Volume 3 • Issue 7 • July 2009

Mapping the Past

Wildlife Habitat in Oklahoma Territory and the Chickasaw Nation Circa 1870

Habitat loss is the greatest threat facing wildlife species.  This project created a land cover map of Oklahoma using General Land Office plats from circa 1870.  Such maps provide both a snapshot of past habitat conditions and a baseline for comparison with the modern distribution of wildlife habitat.  General Land Office plats were acquired from the Archives Division of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, georeferenced and digitized.  Plat features were categorized as hydrology, transportation, land cover, or settlement.  Each of these categories were further subdivided.  For example, land cover consisted of natural (i.e., grassland, forests, etc.) and agricultural (cultivated lands, orchards, etc.).  A total of 1,348 plats were digitized and joined into a comprehensive map.  Grassland (almost 15 ½ million acres) was the most extensive land cover type, followed by forest-woodland (6.4 million acres).  A sawmill, two lime kilns, a sandstone quarry, and several stores are examples of settlement features encountered.  Land in cultivation totaled 18,780 acres and several named ranches were present.

One could only imagine what the flint hills of northeastern Oklahoma looked like before Bruce Hoagland began mapping by historic accounts.
The limited occurrence of certain vegetation types was surprising.  For example, surveyors mapped a single cottonwood grove.  Cottonwood vegetation is prevalent along major rivers in current-day Oklahoma.  It was also anticipated that surveyors might have mapped the occurrence of prairie dog towns.  Since large dog towns were mentioned in the early travel narratives such as Captain Randolph Marcy’s, it seemed plausible that surveyors might map these features, as they would pose a hindrance to transportation.  However, no prairie dog towns were recorded.  Only one buffalo wallow was mapped.  It is also noteworthy that surveyor’s in the study area did not record the occurrence of large fires or areas of windthrown trees, which has proven useful in studies of disturbance history.

Species of greatest conservation need within this area include the Arkansas River shiner, eastern spotted skunk, northern bobwhite, greater and lesser prairie chickens, snowy plover, American woodcock, barn owl, loggerhead shrike, black-capped vireo, Bell’s vireos, and others.  The development of a land cover map from GLO plats circa 1871 provides an important baseline for analysis of habitat change for conservation planners.

For more information about State Wildlife Grants in Oklahoma log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Bruce Hoagland. Bruce is an Associate Professor with the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory under the Oklahoma Biological Survey at the University of Oklahoma.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The State Wildlife Grant 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.

McGee Creek Wildlife Management Area

One More Gem of Southeastern Oklahoma

The McGee Creek Wildlife Management Area encompasses more than 14,000 acres of upland forest on the north side of McGee Creek Reservoir between Potapo Creek and McGee Creek in eastern Atoka County.  The Bureau of Reclamation, which also constructed the reservoir, owns the area but the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation manages it under a cooperative agreement. 

One primary road winds through the area.  This road is approximately eight miles long, and follows a long ridgeline through a mixed forest of shortleaf pine, post oak, black oak and black hickory, mockernut hickory and winged elm.  Along the main road, there are three scenic overlooks that offer amazing views of the Potapo and McGee Creek valleys below,  and eleven parking areas that give visitors a chance to explore. 

During the summer of 2006, a wild fire swept through portions of the McGee Creek area and severely burned three locations along the main road.  While thousands of trees were killed in the affected areas and the vegetation was dramatically altered, the fire restored shrubland and savannah habitat that had long been missing due to decades of regional fire suppression.
River otters can be found along McGee Creek Reservoir and its tributaries.

In the burned areas, there is now abundant shrub cover that supports blue grosbeaks, yellow-breasted chats, orchard orioles, prairie warblers and even a few pairs of the very rare Bachman’s sparrow.  Elsewhere on McGee Creek, where mature forest dominates, visitors can observe summer tanagers, pine warblers, wild turkeys, indigo buntings, great crested flycatchers, tufted titmice and even a few brown-headed nuthatches (a rare species in Oklahoma).

For those with an interest in amphibians and reptiles, the area supports abundant populations of gray treefrogs, eastern narrow-mouthed toads, green frogs and western chorus frogs.  During the morning hours, fence lizards, and occasionally collared lizards, can be observed sunning themselves on the numerous rocks and outcrops along the road.  The WMA also supports a diversity of snakes including four species that are venomous. 

McGee Creek WMA was one of the original locations for ODWC’s river otter reintroduction and restoration project in the late 1980s and river otters can still be found today along the reservoir and its tributary streams.  Other mammals include fox squirrel, gray fox, white-tailed deer and bobcat.

The best time to visit McGee Creek WMA is in the late spring and summer months.  It receives a great deal of use during deer and spring turkey seasons and may be closed to non-hunting activities during those months.  The WMA is most easily accessed from State Highway 43 between the towns of Stringtown and Daisy.

For a map and more information, contact biologist Buddy Prather at
(580) 346-7664.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Feed Your Birds

Hummingbirds, That Is

At this time of the year, the morning air is filled with the sounds of singing birds, but with the abundance of insects and summer fruit, we don’t often think about feeding the birds.  That is with one notable exception – the hummingbird!

Two species of hummingbirds commonly grace our yards during the summer – the ruby-throated hummingbird across the eastern ¾ of the state, and the black-chinned hummingbird in the western 1/3.  Both species are similar – so similar that the females are nearly impossible to distinguish from one another in the yard.  At this time of year, hummingbirds are wrapping up their nesting season and establishing feeding territories to put on weight before their fall migration.  Hummingbirds defend small territories around flowering plants – especially ones that have tube-shaped flowers that fit the hummingbirds’ bills, or flowers that are bright red, orange or pink.  During the spring, hummingbirds are attracted to the native coral honeysuckle; and this time of year the big orange-red flowers of the trumpet creeper vine are a real hummer magnet!  Other “hummingbird flowers” include salvias, petunias, bee balms, four-o-clocks and penstemons.

Hummingbirds are extremely active and energetic birds that consume approximately two fluid ounces of nectar or sugar water each day.  This may not sound like much, but it’s more than twice their body weight!

Traditional hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water are a great way to attract hummingbirds.  The ratio of sugar to water in the mix is not an exact science, but should be near one part sugar to four parts water (a quarter cup of sugar dissolved in one cup of water).  This mixture can be made stronger (1:3) in the spring and fall when hummingbirds are migrating and need an additional energy boost, and can be weaker in the heat of the summer if hummingbirds don’t have access to a bird bath or other source of water.  Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the color red and nearly all of the feeders that are sold in stores have some red plastic or glass on them.  As a result, it's not necessary to add red food coloring to your sugar water mix. 

The most important tip to remember when feeding hummingbirds is to keep the feeders clean!  Sugar water is a perfect medium for growing yeast and bacteria and these can sour the feeder in a matter of days.  During the heat of the summer, we recommend changing the sugar water in your feeders at least every three days; during the cooler spring and fall, this can be backed down to every five to seven days.  Each time you clean the feeder, use soapy water and a bottlebrush to remove yeast on the inside of the glass or plastic.  Also, consider swishing a little white vinegar around in the feeder for a minute to kill yeast, and then rinse it thoroughly with water before refilling it and placing it back outside.

You may have noticed hummingbirds attempt to monopolize a feeder by chasing away the other birds.  While it seems odd to us, this is normal hummingbird behavior.  Each bird – male and female, adult and juvenile, tries to establish its own territory.  There are two ways that we can address this behavior.  If there are only a few hummingbirds around, I recommend spacing several hummingbird feeders across the yard.  Each should be at least 20 feet apart, and if possible, have a shrub or tree between them to act as a visual barrier.  If there are six or more hummingbirds around, try placing out several feeders close together (a few feet apart).  One hummingbird can’t defend several feeders from multiple birds, so this behavior will stop and you should see several hummingbirds at a time at your feeding station.

With these tips, I hope that you have a great summer enjoying the hummingbirds! Be sure to participate in the annual hummingbird survey!

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

OKLAHOMA WILDLIFE EXPO! September 25-27 8 PM - 6 PM Each Day.

Our Mission:

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