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Ivory-billed Woodpeckers

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Keystone Lake
Tulsa, Osage, Pawnee & Creek
Counties

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society. This account was partially reviewed and updated in 2007.


Additional Info

Corps Lake Web Site

Corps Project Web Site

Map of Public Hunting Areas

Keystone State Park

Walnut Creek State Park

Shorebirding Info

Lake Keystone is the only lake that has shorebird habitat at normal level, but it is better at 1.5 ft. below normal or lower.  Some good areas are:

 • Osage Point

 Osage Ramp

 Feyodi Creek

 Cowskin Bay South

 Hwy 48 Overlook to Pawnee Cove

  Cottonwood Creek South

Map with shorebird areas highlighted

 

Hi-res version


from Jim Arterburn's shorebird guide

 

Bald Eagles

The area below Keystone Dam, on the north side of the river, is a traditional spot for viewing wintering  Bald Eagles. This is where Tulsa Audubon holds it s annual Eagle Days Bald Eagle watches. In 2007 a pair of Eagle built on nest on the south side of the River, directly across from the Watchable Wildlife area. Regrettably the nesting failed, but hopes are high the pair will return to the nest in future years.

Areas In this Account

Keystone Dam Loop

Keystone Lake North

    Old Keystone Road Route

    Feyodi Creek Recreation Area

    East Levee Park, Cleveland

    Osage Point

    Walnut Creek State Park

Keystone Lake South

    Keystone Ramp

    Pawnee Cove

    Old Mannford Ramp and Cimarron River Crossing

    Terlton Heronry


 

Keystone Dam Loop, Western Tulsa County

Highway directions to Keystone Lake and Dam offer three alternate routes: Keystone South, Keystone North, and Avery Drive. From I 244 West, exit left to SH 51-US 64W, the Keystone Expressway. At Sand Springs, exit to Jct. of SH S1-SH 97, turning left to cross the Sand Springs bridge over the Arkansas River. Turn right (west) on SH 51 to reach Keystone Dam. This southern route presents the best birding opportunities below the dam and gives access to the Cimarron arm of the lake via Mannford.

The Keystone Expressway (US 64) continues past. Sand Springs with views overlooking the Arkansas River before the northern exit to the dam. Beyond this exit the expressway continues 11 miles to intersect with the Cimarron Turnpike and SH 48S. US 64 goes north to Cleveland, following the Arkansas arm of Keystone Lake. From Cleveland SH 99N crosses the river and intersects shortly with a two-lane blacktop road on the south and access roads to areas north of the lake, eventually intersecting with the Expressway to return to Tulsa.

The most scenic route to Keystone Lake is Avery Drive which winds along the limestone bluffs on the south side of the Arkansas River. Leave the Tulsa Garden Center by the front entrance, turning right on Peoria Avenue. At the traffic light on 21 St. turn left. Follow this street over the Arkansas River Bridge, proceed west across Southwest Blvd, and take the viaduct over the railroad yards, curving to the right and returning to W. 21 St. Turn left and drive west (5.2) toward the Chandler Park exit. Keep to the right to Avery Drive and follow the route to the Sand Springs bridge (3.5) and junction with SH 51.

In a beautiful country setting not far from downtown Tulsa, this is an excellent birding trip where it is possible to find 75 species on a spring morning. From the south end of the Sand Springs bridge, follow SH 51 west to the Bait Shop (4.0), a small building on the right. Turn north and west to a narrow blacktop road. Watch for Kestrels and blue­birds along the way, stopping beyond a bridge (0.4) which crosses a tree-lined creek. Old trees may hold resident woodpeckers - Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and Northern Flicker - at all seasons. The Pileated Woodpecker prefers more remote wooded areas to the north. In winter months expect to find Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Eastern Phoe­bes, Barn and Rough-winged swallows, and Belted Kingfishers are along the creek in summer. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks often sing in trees above the road during migration and Blue Grosbeaks spend the summer. Northern (Baltimore) Orioles nest in the cottonwoods, Orchard Orioles in smaller trees near the road. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern and Western kingbirds, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Indigo Buntings are common in summer.

Walk west along the road below moss-covered bluffs which support a wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs, many endemic to moist, north­facing slopes in northeastern Oklahoma. In March, Louisiana Waterthrushes may explore the small streams below the cliffs. White berries of rough­leaf dogwood provide food for wintering sparrows, as do luxuriant stands of sumac which occur below the railroad north of the blacktop. Poison ivy, a common pest along wooded trails, is a mainstay in the diet of many species. After its leaves are dropped in fall, clusters of creamy white berries remain.

With caution one may walk the railroad which carries mainline traffic. Greater Roadrunners were frequently seen on the tracks before the spec­ies was extirpated by three severe winters. Rufous-sided Towhees and winter sparrows are common--Harris's, Fox, Song, White-throated, White­crowned, and Field--along the edges of trees, weeds, and trumpet vines. The Carolina Wren sings from the tangles at all seasons. Empidonax fly­catchers are found in shrubby growth in migration, the Acadian breeding in Tulsa County. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Common Yellowthroats are abundant from spring into fall. An occasional Western Meadowlark may be heard in fall and late winter.

As the route continues west there are several turn-outs where birders may walk across the tracks to the wide, sandy banks of the river. Migrating Ospreys sometimes fish along the river. With the use of a scope one may usually find Bald Eagles in the big trees near the north bank in winter. Beyond the railroad crossing ahead is another vantage point to scan the river banks. Below the road Gray Catbirds, White-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Summer Tanagers are often plentiful in summer. As the road approaches Swift Park (2.8), check the tops of trees lining a lower­level lane, not passable for most vehicles but fine for walking. This is good habitat for Yellow-rumped Warblers, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Purple Finches in winter. Along the lanes to the west in the summer are Lark Sparrows and Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings and Summer Tanagers in the trees. Primarily an undeveloped area for fishermen and, unfortunately, traveled by motor bikes, the park is best avoided on weekends.

To reach Keystone Dam, visible from this location, drive to the "Y", listening for Bewick's Wren southeast of the intersection. A new bike trail on corps land to the right is good birding on weekdays. The thick bottomland woods has attracted Cooper's Hawks and Hairy Woodpeckers. The road straight ahead leads to the dam, passing a rocky hillside on the left where the wrens may nest. During power generation in winter large flocks of gulls circle below the dam to pick up injured fish as they are carried through the turbines. Since 1977 Glaucous Gulls have several times joined Ring-billed and Herring gulls. Hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls have rested in the bay below the dam. From early December in 1979 Oklahoma's first Heermann's Gull remained into March. At low water periods in winter, rocks are exposed where Bald Eagles join the gulls to loaf. Great Blue Herons are permanent residents and Great Egrets are common in shallows along the river in summer months.

Keystone State Park, south and west of the dam, stands on a high point overlooking the lake. From the dam return to the "Y", turning right to the next stop sign at SH 151. A left turn leads to the park entrance (0.7). At the kiosk permission will be granted to enter for birdwatching. Northern Bobwhite frequents the brush; Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and four woodpecker species are found the year round in stands of oak throughout the park. Follow the main drive from the entrance to area 4 for the best birding, with a chance of seeing Bewick's Wren on the circular drive. Camping facilities are good and rental cabins quite adequate. A large shelter and concrete picnic tables with grills are under trees overlooking the lake.

Returning to the highway, go left to the north side of the dam. A sharp right turn leads below to parking where one may have a closer view of the gulls. Note the Historical Marker for Ft. Arbuckle. Continue north on SH 151 to stop at the yield sign to US 64E. Great Horned Owls have nested for years in a large sycamore growing in the canyon below. At the Prue exit (1.5) turn right at the stop sign and go to the old road. Proceed east to a bridge over a small creek where eagles sometimes perch in the trees. Another Great Horned Owl nests in a large tree opposite pole 13. This is a quiet road with many sparrows in winter. Baltimore Orioles and Yellow-billed Cuckoos are abundant in summer. Follow the Keystone Expressway (US 64E) through Sand Springs to return to Tulsa.

 

 

Keystone Lake North Area

 

Old Keystone Road Route, Pawnee County

Thomas Nuttall visited the land between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers in 1819 collecting botanical specimens 15 years before he was acclaimed one of the three top ornithologists in America. Traveling with an expedition up the Arkansas River, Washington Irving wrote in his Tour On The Prairies of a night camped at Bear's Glen, a site not far from Keystone Dam. Sandstone bluffs, steep hills forested with oak, hickory and cedar, and deep valleys with small streams outline the Arkansas as it joins the Cimarron River to form Keystone Lake. The name was that of an early-day community now under the waters of the lake.

Begin the route at the north end of Keystone Dam on US 64W. After 4 miles exit at the Old Keystone Road sign. Turn left over the expressway to the next intersection and follow the Old Keystone Road (two-lane concrete) west 2.5 miles. At this point turn left (south) on a blacktop road to drive past small farms. Roadside brush and trees provide fine habitat for wintering sparrows which may include Harris's, White-crowned, and Tree, with an occasional Rufous-sided Towhee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, and Eastern Bluebird. Continue south to a small park (1.4) on a sandy point of the Cimarron arm of Keystone. Primarily a picnic spot where one may put in small boats from the sandy shore, it is quiet and away from motorized boats. Tall trees provide shelter from north winds in winter. Several short trails wind through the park. Red-headed Woodpeckers and Belted Kingfishers are common residents. Upon returning to the concrete road, one may extend the trip to Feyodi Creek Recreation Area by turning left and continuing west and north to again enter SH 64.

 

Feyodi Creek Recreation Area, Pawnee County

A state park on bay of Keystone Lake, with mudflats and wetlands. There is a wooded area overlooking the mudflats near Judy Ann's restaurant near the park entrance.

From the north side of Keystone Dam, follow US 64 west and north toward Cleveland for 14.8 miles to the Feyodi Creek Recreation Area. The park road winds uphill past a persimmon grove to a central area complete with restrooms with running water, a large shelter with tables, charcoal ovens, and parking for recreational vehicles. The road branches off to concrete picnic tables, the southern perimeter of the park heavily wooded and damp, by far the most likely place for finding a variety of birds. One may sit at a table in spring and watch Pileated Woodpeckers while counting warblers. Red-eyed and Warbling vireos are summer residents, as are Eastern Bluebirds.

As the peripheral road turns northeast, the high view across the lake is excellent. In winter several duck species are often found off shore and an occasional Bald Eagle has been reported. During migration, particularly in the fall, thousands of White Pelicans fish around sandbars and Double-crested Cormorants will line up on any available spit. These sand formations periodically change with heavy flows of water down the Arkansas River. Small islands with willows across the bay away from the strong current seem to be more stable. A telescope will be needed to study these birds.

Check trees in spring and summer for Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, small restrooms on the west for Eastern Phoebes, cottonwoods for Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Oriole, and Orchard Oriole. White-breasted Nuthatches are permanent residents. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are abundant in summer with an occasional Green-backed Heron to be found near fallen trees at the water's edge. If pelicans are discovered across the bay, a closer look may be obtained by driving through Cleveland, first stopping at the small park on the east levee or by continuing around the lake to Osage Point.

 

East Levee Park, Cleveland, Pawnee County

From Feyodi Creek continue north on US 64 to the traffic light in Cleveland (2.5). A narrow concrete street on the right will, after a block or so, cross a small bridge to the east levee. Great numbers of White Pelicans may fish around this point in September and October. American Bitterns have been seen in trees below the bridge. Late afternoon is the best time with the sun in the west.

If the road is not under water, continue left from the bridge to the main part of the East Levee Park. High water has destroyed most of the picnic tables and the crumbling blacktop road is barely passable. Following a hot, dry summer extensive mud flats are exposed and hundreds of shorebirds may blanket the wide shoreline for two miles north. White-fronted Geese are expected in early October. The only access to this remarkable gathering of shorebirds is found by walking a long, difficult walk for all but the most hardy in hot weather. One should always carry water and never go alone. Drive to the end of the loop and park.

 

Osage Point, Osage County

To reach Osage Point from Cleveland continue north at the traffic light to follow SH 99 through Cleveland and across the Arkansas River. At mile 3 turn right (south) on the Osage-Prue road, a good blacktop. Exit from the county road at the Osage sign (2.8) and drive south through the village, turning not at Osage Ramp, but continuing to Osage Point. Here one may usually find pelicans, shorebirds and geese at the proper season.

 

Walnut Creek State Park, Osage County

The Prue road from Osage winds through scenery typical of Osage hill country, rolling sandstone hills covered with scrub oak and short grass, the dry ridges cut deeply by narrow, often swift streams which flow into Keystone Lake. Cattle and oil wells are scattered thinly on private lands above the road, much of the land denuded either by fires or by chemicals.

Of the three sections of Walnut Creek State Park, the second (8.0) with a rustic sign pointing to the right (south) must not be missed. On a large peninsula, it is a beautiful, heavily wooded park with widely spaced campsites under tall trees, most of them oak; facilities for any type camping; quiet roads to many areas; and good birding at all seasons. The access road from the highway travels for one mile through ranch land. At the park entrance meadows of native grass with plum thickets and sumac attract winter sparrows including LeConte's, and Eastern Bluebirds. Examine cedars for owls. Tall oaks, cottonwoods and willows attract warblers in migration. Woodpeckers are common. Summer brings Great Crested Flycatchers, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, orioles and possibly a Summer Tanager. To return to Tulsa, follow the county road east and south until it intersects with the Keystone Expressway (US 64E) which terminates at the juncture with I 44 on the western edge of the business district.

 

 

Keystone Lake South Area

 

Keystone Ramp, Tulsa County

Keystone Ramp, 10.5 miles west of the Sand Springs bridge on SH 51, is on a peninsula which extends into the bay at the confluence of the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers above Keystone Dam. A long, partially submerged island northwest of the point marks the end of the Cimarron's last bend on its journey through the sandy lands of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The island at times attracts migrating White Pelicans, shorebirds--notably the American Avocet--gulls and terns. In winter Bald Eagles may be found in trees across the bay.

 

Pawnee Cove, Pawnee County

Pawnee Cove is thought to have some of the best wildlife habitat on Keystone Lake. To reach this area go 14.4 miles west of the Sand Springs bridge on SH 51 to Mannford. At the stop light in Mannford turn right off SH 51. This is the first road to the north after entering the developed area of the city. Follow the signs to the cove, 4 or 5 miles north-west of Mannford. Pawnee Cove South has been closed to all vehicles, campers and picnickers since about 1981. The paved roads are still there and provide easy access to varied and beautiful habitat from old fields of bluestem grass and plum thickets to dense, mature oak woods with abundant cedars. The lakeshore affords a view of the Cimarron arm of the lake.

Pawnee Cove North is closed to all picnicking and camping but has one active boat ramp still in use. The cedar trees in winter attract large numbers of Cedar Waxwings, Northern Mockingbirds, and Eastern Bluebirds. There is usually a good crop of persimmons which attracts large numbers of fruit-eating birds. American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants are common during the spring and fall migrations. The Eastern Phoebe and Barn Swallow nest under the deserted shelters. The large dead trees in the cove provide shelter and nesting sites for Red-headed Woodpeckers, Common Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Owls have been found in the dense woods on the south side of the cove. Deer are becoming somewhat common in the winter and beaver signs are abundant.

 

Old Mannford Ramp and Cimarron River Crossing, Creek County

After returning to SH 51, continue west through Mannford to SH 48 (2.4), then north on SH 48 for 2 miles to the Old Mannford Ramp sign. When the old town was moved to higher ground this area was made into a park with picnic tables under the trees, drinking water and a few campsites. The shallows bring down good numbers of shorebirds in migration. Riparian habitat east and south of the crumbling blacktop streets offers good birding opportunities most of the year. From SH 48 continue north to check the Cimarron River crossing. Stop as far off the busy highway as possible. Uncommon shorebirds found here in fall have included Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, and American Avocet. Hundreds of Franklin's Gulls have congregated here with Bonaparte's Gulls, Forster's Terns, and Caspian Terns. This is a great spot to expect the unusual migrants.

 

Terlton Heronry, Pawnee County

From the Cimarron River continue north on SH 48 to the Terlton Road (0.5) then west 2 miles. The Terlton heronry has been used by Great Blue Herons for at least 10 years. Located on the northern edge of a State Game Management Area, the nest trees may be seen on the left as one approaches from the east. By the third week in March many nests are in use with others still being built or mended. A telescope is needed. The trip may be continued north on SH 48 to intersect with the Keystone Expressway (4.0); however, the shortest route to Tulsa is to return on SH 48-SH 51.

 


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