A big raptor day in Oklahoma tallgrass prairie


I spent the day afield on Monday Dec. 29 with my avid birder nephews from Michigan.  After nabbing their lifer Lewis’s Woodpecker at Lake Carl Blackwell on Saturday, we planned to spend Monday in an effort to find them a Greater Prairie-Chicken. We were successful in that regard, thanks to a male perched on a utility pole right along the highway a few miles south of Grainola in Osage County.  That was a thrill and a half, and the boys got some terrific photos to commemorate the occasion. 

I wasn't kidding about the prairie-chicken.

I wasn’t kidding about the prairie-chicken.

We left Stillwater heading up Rt. 177 toward Ponca City (Noble County), headed east toward Kaw Lake on Rt. 11 (Kay County), and then traveled north on Rt. 18 at Shidler, up to Grainola, down to Foraker, and through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve to Pawhuska before heading back west on Rt. 60 (Osage County).  We completed the loop by peeling off south on Rt. 18 through Fairfax and Ralston (Pawnee County) before hooking up with Noble County again on Rt. 15 heading west.  We stopped counting as we headed back south on Rt. 177 in Noble County.  In all, we counted along 157 miles, 89 of which were in Osage County.

We birded approximately here, almost exclusively from the roads.

We birded approximately here, almost exclusively from the roads.


In addition to the aforementioned Prairie-Grouse, we found 3 Loggerhead Shrikes (always a treat) and 7 Tundra Swans.

Tundra Swans on an icy pond at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

Tundra Swans on an icy pond at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

The real stars of the day, however, were raptors, and we racked up impressive counts for several of them:

Red-tailed Hawk – 149
Rough-legged Hawk – 6
Northern Harrier – 55
Bald Eagle – 31
American Kestrel – 32

That would be a spectacular day at a temperate hawkwatch during the peak of migration.  These, however, were wintering birds, settling in for a few months on our Oklahoma prairies. Most of these birds were seen in Osage County, our biggest and most dominated by expansive tallgrass prairie.  It was actually out in the private lands – mostly managed for homogeneous grassland and often herbicided to suppress native forbs – that we found most of them.  The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve – managed for heterogeneity using patch-burning – was comparatively quiet, although the bison were worth the trip, as always.

Sharp eyes on these young'ns . . .

Sharp eyes on these young’ns . . .

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 11.55.34 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 11.55.16 AM


29 December 2014
Roadside surveys – Noble, Kay, Pawnee, and Osage counties, OK
Observers: Tim O’Connell, Matty Hack, Benjamin Hack

Pied-billed Grebe – 3
Double-crested Cormorant – 3
Great Blue Heron – 2
Cackling Goose – 5
Canada Goose – 582
Tundra Swan – 7 (Tallgrass Prairie Preserve)
Mallard – 150
Canvasback – 3
Ring-necked Duck – 64
Lesser Scaup – 3
Bufflehead – 1
Common Goldeneye – 49
Hooded Merganser – 1
American Coot – 450
Killdeer – 1
Ring-billed Gull – 1
Bonaparte’s Gull – 6
Greater Prairie-Chicken – 1 (perched atop utility pole south of Grainola, Osage Co.)
Bald Eagle – 31 (30 of those in Osage Co.)
Northern Harrier – 55 (52 in Osage Co.)
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 149 (104 in Osage Co.)
Rough-legged Hawk – 6 (Osage Co.)
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
Prairie Falcon – 1 (Osage Co.)
American Kestrel – 32 (23 in Osage Co.)
Rock Pigeon – 8
Eurasian Collared-Dove – 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
Northern Flicker – 2
American Crow – 18
Blue Jay – 13
White-breasted Nuthatch – 1
European Starling – 397
Loggerhead Shrike – 3
Northern Mockingbird – 7
Eastern Bluebird – 26
American Robin – 9
Northern Cardinal – 1
American Tree Sparrow – 10 (Osage Co.)
Smith’s Longspur – 1 (Osage Co.)
Eastern Meadowlark – 35
Red-winged Blackbird – 70,000 (Noble Co., Sooner Lake vicinity. An estimated 3–5 million winter there.)
Brewer’s Blackbird – 15
Common Grackle – 3
Brown-headed Cowbird – 1
American Goldfinch – 1
House Sparrow – 3

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