It’s almost spring in Oklahoma and the birding is easy.
Mid-March is a transition period between seasons, when opportunity for spotting multiple avian species is particularly ample.
Bill Diffin, past president of the Oklahoma City Audubon Society and current president of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society, says birds wintering in the southern United States, Central America and South America are migrating. It’s a great time to view 20 or more different ducks, gulls, geese and many sparrow species – all which winter in Oklahoma.
“Early mornings and evenings are when birds are generally more active,” Diffin says. “Joining a club has great social benefits, but the best thing about bird-watching is just getting out in nature and being outdoors.”
Dan Reinking, author of the seminal Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas, agrees that the state is prime territory for birders.
“With 480 species of birds documented in Oklahoma being a record total for a state without a seacoast, Oklahoma is a great place to bird-watch,” he says. “Oklahoma’s mid-continent location spanning both eastern and western habitats, from the pine forests of the southeast to the pinon-juniper mesas of the western Panhandle, results in a corresponding diversity of birds.”
Bird-watching requires only binoculars, a field guide and a notebook to record sightings, Reinking says. There is a big difference in quality between $50 binoculars and a $200 pair, and a noticeable improvement in the $500-$1,000 range.
Diffin and Reinking both recommend field guides by the National Geographic Society or author David Sibley. Field guide apps, including a free one from the National Audubon Society, are available. Because Oklahoma straddles the 100th meridian and has both eastern and western birds, it is best to choose a guide that covers all of North America. However, for bird-watching east of the Panhandle, an eastern guide should suffice.
Audubon chapters are scattered across the state; many organize field trips and provide monthly programs about birds, Reinking says. Bird counts take place each December and are a good way to get involved. The Oklahoma Ornithological Society also has field trips.
Locations for prime bird-watching include state parks and national wildlife refuges, Reinking says. These include Tulsa’s Oxley Nature Center, Martin Park Nature Center in Oklahoma City, the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area south of Idabel in McCurtain County, the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area south of Frederick in Tillman County, the Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge near Jet in Alfalfa County, Black Mesa State Park and vicinity near Kenton in far western Cimarron County, and the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton in Comanche County.
Don Wolfe, senior biologist at the G.M. Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville, heads several projects that study, count and preserve various bird species. He invites anyone to bird-watch, help educate others and support habitat conservation.
The Sutton Center has a long history “of successful avian conservation and restoration projects, including the re-establishment of breeding bald eagles in Oklahoma, of which there are now approximately 160 breeding pairs in the state,” Wolfe says. “It is important to realize that increased awareness and appreciation of all wildlife and valid conservation efforts directed at rare or declining species are considerably easier and less costly than attempting to bring a species back from the brink of extinction.
“Public involvement in activities such as Christmas bird counts not only enhances that appreciation, but can provide early indicators to changes in distribution or abundance.”