell me that the grass was up to my shoulders (well, almost) and grew in uneven clumps! After a few minutes of high-stepping through that dense grass, I contemplated curling up into fetal position and waiting for the buzzards next spring! I didn’t and we were rewarded with a total of four LeConte’s Sparrows, but no Short-eared Owls. Oh, well. Maybe next time?
We even managed to accidentally flush a pair of Bobwhite from a ditch in one of those soon-to-be mac-mansions, so all was not lost. Many of the grassland feeding birds have been pushed out into those fields that are awaiting the home building crews and there is now access to some of them. Many Red-tailed Hawks were out and we got a great look at a Cooper’s Hawk and Horned Larks. Conspicuously absent were the large numbers of cormorants and gulls we usually see in our area. There was no shortage of geese!
Let’s face it. CBC’s continue to lure me out of the warm house and for the most part, it’s fun. I also discovered that those hand-warmer packets are very effective. As long as the heater in my truck continues to work and I can hike and look, I probably will be counting birds instead of Christmas shopping. A wonderful Christmas to all.