Volume 2 • Issue 12 • December 2008

Freshwater Mussels of the Tallgrass Prairie Region

What's Really in the Water

Freshwater mussels are considered one of the most threatened groups of organisms in the world.  The small rivers of the tallgrass prairie region of Oklahoma were once home to a wide array of freshwater mussels.  Studies in the 1920’s showed that the Verdigris, Caney and Neosho Rivers in northeastern Oklahoma were relatively good mussel habitat.  However, since that time there have been significant declines in mussel populations in these rivers.  Loss of native mussels has been attributed to habitat alteration, pollution and invasive species.

Dr. Joe Bidwell and Ph.D. student Chad Boeckman at Oklahoma State University began a study in the summer of 2006 to examine mussel populations in the tallgrass prairie region.  They sampled 31 sites, which had previously been sampled about ten years earlier, from the Oklahoma-Kansas border to below Oologah Lake.  In 2007, they sampled 29 sites in the Caney River that had also been examined ten years ago.

In the Verdigris River a significant increase in number and amount of species was found in comparison with the 1997 study in that area.  Two species of mussels that were thought to have been lost from the area were also found, the western fanshell and the rabbitsfoot mussel.  The western fanshell has a pattern of green rays on its light brown shell and the rabbitsfoot mussel is named so because of its shape. 
Western fanshell mussels were once thought to have been gone from Oklahoma.

In the Caney River it was determined that there had not been any significant declines in mussel abundance since the 1997 study.

In addition to examining the freshwater mussel populations, these researchers are also examining fish and invertebrate populations in the area and looking for zebra mussels.  Zebra mussels are an invasive species of mussel that reproduce rapidly.  In zebra mussel infested waters it is not unusual for native mussels to be completely covered by zebra mussels. Competition for food and oxygen weakens and eventually starves native mussels.

This study is ongoing, and will continue to examine the status of invertebrates, fish and freshwater mussels in the tallgrass prairie region of Oklahoma.

Written by Ashley Foster. Ashley is a northeast region fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program.  The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species.  For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Tenkiller Wildlife Management Area

Clear Water Wonderland of Oklahoma

Tenkiller Wildlife Management Area rests upon the southwest shoreline of “Oklahoma’s Clear Water Wonderland,” Lake Tenkiller.  Located near Tahlequah in the Cookson Hills of eastern Oklahoma, Tenkiller WMA is a haven for wildlife.

Known as one of the state’s premier fisheries, there are many species to fish for.  Species to look to catch include black bass, crappie and catfish.  Below the dam on Lake Tenkiller is the Lower Illinois River designated trout stream.  This area is stocked every two weeks year-round with rainbow trout.  Trophy striped bass have been caught at the lower reaches of the trout stream.

Bald eagles are present at Tenkiller Wildlife Management Area in large numbers especially during the winter months.
Game species of interest include high numbers of deer, turkey, rabbit and squirrel.  There are also quail, dove, waterfowl and furbearers present. 

Many songbirds are present on the WMA.  Some interesting species that have been seen include red-eyed vireo, pine warbler, scarlet tanager, Harris’s sparrow and LeConte’s sparrow.

During the winter months, Tenkiller WMA is a haven for bald eagles.  With all the water close by, Tenkiller WMA is one of the state’s hotspots for viewing eagles.  The Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation hosts eagle and loon watches around the WMA.  Tenkiller Wildlife Management Area has something for everyone in the family.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is the wildlife diversity information specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Winter Bird Survey

Watch Your Feeders This January

Spring brings showers, summer brings heat, fall brings bare trees, and winter brings…well, what does winter bring? Winter brings the Winter Bird Survey, that’s what.

Although many people think of spring as the best time to view and observe birds, winter watching also can provide many good opportunities for watching these beautiful creatures.

This year’s bird survey will be from Jan. 8 to 11, and you only need a few things to participate in it. You need the willingness to provide a bird feeder, the patience to spend a couple of hours for two days observing and identifying the birds using the feeder and the diligence to record the information and send it to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. It’s as simple as that.

Melynda Hickman is a wildlife diversity biologist who works with the Wildlife Department, and she helps with the winter bird survey. “This is a great opportunity for homeowners to view a variety of birds in their own backyards.”

Around 52 common bird species can be found in Oklahoma during the winter, and when trying to attract a variety of birds the type of feeders you have and how they are set up is very important, according to Hickman.

Feeders at different levels help to mimic nature because birds can feel uneasy if they only have one location for feeding. The type of food in the feeders also is important. Black sunflower seeds are considered to be the number one food choice for wild birds and they are good for hopper type feeders, tube feeders, platform feeders and for just spreading on the ground. It’s also good to provide some kind of high protein miracle meal suet (see okwinterbirds.com for instructions on how to make one), Hickman said. And of course, providing a source of clean water is a necessity when trying to attract birds.

Attracting a diversity of birds also brings responsibility for the birdwatcher. According to Hickman, by having bird feeders you are bringing in close contact groups of birds that don’t normally congregate with one another. By doing this, “it increases contact and chances of spreading disease.” That’s why it is quite important to keep feeders clean. Keeping the water source and the surrounding ground clean also is very important in helping to prevent the spread of diseases.

For more information on attracting birds and identifying them, click here.

Written by Ryan Carini. Ryan interned with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.