Early visitors to the plains of southwest Oklahoma encountered an oasis in the middle of an area known as the “Big Pasture”. A vast shallow lake that smoldered with plumes of waterfowl rising in such large flocks that they darkened the skies. The area was called Hackberry Flat because of the hackberry forest found around the seasonal wetland.
Comanche Chief Quannah Parker once owned this land and recounted Indian legends of tremendous amounts of game that could be hunted within Hackberry Flat and the hackberry forest. President Theodore Roosevelt knew of Hackberry Flat as well. In 1905 he hunted wolf in the area with Jack “Catch’em Alive” Abernathy.
Near the turn of the 20th century local residents using hand shovels and mule teams set out on a Herculean effort to drain the wetland for use as farmland. A massive ditch, some four miles long, 20 feet deep and 40 feet across, was excavated. The soil was fertile, but farming the flood-prone landscape proved difficult.
More than 7,100 acres of former southwest Oklahoma farmland, once one of the nation’s largest Playa Lakes, has now been restored to it’s wetland glory. More than 35 miles of water control structures and ditches and a 17- mile water delivery pipeline from Tom Steed Reservoir ensure that winged visitors of all shapes and sizes will find a suitable stopping place.
Hackberry Flat is a premier destination for birders, especially for its high concentrations of shorebirds and waterbirds, including Whooping Cranes. More than 200 species have been identified during surveys, with such rare and uncommon species as the black-necked stilt, stilt sandpiper, and snowy plover being seen. Sheer numbers of birds make this area stand out as one of the best anywhere. Even though shorebirds are present year round, the best months for observing them are March-May. Best months for waterfowl observation are February-March.
To reach Hackberry Flat, from the intersection of Hwy 5 and Hwy 183 in Frederick, go 1 mile south on 183. Turn east onto Airport Rd and go three miles, then follow the blacktop road as it turns south and go about four miles.
For More Information Hackberry Flat Area Manager 580/335-5262 (Kelvin Schoonover
Following is an driving tour from the Friends of Hackberry Flat: Click here to get a copy of the driving tour as a brochure. A map of the tour is below.
To Start the Driving Tour: From the intersection of Hwy 5 and Hwy 183 in Frederick, go 1 mile south on 183. Turn east onto Airport Rd and go three miles, then follow the blacktop road as it turns south and go 6 miles. Turn east at the second intersection past the Hackberry Flat cemetery and drive about 1/2 mile until you reach Stop 1.
Stop 1. Turn left into the parking lot. From this point you are overlooking most of the wetland area that comprises Hackberry Flat. The hills rising on the horizon are the eastern border of the Wildlife Management Area. From this point to the eastern border is about three miles. This location is the future site of the Hackberry Flat visitor center, which will have educational displays, meeting rooms and a wet classroom. Feel free to walk down the trail and go left to walk across the boardwalk to the bird blind. While walking the trail, you may hear Dicksissels calling their distinctive three chirps. Also notice the many butterflies and insects nectaring on the wildflowers blooming in the prairie areas. You may see many plants that you may think of as weeds, but most of these provide essential food and shelter for many types of wildlife.
Stop 2. Stop along the road at the intersection. During the spring, the two wetlands north of you are usually full of many types of birds, including Wilson’s Phalarope, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and other shorebirds. In the deeper water you may see great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Green Herons. You may also see and hear Killdees and Red-wing Blackbirds.
Stop 3. Continue east until you get to the observation tower. Climb the tower and scan from the north to the east. You are looking over the largest wetland unit in Hackberry Flat. Looking north, you can see the Wichita Mountains. The white towers you see are the grain silos of the town of Chattanooga. Feel free to walk east on the berm of the wetland units to observe more wildlife. To continue the driving tour, head back west for less than a mile and then turn south.
Stop 4. Here you will find a clump of willows and other trees. You are presently at the southeast corner of Hackberry Flat. You can sometimes find a brown thrasher or other birds among the trees. Look for the common grackle nests made out of cotton taken from the nearby fields.
Stop 5. This bridge crosses the original ditch that was dug in the early 1900’s to drain the wetland. Over the years sediment has filled the ditch; it was much deeper when first dug. Look for raccoon, deer, bobcat, and other tracks in the mud of the ditch. You may also be lucky and spot the Barn Owl that lives nearby!
Stop 6 . Climb the observation tower and look across Hackberry Flat Reservoir. This reservoir was built by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in cooperation with the Tillman County Conservation District and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. This provides flood control for the Middle Deep Red Run Watershed and water management for Hackberry Flat. The managers at Hackberry Flat store water here to be distributed to the wetland units. The islands you see in the reservoir are used by birds for nesting. Cormorants, egrets, and pelicans also use the tops of the willow trees for nesting. This area is in the Waterfowl refuge. Please do not enter the refuge from Oct 15- Jan 31. Any other time, feel free to walk on the top of the dam to get a better view of the birds.
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