Sooner Lake Access
In recent years,
due to homeland security concerns, OG&E had restricted
access to much of their property. In 2006 Jim
Arterburn worked out access arrangements with OG&E for
birder’s wishing to visit Sooner Lake.
currently administers This process. Following is a Cyndie's
instructions on the
Your name and
home address MUST be on OG&E's approved list of birders who
want to bird inside the gates/fences of the power plant. If
you're not on the list, you can't get in. Period. NO
in your party MUST be on the approved list AND MUST present
a photo ID to get in; if anyone in your party is not on the
list and does not have an approved form of photo ID
(driver's license or passport; call the security gate if you
have questions about using any other kind of photo ID),
those people will _not_ be allowed to bird inside the fences
at the plant.
If you want to
be added to the approved list, send your name and home
address to Cyndie Browning at
firstname.lastname@example.org However, if you're not on the
list yet, it won't do you any good to e-mail me on a
Thursday or Friday that you want bird at Sooner Lake on
Saturday; I need at least 3 days to get the revised list to OG&E.
your name(s) is/are on the list, you should call the
security gate before you arrive at Sooner Lake. The number
is 405-553-2919. Tell the guard your name(s) and what day
and time you'll be there and how many people will be in your
group. Remember, everyone in your group MUST be on the list
and present a photo ID at the time they arrive at the plant
to bird or they will not be allowed inside the gate.
Also, your minor
children are permitted to bird with you but OG&E requires
the child's parent to fill out a Minor Liability Waiver Form
and bring the form with you when you come to Sooner Lake.
Cyndie Browning has the form and can send it to you when you
send her your name and home address (see above).
The new security
system "reads" your driver's license and reproduces your
license photo on a pass card that you must keep with you at
all times while you're birding inside the plant, and you
must also show it to the guard as you leave the plant.
However, you will be allowed to keep the pass card so you
can bring it with you the next time you come back to bird at
If you do not
plan to enter the power plant itself or to enter beyond the
posted signs, but instead just plan to drive the roads
outside the fences or enter those areas accessible to
fishermen, you don't need to request permission to enter the
property or to obtain a pass at the security gate. I have
detailed below the areas that are now accessible, those that
are off-limits, and the requirements for birders entering
The Sooner Lake
property is divided into two areas. The first is the
property that is accessed by entering through the main
entrance to the power plant off Hwy 177. This area basically
includes the areas on the north side of the lake. After
checking in at the security gate, you take the first left
turn and head north past the weight station to the first
paved road that turns back east. This road will take you
just north of the inlet canal, south of the coal pile and
under the conveyor belt to the back pond. ALL of this area
is accessible. If you continue east of the back pond, you
come to the dike that leads east to the dam. This area is
also accessible all the way to the dam. However, there is a
large gate on the north side of the dam, that is, before you
get to the dam; the gate may be open or closed, but the area
beyond this gate INCLUDING THE DAM IS ALWAYS OFF-LIMITS. The
main area that we no longer have access to inside the power
plant is the north-south causeway that's just east of the
plant and was accessed by driving through the plant.
The other area
of the Sooner Lake property is the rest of the property that
is not accessed by entering the main entrance to the power
plant. Some areas off of Hwys 177 and 15 have access points
for fisherman which are open to anyone and you do not need
permission to enter these areas, but no one is allowed to
walk in past the No Trespassing signs.
OG&E has stepped
up their security patrols and all their employees are more
diligent about knowing who is on their property, so expect
to be stopped from time to time and asked to show that you
have permission to be on the property. Please follow these
rules, as Sooner Lake is too valuable of a birding spot to
lose because someone chooses not to follow the rules.
Since its construction in 1979 as a source
of cooling water for the Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E) Power Plant
(Sooner Power Plant, Sooner Lake has become one of Oklahoma’s premier
birding hotspots. Sooner Lake is a classic prairie reservoir which
harbors abundant waterfowl and prairie birds.
Peak activity is usually in the day and
early winter when regularly occurring waterfowl arrive for the winter,
including Greater Scaup. Pacific Loon, Western Grebe, Tundra Swan,
Trumpeter Swan, Oldsquaw, Surf and White-winged Scoter are rare but
regular visitors., Even more unusual birds have been Red-throated Loon,
Red-necked Grebe, Black Scoter and Barrow’s Goldeneye that have shown up
at least once. The large flocks if Canada Geese often include sizeable
numbers of White-fronted and Snow Geese and small numbers Ross’ Geese.
In migration, enormous flocks of Franklins Gulls numbering in the tens
of thousands are found on the center of the Lake.
Certainly one event that may not be
repeated was the discovery of all three scoter species at Sooner Lake at
the same time. The very rare Black Scoter was discovered first by James
Arterburn on November 22, 1996 on the Back Pond. Seven days later John
Dole found one White-wing and one Surf Scoter together on a nearby pond.
Arterburn, Dole and others then visited the area the next day on
November 30, 1996 to see all three scoter species in the same. The birds
remained in the area for several days during which time numerous people
were able to observe all three species.
Sooner Lake and the surrounding area host
large number of raptors. Regular winter residents include Northern
Harrier, Sharp-shined Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and Short-eared Owl.
Raptors that occur year-round and breed in the are include Bald Eagle,
Cooper’s Hawk, ‘Fuertes’ Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Barn Owl,
Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl, Osprey and Swainson’s Hawk are common
migrants and Mississippi Kite is a summer resident. Less common are
migrating Peregrine Falcons., Even more unusual were the spectacular
Snowy Owls which occurred in the prairie areas around the lake for three
winters (1992-95) in a row with up to three birds located during the
winter of 1993-94. Snowy Owls have not been seen in the Sooner Lake area
since 1995; they should be looked for during invasion years when Snowy
Owls occur in large numbers in the northern United States.
The prairies around Sooner Lake support an
impressive array of grassland birds. A robust population of Smith’s
Longspurs occurs from late October/early November to mid/late March
during which time they can often be found flying overhead in large
flocks. The other three longspur species have occurred here but are
rare. A wide variety of sparrow species can be found at any time of the
year with LeConte’s being occasionally common during migration and
American Tree Sparrow and Harris Sparrow abundant during winter. Common
summer residents include Upland Sandpiper, Scissor-tail Flycatcher,
Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Grosbeak,
Dickcissel, and Grasshopper, Field and Lark Sparrows,. Rare summer
residents include nesting Henslow’s Sparrow and Greater Prairie Chicken.
While the Greater Prairie Chicken can be flushed at anytime from the
prairies, they are best seen when displaying on their booming grounds
northwest of Sooner Lake. In December 1997, a Snow Bunting appeared for
two days before leaving.
Directions: Sooner Lake is in Noble and
Pawnee Counties and is equidistant between Stillwater and Ponca City.
Sooner Lake is accessible form the Cimarron Turnpike (US 412). Most of
the areas adjacent to the lake are owned by the Oklahoma Gas and
Electric Company and are open to the public with no fees. The area
immediately around the Sooner Power Plant is closed to the public but is
accessible with special permission; see location #2 below. The remaining
areas are privately owned. Note that Hwy 15 joins Hwy 177 at two
locations and this article refers only to the southernmost intersection
where Hwy 15 goes east form Hwy 177 (approximately 1,5 miles north of
the Cimarron Turnpike on Hwy 177). Hwy 15 also goes west from Hwy 177
and that junction is approximately 5.5 miles north of the Cimarron
Turnpike on Hwy 177.
Five areas of primary importance for bird
1) The largest area is Sooner Lake itself
and can be viewed from several points.
- Hwy 177 (first mile north of Hwy 15
east of intersection
- Hwy 15 (first three miles east of Hwy
- ‘Snowy Owl Area’ (east 3 miles on Hwy
15 from Hwy 177 and north 1.5 miles to end of road)
- ‘Swan Area’ (east 4 miles on Hwy 15
from Hwy 177, north on dirt 2 miles and west ¼ mile to parking area)
- East side of lake (east 4 miles east
on Hwy 15 from Hwy 177 and north on dirt road from Swan Area to the dam)
2) The most interesting area for waterfowl
is often Back Pond, which stays open in all but the coldest of weather.
The Back Pond is insides the grounds of the Sooner Power Plant and as
such access is limited to members of the Payne County and Tulsa Audubon
Societies. The entrance to the plant is located on the east side of the
road, approximately three miles north on Hwy 177 from the southern
junction with Hwy 15., The Back Pond is on the northeast side of the
3) The ‘Snowy Owl Area’ is named for the
Snowy Owls spotted there for three years in a row. This area provides a
good vantage point to view part of Sooner Lake. Fields on the west side
of the end of the road have been excellent for Smith;s Longspurs. The
area west of the road is accessible by foot. Note that the area to the
east of the road is private land and should be respected. This area of
the lake is also good for Pacific Loon and Western Grebe. See directions
4) An excellent example of tall grass
prairie can be found by going 2 miles north on Hwy 188 form the southern
junction with Hwy 15. Turn east (right) and go approximately ½ miles to
the parking area. Go through the walking gates and continue going east
by foot on the two-track road. Short-eared Owls (winter) and Henslow’s
Sparrows (summer) are found about halfway up the low hill. The
Short-eared Owls are found by walking the prairie until one or more take
flight. The Henslow’s Sparrows are found by listening foe their peculiar
‘sillick; song. Do not walk the prairie as the birds may be nesting. The
Smith’s Longspurs are generally in the less dense grass southeast of the
parking area. Sprague’s Pipit may also be found in the areas southeast
of the parking lot if the grass is short. Horned Larks are occasionally
in the parking lot; watch for them as you drive in.
5) The largest area of woods is located
northeast of Sooner Lake along the Arkansas River and is home to
Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Summer Tanagers and various other
woodland residents and migrants. To reach the area drive four miles
north on Hwy 177 from the southern junction with Hwy 15, turn east
(right) and drive approximately five miles until the road reaches a
creek and turns to the south (right). The road continues along the creek
until it crosses the creek and stops in a field,. The field is private
property but the road can be birded., This road can be virtually
impassable during wet weather.
A list of selected species and general
directions to observe them can e obtained from
John Dole, 2491 N. Monroe, Stillwater, OK 74075.
Note on Shorebirds
at Sooner Lake
• Sooner Lake
is not that dependent upon the lake level
• Not a lot of
attraction is rocky causeways
• Best spot in
Oklahoma for late spring migrants
• Ruddy Turnstone
the north-south causeway is now off limits