Christmas Bird Counts for the 2013 counting season are now an assortment of statistics in participants and compiler’s records. Those statistics do not reflect the memories and the experiences that are an integral part of a CBC. My son, Brian, and I have been participating in CBC’s for over 35 years. We began with the Oklahoma City Audubon Society’s CBC and later counted with the Audubon Society of Central Oklahoma in the Arcadia area. From there we expanded to the Cleveland County Audubon Society CBC in the area on the west side of Lake Thunderbird, the Washita National Wildlife Refuge CBC, our longtime favorite, and for the past two years, the Stephens County CBC, which we conduct with Leonard and June Ketchum on Ketchum Ranch. So many CBC’s…so little weekends!!
Our CBC season began with the OKC Audubon Society’s count on December 14, 2013. It was not the best omen when I heard the wind hammering against our house long before 6:00 AM, when we planned to pile out of the warm beds. But…we did it. Packed up a thermos of hot tea, dug out the serious longjohns, coats, hats and scarves, and drove to our area, which is the far NW quadrant of our count circle. Saw a field peppered with a large number of Cackling Geese. Tried to stand outside to look for anything different, but the wind slammed us on the back and chased us back into the truck. By mid-afternoon the sun tried to make an appearance and a little bit of the ice had melted and we finally found a few ducks. Grassland birds were another story. The wind kept everything low to the ground and out of site. We tried extremely hard and drove around 80 miles in a diligent effort to find something to count! We were rewarded with a great look at a beautiful Ferruginous Hawk and a flock of Horned Larks.
Our next CBC was December 29, 2013, at Lake Thunderbird. Mother Nature was really in a snit that day! The highest temperature was 29 and most of the day it was 27…BUT…the north wind howled and most of our count area was downwind off of the water. Esther Key, Jeremiah Ables, Brian and I spent quite some time out of the vehicle, but only when we could get down in a ravine or put a hill or some trees between us and the wind.
Being crazy birders does have its rewards. We had pulled up at a parking area to access public hunting areas, when Esther began to yell, “Ow, Ow! I spun around to see what part of her body she had injured, only to see her pointing
to a Great Horned OWL that had pounced down into grass onto a meal, only a few yards from out truck!
The lake was not frozen, so we had a few ducks and several gulls, including Esther’s big surprise, a Little Gull! Again, our species numbers were w-a-y down, as were the species numbers for the entire Cleveland County CBC participants.
We had a week to regroup and on Friday, January 3, Brian and I joined Esther Key and her grandson, Jeremiah, and we headed to Taylor Lake, near Rush Springs, to look for the Lewis’s Woodpecker that has been seen there. Within about 45 minutes we found the woodpecker, which was a life bird for Esther.
We were not done yet. The Stephens County CBC was the next day – Saturday, January 4, 2014. We arrived at the ranch, settled ourselves into our cabins and shared a pot of beef stew and conversation with the Ketchums. The wind howled all night and at daylight their lake was white-capping and the eye-watering and the quivering binoculars began anew.
Sometime before noon the wind calmed down a bit and the temperature was somewhere around 50 and we had welcome sunshine! It was fun to see several Northern Harriers and several parties of Cardinals and Juncos. We found a few Black Vultures, but were astonished to round a curve and see 14 Black Vultures feeding on the rather ripe carcass of a wild pig. One of their lakes had a few hundred geese and we had a few thousand Brewer’s Blackbirds. Esther and Leonard found a pair of Prairie Falcons on their route.
New Year’s Day – 2014 was a beautiful day for being outside. Two windy, chilly CBC’s were behind us. Brian and I made a quick trip to try to find the Thunderbird Little Gull, which we did not get to see on our CBC, although Esther had seen it. As we arrived at the Twin Bridges area of Little River State Park, we were joined by Terri Underhill and Pat Velte, who had decided to start their New Year just as we did.
A flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls was resting out of good viewing range on the other side of the cove, so Pat and Terri drove directly across, and with cell phones in hand, began the stalk. Very soon I had a call from Pat. They found the gull! Brian and I quickly drove to their location and we all got good looks at a life bird for Brian and for me. A great way to begin another year – birding with good friends!! Happy 2014 birding to all of our birding friends. May your year be filled with memorable experiences with our feathered friends.