Monday, May 14, 2007

Black Mesa State Park and environs

May 11, 2007

I got up real early, did a full head service (hair washed, shaved, teeth cleaned) and then watched the sunup on the far side of Lake Etling, an area I hadn't ever paid much attention to. Turns out it's very good for sparrows. I hadn't been thinking about them much since at home all the sparrows except chippers and fields are gone. But now I was far enough west that the story had changed. I was able to find Cassin's, Brewer's, Field and Lark Sparrows and unexpected White-crowns. That inspired me to look for sparrows in New Mexico later. I went into Kenton to the Mercantile, which had recently changed hands, and found a good breakfast and Wifi care of Wes, the new store-keeper, city refugee and friend of the new owners. Nice to catch up on email, and find out that there were no nuclear wars going on. Kenton not only has no cell phone service, but if you switch on the radio, and scan for stations, the numbers just climb and cycle endlessly without stopping. Somewhat remote. That made the Wifi a wonder, but turns out there's a phone company switch center in a nondescript building across the street, so DSL works great.

The New Mexico line is about a mile west of Kenton, and it's on mountain time since that makes more sense than keeping time with the rest of Oklahoma, which might as well be in another state. I poked around over there along the Cimmaron River, and then took small two lane blacktops down to Clayton. In Clayton, I stopped in the Grasslands Office, and got some pointers on likely places. Also found a small wetland there. Found Cassin's, Clay-colored, Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows. Also a Burrowing Owl sitting on a fence post. There was a Black Tern at the State Park north of Clayton, some shorebirds and both Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks along the way. Spotted Towhee. Pretty good birding. I worked my way back to Black Mesa SP by an alternate version of the outbound route. Birding around the park got a Cassin's Finch, which I had no idea was possible. I met an Oklahoma birder named Terri, who was anticipating several friends for the weekend, and they were planning on going into a private ranch which the owner (reluctantly) allowed. She was said to be somewhat paranoid about strangers, having had some bad experience with pot hunters. I guess I invited myself, since I'd met some of those folks before, and had been to the ranch before with John Sterling, master OK birder, on a CBC a couple of years earlier.

As it was getting dusk I was wandering around thinking I might run across a Western Screech-Owl that was in the area. What I found was a group of students and three profs from a Christian U in OKC. Good conversation, Alton was a biologist, and George an anthropologist. The kids were preparing some sort of presentation/defense. Slowly the talk got around to evolution at one point and I simply asked them how they approached the subject. They were believers in Darwin and deep time, but hinted that there was some conflict in that milieu, but no outright suppression. They were willing to speak their minds at any rate. Really interesting conversation, and they confirmed that the owl was hanging out in the tree overhead.

May 12, 2007

I stayed in a different campsite that night was up early for another breakfast and Wifi at the Merc. Then back for park birding with Jimmy Woodard and the other OKC folks. Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Rock Wrens. About mid-morning we headed over to the ranch and mostly worked up an area called Sutton's Canyon, for George Sutton, famous Oklahoma Ornithologist who had done a lot of research there. Got one of my best birds, a pair of MacGillivray's Warblers, and also the long sought Juniper Titmouse. I needed to get home, and left those folks to carry on while I headed for the Boise City sewage ponds. That was a knockout, especially the Black Tern. It was swarming with waterfowl and shorebirds as well. Jimmy had given me directions to Mountain Plovers about three miles off the highway, and I drove slowly and scanned repeatedly back and forth for a mile beside a barren crusted dead weedy patch of played out ag field. No luck. It sure beats me why any bird would have such a place for preferred habitat, maybe the lack of competition. A little further in a small town in a feeder type back-yard is the reliable Curve-billed Thrasher spot, and it showed up in a couple of minutes after I finally figured out which house to try. for the two days I added twelve Oklahoma tics.


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