|The high prairies of northern Tulsa County offer some of the best
prairie birding in northeastern Oklahoma. The adjacent bottomlands to
the east and the west create a wide diversity of habitat and related
bird species. Cattle raising, dairy farming, and horse breeding, as well
as the management of rodeo stock, are primary uses for the land, with
some quarter sections given to general farming. The cultivation of
pecans is important in most bottomland districts. Two US highways and
two state highways serve the northern areas. US 75 is a modern four-lane
road with ample shoulders for stopping well off the road. US 169 at
present is 4-lane to Owasso only, with no shoulders farther north. State
highways 20 and 11 carry heavy traffic and have no shoulders. Use
caution. Traffic on most county roads is light, many roads having
insufficient shoulders for stopping in dry weather.
To begin the trip, travel north on US 75 from I 244 to exit right on
96 St. N at mile 10.5. Continue east 1.0 mile to Sheridan and turn left.
Section-line roads with scattered farm homes permit easy access to areas
from 96 St. to 126 St. N. From there to the Washington County line at
186 St. ranches are large with few houses and fewer roads to drive.
Native short grass gives way to tall bluestem, the golden grass one sees
across the rolling hills in winter. This is prime habitat for Greater
Prairie-Chicken and Short-eared Owl, the latter in winter only. Early
morning and dusk are the best times to find both species, but either may
be flushed by a Rough-legged Hawk on a cold winter day.
Park along the first half-mile north of 96 St. near a culvert.
Prairie Chickens will fly across to tall grass west of Sheridan. At dusk
the owls fly over the fields. Other winter species are Northern Harrier,
which also hunts at dusk, and Savannah Sparrow. Horned Lark, Red-tailed
Hawk, American Kestrel, and Loggerhead Shrike are permanent residents.
Le Conte's Sparrow is rare along low fence wires near drainage ditches
in winter and early spring, to be followed by Grasshopper Sparrow in
summer. In October, 1981, a Burrowing Owl remained near the culvert for
several days. Longspurs will glean burned fields in January.
One or two Sprague's Pipits winter in the pasture northeast of Yale
Ave. at 96 St. N. Ask for permission to enter from 96 St. and walk along
the fence line to a slight rise on the west. The dark beady eye on a
pale, unmarked face can be seen at a good distance, a quick means of
separating Sprague's from other winter species having white outer tail
feathers; adults are pale below and show almost no streaking on the
underparts; fall immatures are very buffy below with faint streaking on
Stop at Sheridan and 116 St. N for spring migrants and summer
residents. Trees and shrubby growth around a creek are nesting places
for Bell's Vireo, Northern and Orchard orioles, and Great-tailed
Grackle. Cattle around the farm north of the intersection bring
Yellow-headed Blackbirds in spring. Dickcissels, common grassland
nesters, gather in great numbers in fall to roost in tall weeds while
changing into winter plumage.
Prairie Falcons are frequently seen in the square mile from 126 St. N
to 136 St. between Sheridan and Yale, November through January. During
large migrations of longspurs a Peregrine Falcon has stooped into a
feeding flock. White-fronted Geese have congregated around a long stock
pond 0.5 mile north on Sheridan; Marbled Godwits have fed there in
April. Nesting throughout this section in summer are Upland Sandpipers.
Cultivated fields at 136 St. N have held 300 White-rumped Sandpipers
after a spring rain, hundreds of Water Pipits in stubble, Lesser
Golden-Plovers on plowed fields; Smith's Longspurs nearing breeding
plumage on winter wheat, and Vesper Sparrows on dry fence rows in March
or on plowed land in October. At daybreak in December, 66
Prairie-Chickens walked down a fence line.
Large numbers of Grasshopper Sparrows nest on 136 St. west of
Sheridan, the birds singing from low weeds and fence wires or bathing at
the roadside. Shrubby trees in fence rows may contain nests of
Scissortailed Flycatchers and both Eastern and Western kingbirds. In
winter Rough-legged Hawks perch on power-line towers; Savannah Sparrows
are common. Stop below the westernmost hill, facing east at dusk, to
look for Short-eared Owls; or park at the draw 0.5 mile ahead, open the
windows, and squeak to bring them near the car. Although uncommon in
Tulsa County, the Le Conte's Sparrow is often seen along the fence wires
in late March and early April.
From 136 St. go north on Yale to cross 146 St. N and continue north
one mile on US 75 to 156 St. Fields to the east have held Golden-Plovers
in spring, Upland Sandpipers in summer, Smith's Longspurs in winter, and
Sprague's Pipit in spring and fall. The route east and north is fine for
birds of prey; Ferruginous Hawks wintered in 1981-82; Swainson's Hawks
are here in summer. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been seen many springs
near a wooded creek east of Sheridan (0.2); Rusty Blackbirds in the
overflow north of the road; Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and
Yellow-billed Cuckoos in summer; Harris's and Tree sparrows in winter.
The creek winds through another field north of Sheridan where Kentucky
Warblers have nested. Northern Flicker, Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy
and possibly the Hairy woodpecker have nested here.
The prairie broadens as Sheridan continues north. Casual water along
the road and at the intersection with 166 St. holds Common Snipe,
Baird's Sandpiper, and rarely Sora and Virginia Rail in spring.
Thousands of Cliff Swallows have lined the wires in August.
Three-awn grass (Aristida), a food of Smith's Longspurs, is found in
many short-grass prairies. The fine three-strand grass has a tiny seed
at the juncture, a barb that penetrates most fabric. The grass is common
west of the intersection where Smith's Longspurs are often seen on the
fences. Walk along the prairie roads listening for the ticking call
described by many as "like winding a cheap watch". A flock of
20 or so may circle aimlessly overhead, their underparts more apricot
than buffy. On the ground they remain hidden and are seldom seen with
Laplands or Horned Larks. Reported in this area from November into
March, numbers increase in February when migrants from the south join
local flocks before continuing to northern breeding grounds.
An over-grazed field ahead (0.5) frequently has great flocks of
Lapland Longspurs with an occasional Chestnut-collared. Burned prairies
are especially attractive to these species. Snow cover sends them to the
roads, snow melt to ridges and furrows of plowed fields. Although
recorded from December through March, Laplands are most numerous in
February. In May Bobolinks are often found in alfalfa along this road.