Monday, February 07, 2005

Oklahoma Day Trip

On Saturday Feb 5 2005 I left the house about 6am and drove west on US 412 to US 59 right at the Oklahoma border. Then south to Sallisaw, get some gas, and on to Kerr Dam on the Arkansas River where I met Sandy Berger, Ann Gordon, and ??? (she of the Questar) who were searching for an immature Iceland Gull, spotted the day before by Berlin Heck. We spent over an hour below and above the dam, looking at every gull at least three times. No luck, unless you count finding three Thayer's Gulls (marked by red feet, brown throats, and white in the black wingtips), which would have been remarkable rarities except that our sights were set so much higher. An Iceland isn't even shown on the list that my AviSys program coughs up, and it mentions Passenger Pigeons. On Monday there was a post saying that pictures taken made it look more like an immature Thayer's.

We were able to find a nice variety of ducks, including some Greater Scaup, and even picked out a Ross's Goose in a flyover flock of Snow Geese. The original intention of the day, before the Iceland distraction, had been to search for the various Loons reported on Lake Tenkiller, about forty miles to the northwest. Four species had been sighted reecntly, Common, Pacific, Red-throated, and the elusive Yellow-billed. I hadn't seen two of these in OK, so they had been the original target birds. We initially stopped at the State Park on the east side of the lake, and when that proved vacant, we went to Strayhorn Landing on the west side of the Dam, which had been in fact the place where the loons had been reported most often. Bad luck, only Commons no matter how we looked. We were joined by Adam ?, a new grad student at UofA, who had managed to find some Pacifics at a random landing coming down the east side.

After an hour plus of frustration, Sandy had a fall back plan of going to Fort Gibson Lake Dam. That was an hours drive up some very windy roads, through the historic fort, and up the narrow valley leading to the dam. Great scads of gulls, including a number of Bonaparte's Gulls, super small and cute, almost like terns. We tried to turn one of them into a Kittiwake or Little Gull, but no luck. Again, we found a Thayer's, which didn't even seem remarkable, though it was.

At that point the group split up, the women heading back to Kerr to take another shot at the Iceland, while Adam and I drove north to Tulsa, Lake Yahola, to find a possible Lesser Black-backed Gull, Hooded Mergansers that I'd missed on a previous trip, and Long-tailed Ducks (formerly Oldsquaws, a name dropped since it offended some folks, but still used by Oldfart birders like me, accompanied usually by some kind of apology or defiance). Blessings rained on us. First we had a clear flyby of the Long-tails, giving Adam a great life look, his first ever sighting of the species. With some walking and scoping we found my desired Hoodeds at a distance, then a Pacific Loon that I'd given up on, then a beautiful close Hooded. There were also fully breeding plumaged male Red-breasted Mergansers doing a courtship ritual gesture of tipping back the head, then thrusting it skyward while following an interesting (there were five), but not very interested female. We walked back to the point where a group of four birders had arrived an set up scopes. The obligatory talk of trips and good sightings passed until one of them who had been methodically scoping the gulls found the Lesser Black-backed. That would have been a lifer for Sandy, so I waited until Sunday to call and report in.

The trip was a great success, netting ten new birds for my Oklahoma list, a nice day with lots of sun, turning windy later as a rain front approached.


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