This page contains feature articles from our Winter, 1998, semi-annual newsletter, which was mailed in December. You may receive future, full-color issues of the newsletter by becoming a member.
- The Life of George Miksch Sutton
- Spotlight on Greater Prairie-Chickens
- Volunteers Honored (Breeding Bird Atlas)
- Bird Survey of Camp Gruber
- Dreams Really Do Come True
- Sutton Heads North
- A Few Words From the Executive Director
- Scientific Presentations
Spotlight on Greater Prairie-Chickens
by Donald H. Wolfe
As the cold, dry autumn air makes its way into Oklahoma this fall, Greater Prairie-Chickens will once again start "strutting their stuff" on fall booming grounds; and we will also be there, trapping them, so we can attach radio transmitters and track them for the rest of their natural lives. Our prior experience shows that the majority of the birds coming to booming grounds in the fall are hatch-year males, perhaps trying to learning what this "booming" thing is all about, or to start to gain some status in the local prairie-chicken society.
Fall trapping is somewhat hit-or-miss, but with good weather (cold, high-pressure systems), proper planning, and some luck, we can hit big. In one day last November; we caught eight birds in about 15 minutes! The naivete of the young birds probably makes catching them a little easier in the fall than in the spring, and we expect to be able to capture 30-40 new birds over the next 2 months.
Recently (July and August), we concentrated our efforts on recapturing radioed birds and replacing the used radios with new or rebatteried radios so that we could continue tracking them for another year or more. A total of 33 birds was recaptured by tracking them at night, spotlighting them, and catching them with long-handled nets.
Besides the fact that the birds are roosting at night and going through a wing molt that impairs their flight somewhat, thereby making it somewhat easy to approach them closely; with the many days of 100+ degree weather we experienced this summer, working nights seemed to make a lot of sense.
To update everyone, we trapped 72 new birds this spring, bringing our total of radioed birds to 131 since April 1997. Twenty-eight nests were found this summer. One of those nests was never revisited due to land restrictions, but ten of the other 27 were successful. One nest was abandoned and 16 nests were destroyed by predators (including two nests where the hen was also killed on the nest). There are currently about 72 birds with (assumedly) functioning radios flying around the tallgrass prairie of Osage County.
Twenty-six of these birds have, at least for the present time, disappeared from our searches, but we continue to find some of these "lost" birds and expect that more will reappear as fall and winter flocks start to occur. Searches for these missing birds from the ground and from the air are ongoing as well.
A new technician, Diann Henthorn, who began working on this project in July, joins seasoned veteran Lena Larsson (who has labored here since March), to make up the crew through the fall and winter. Several other interns and technicians also endured everything Oklahoma summers can throw at them to improve the chances that we will eventually find out why this magnificent species may be disappearing from our prairies. Additional thanks goes out to the many individuals who support this research and to the dozens of landowners who allow us to work on the lands under their stewardship.
by Dan Reinking
Volunteer birders from throughout Oklahoma and several other states continue to make the five-year Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas Project a success. After the first two seasons of this project designed to inventory and map the distributions of Oklahoma’s breeding birds, about 225 of the 583 survey blocks scattered throughout the state have been visited. Of these, about 200 are considered completed.
A reception to honor and thank project volunteers was held in conjunction with the annual fall meeting of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society (OOS), which was held in Ada in late October. Refreshments were served and atlasers had a chance to share stories of their adventures while atlasing during the 1998 season. A prize drawing was also held for all participants who had turned in data for the 1998 season.
Some early results from the surveys were mapped and put on a poster displayed at the scientific paper session of the OOS meeting. Although only about one-third of the blocks have been surveyed so far, general patterns of distribution are beginning to emerge. These patterns are especially obvious for species limited in range to either eastern or western Oklahoma, such as Cassin’s Sparrows in the west and Pileated Woodpeckers in the east.
As more of the blocks are surveyed, the distribution data for all species will become much more accurate and useful. It is safe to say that everyone involved with this project is looking forward to seeing and understanding the wealth of information that will be provided by its completion early next century!
Bird Survey of Camp Gruber
by Daniel L. Reinking and David A. Wiedenfeld
Camp Gruber is an Oklahoma Army National Guard training center located near Muskogee, Oklahoma. A wide range of training activities takes place there for National Guardsmen and other military personnel as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. One task of the Environmental Section at Camp Gruber is to monitor and maintain environmental quality, including the health of wildlife populations and their habitats.
Over 65,000 acres of habitat are available at Camp Gruber, much of it undisturbed except for a network of rough, little used, one-lane dirt roads. About half of this total acreage is available for training use, and the other half is set aside as a game management area with limited access by the public.
This past spring the Sutton Center was contracted to conduct bird surveys along 100 m transects at 89 randomly selected points in the training portion of the site and the game management area. Each of the 89 plots measured about 13 acres (5.3 ha) and was surveyed for 40 minutes. A comparison can then be made between species diversity on the training site and that off the training site in a largely undisturbed adjacent area. Occurrence of less common species can also be evaluated to determine any preference for one or the other areas.
We made the surveys in May and June, 1998. On the 89 counts we recorded 93 bird species and approximately 1,500 individuals, including year-round residents and wintering, transient, and breeding migrants. We recorded another ten species on Camp Gruber, but not during a count. The resident species were the most frequently detected, but we also found good numbers of short and long distance migratory species.
Because our counts were made in spring, the number of wintering birds we found was low. The median number of species we found on each plot was 15, but some plots had as few as six species or as many as 25. The average number of individuals per plot was 30.9 birds. The three most common species we found were Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Summer Tanager. The last two are neotropical migrant species. Some of the prettiest birds there were the Indigo and Painted buntings and Orchard and Baltimore orioles.
Possibly the most interesting species we found was at least one pair of Henslow’s Sparrows, possibly two. Henslow’s Sparrow is a rare to uncommon grassland bird, but one that has been found more and more frequently in Oklahoma.
The surveys weren’t easy—most required quick hiking as much as 1 ½ miles through the woods to the starting point, and by June this year, the summer heat had settled in. But the opportunity to see and learn about a lot of places we normally wouldn’t visit was rewarding.
Dreams Really Do Come True
by Dan Reinking
For years now we have been dreaming of having a functional library at the Center. Now, thanks to the generosity and efforts of Charles Flint III, Chairman of Flint Resources Company; John R. Bates, President of Flint Industries, Inc.; and Bill Sample, also of Flint Resources, we have custom, built-in bookcases to house our library collection.
Many of the volumes in our library were donated by Dr. Dean Amadon, retired from the American Museum of Natural History; Dr. William Southern, retired from Northern Illinois University; and Dr. Paul Hendricks of the Montana Natural Heritage Inventory and formerly of the Sutton Center. Bonnie Gall, a recently retired local birder and Sutton Center volunteer, has been organizing and shelving our collection.
We are grateful for all of this help because library resources are so important to our research efforts. Persons having ornithological library materials they wish to donate are encouraged to contact Assistant Director Alan Jenkins. Monetary contributions to enable acquisition of needed reference books and journals are also welcome.
Sutton Heads North
by Vesna Mihailovic, M.D.
Alaska! The very name makes people think of wilderness, open spaces, abundant wildlife and the world of natural wonder and beauty. We were not disappointed!Several Sutton board members along with family and friends, and National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore, had another wonderful trip together this past summer. On July 15th we began our travels to Kodiak Island, Alaska, for a look at its giant brown bears; other days we would be traveling by luxury day cruiser on Glacier Bay.
After gathering at Kodiak for a history lesson, hydroplanes took us over bright green hills and valleys, sparkling lakes and intermittent inlets dotted with sea otters on our way to Karluk Lake. There, far from civilization (except for a tiny, yet comfortable lodge with warm showers and great meals) our true adventure began. Upon landing we took a short boat ride to the other side of the lake followed by a walk through tall grass.
Suddenly we were on top of a low hill at our observation point, the cutbank of a narrow river. Grizzlies came from all directions–young ones, old ones, thin bears, large bears, mothers with two or even three cubs all went to the stream below our hill to fish, many only 30 feet away. The stream was teeming with salmon, and it was no wonder that bears were coming in large numbers (over 60 bears within 24 hours).
There was so much going on below the observation point and in the meadows in front of and behind us, it was difficult to keep up with all the activities. We hated to leave Karluk Lake and its giant residents who had accepted us so well and shared their home with us.
Next we were off to yet another enchanting part of Alaska, Glacier Bay. There we embarked on an all-day boat tour aboard a triple-decker luxury cruiser which took us along glaciers, cliffs and beautiful beaches. We saw black bears, another grizzly, seals, sea lions, numerous humpback whales, puffins, murrelets, guillemots, scoters, cormorants, gulls, Bald Eagles, and more. It was facinating to stay out on the deck and watch it all, every minute of the trip filled with the beauty and abundance of life.
Our last day at Glacier Bay was spent on a walk through the rain forest, a lush and magical place with large trees, ferns and moss, all in rich, lovely shades of green, and all appearing of another world, or at least another time. Our walk ended on a beach watching humpback whales coming into the cove. Again it was hard to leave. On July 21 we boarded our plane to return home with beautiful memories that will last a lifetime, as well as reassurance that there is a natural world out there which still remains as pretty and vibrant as it has been for thousands of years.
NOTE: Trip participants are happy to announce that this experience was funded entirely by them and included a contribution to the work of the Sutton Research Center.
The next trip is January 22-24, 1999, and will be another tour to the spectacular Monarch Butterfly wintering grounds in the mountains west of Mexico City. A tour to Patagonia in southern Argentina and Chile is February 7-18, 1999, with an extension until February 20 offered to Iguazu Falls. For further information call Warren Harden at Trail Blazers Travel; 405-235-6431.
A few words from the Executive Director...
This was a big year for me. I finally hit the big five-Oh! At fifty years of age, it is normal I am told, to be introspective and to contemplate one’s life. I guess I have been one of the lucky ones. Still in love with and still married to the same fine lady after 28 years, two wonderful children now almost ready to fledge, and I have spent a lifetime studying natural history and working toward conservation of the natural world I love, respect, and which holds my fascination.
An early childhood obsession with raptors accompanied by great role models in graduate school, led me into the effort to save the Peregrine Falcon from extinction. Initially, when I finally understood what was causing the disappearance of this favorite bird of prey via DDT, it was a very depressing time for me. Around 1970, I thought that within 10 years I would never see a wild peregrine perform its awe inspiring, 100+mph stoop again.
At that time, I viewed the effort to save the peregrine as a huge, singular task to hopefully accomplish and complete, over and done. Then, I really was not looking much beyond the peregrine. I saw myself as one of the good guys against the bad guys, and as trying to save the object of my passion.
Having matured a bit in environmental biology since then, I now see things a little differently. There are still a few truly bad guys out there, but by and large I realize that I, along with my environmentally-minded colleagues, am part of the problem. We join the rest of the human species in doing what humans do–we all have an impact. It is not just those who are earning a living doing something different than we do.
I rode to work today in my truck and I conduct wildlife surveys from the same, I frequently fly in planes, I live in my house on my five acres, and I am currently writing this on my computer using electricity, paper, chips, bulbs, and plastic, while wearing plant, animal, and synthetic (produced through energy consumption) fibers after eating same out of metal and plastic containers, etc., etc.
Today the object of my passion is still birds. And even though I realize that as living organisms they are incredibly neat (hey, they are flying dinosaurs!), it is because of their fast metabolisms required by flight and because of their role as individual environmental microprocessors, that bird populations throughout the world are some of the very best environmental barometers available.
I also realize that at this stage in human existence, our environmental world will need continued housekeeping and oversight from now on. There will always be new threats to bird populations and ultimately to human populations. Environmental health will never be a singular task that can be completed, over and done, as was the reintroduction of the peregrine falcon; it will be a continued responsibility forever, for all of us.
I am optimistic that we can pull off a neat trick: to be wise enough to maintain a quality existence and yet include leaving enough unspoiled for our wildlife heritage to exist as well. When some scoff at talk of the threat of human populations and say we have not yet begun to feed the world, I quickly turn to my Harvard hero, Professor Edward O. Wilson. Dr. Wilson relates that indeed all the humans on earth (approaching 6 billion), if stacked like cord wood, would fit into a three cubic mile mass.
Maybe this would be like an even more crowded Tokyo (not exactly my idea of quality of life), but still what’s the problem? The problem is that the ecological footprint of each person in an undeveloped country is only about 1.5 acres each. In a developed country such as the U.S., however, it is about 12.5 acres each. If all the people on earth lived like we do in this country (and I am part of this), we would need a total of three planet earths right now just to sustain the lifestyle.
For politicians to address these issues, global human population problems will have to reach crisis levels which will occur in about 50 years. Still, I am optimistic. As I have already related, in 1970 I thought the future would witness no peregrine falcons again in the wild; and yet today they are back in all their old haunts! I even see them migrating across the plains of Oklahoma.
Similarly, I believe that we can and will solve the problems I have related above as long as we keep up the environmental struggle so that we do not lose too much before ultimately the solution is found. That struggle involves continuing education and continuing conservation work such as that of the Sutton Center.
In 1852, Chief Seattle wrote the following in a letter to President Franklin Pierce:
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth?
This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
The Sutton Center cannot save the entire web of life, but we are working on strands. We need your help to do that. You have received this newsletter because you are already a supporter/partner in our efforts to keep the strands attached. Inside this issue, there are two contribution envelopes. Please, please, take the time to send in your generous contribution now. And secondly, please make a commitment to share the second envelope with a friend and encourage her/him to also send in a contribution. We are trying to increase our membership through your commitment. We are trying hard. Won’t you help?
Steve K. Sherrod
by David A. Wiedenfeld
We continue to make presentations about our research projects at scientific conferences, including nine this year. An important part of what we do is to let other scientists and conservationists know the results of our work. The following are meetings attended since the last newsletter.
3-7 October 1998; Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Orlando, Florida. Recent status of Florida’s Bald Eagle population and its role in eagle reestablishment efforts in the southeastern United States.
23-25 October 1998; Oklahoma Ornithological Society Fall Meeting; Ada, Oklahoma. (Poster) First two years of the Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas Project; and (oral paper) Effects of three livestock grazing regimes on the nesting ecology of birds in shortgrass prairie.