McCurtain County Wilderness Area
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.
Situated in the
Kiamichi-Ouachita Mountain region of southeastern Oklahoma the McCurtain
County Wilderness Area is one of the last sizeable expanses of old
growth oak-pine forest in the state. It was originally set aside as a
wildlife sanctuary by an act of the Oklahoma Legislature in 1918. These
14,087 acres made up the first large tract of land assigned to the
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The Wilderness Area
terrain is characterized by a series of steep and narrow wooded ridges.
Elevations vary from about 575 feet above sea level at Broken Bow
Reservoir to 1,363 feet on Pine Mountain. Within the wettest region of
Oklahoma, annual rainfall averages 47.5 inches. Temperatures range from
an average high of 93 degrees F in July to an average low of 28°F in
Most of the wilderness
area is heavily forested. In the uplands, shortleaf pine, hickories,
post and black-jack oak compose the dominant overstory vegetation. Sugar
and red maple, blue beech, sweet gum, red, and white oak are prevalent
trees on the lower slopes. Dogwood and redbud are also common trees and
produce a brilliant floral display in early spring. Shrub layer
vegetation includes sumac, huckleberry, elderberry, beautyberry,
hawthorn, buckbrush, and others.
At least 110 bird species
have been recorded within the wilderness area boundaries. The
Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a federally endangered species, has its last
toehold in Oklahoma within this wilderness area. Here the Red-cockaded
Woodpecker is on the northwest extreme of its present continental range.
Other species indigenous to southeastern Oklahoma and found as
year-round residents in the preserve are the Brown-headed Nuthatch and
Pine Warbler. Pileated Woodpeckers are incredibly common. Resident Wild
Turkey, Wood Duck, and Red-shouldered Hawk can also be encountered
regularly. As many warbler species as can be found anywhere in Oklahoma
migrate through the Wilderness Area with at least fifteen species
verified as nesting here. These include Northern Parula, Yellow-throated
Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler,
Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler,
Worm-eating Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana
Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
The Wilderness Area is
located 25 miles north of Broken Bow and 8 miles east of US 259. A
billboard-sized Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation sign is
evident from the highway, marking the turn-off to the east. After
turning, smaller directional signs lead the way 8 miles over graded
roads to the west entrance of the wilderness area. A small parking lot
is situated within a quarter-mile past the west entrance. Visitors may
park here and hike the mile-long nature trail which is open all year.
The trail winds through upland and bottomland forest down to Panther
Branch and Waterthrush Creek. These drainages shortly flow into Broken
Bow Reservoir, creating an ecotone of several habitats and hotspots for
finding birds characteristic of each habitat type.
Across Broken Bow
Reservoir to the east lies the main body of the wilderness area. It is a
rugged land with only a few primitive access roads. For excursions into
this part of the preserve, arrangements must be made by writing
McCurtain County Wilderness Area Manager, P.O. Box 12, Bethel, Oklahoma
74724 or calling (405) 241-5272. Special arrangements may also be made
by writing the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1901 North
Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, Okla. 73105.
Ticks are abundant in
southeastern Oklahoma which unfortunately includes the wilderness area
except in winter after periods of frost. Chiggers and poisonous snakes
are also out during the warm season; therefore, special precautions
should be taken before leaving the roadway.
The best opportunity for
finding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers lies within the rugged area east of
Broken Bow Reservoir. There is absolutely no guarantee for observing
one, even there, however. If one is fortunate enough to encounter a
Red-cockaded, all needless disturbance to the bird should be avoided.
Although overnight camping
is not permitted in the wilderness area, well developed camping
facilities are available at nearby Beaver's Bend and Hochatown State
Parks. Motels, restaurants, gas and grocery stores are located in Broken
Bow, population 3,965.