February 11, 2006

Okie lark

48 northern mockingbird
49 wild turkey
50 red-winged blackbird

On a work trip to Oklahoma we spent hours driving and none birding. Except for a mockingbird in Anadarko, all birds were windshield sightings. While keeping my eyes on the road proved good survival strategy, it cost me a couple species. I couldn't tell whether a meadowlark was eastern or western, whether a gull was ring-billed or herring (probably ring-billed), or whether a small flock of swans was tundra or trumpeter (almost surely tundra, but trumpeters sometimes show up in Oklahoma). But the pain isn't great—I should be able to see all these birds again.

After the trip I did some meadowlark study. Eastern and western meadowlarks overlap in the central U.S., and though they differ a little in plumage, voice is the best way to tell them apart. Unless, of course, they have learned each other's songs, which happens often. Although—more complications—imitated songs are not sung perfectly but at an intermediate pitch. Also, easterns have a much larger song repertoire. Maybe the diagnostic tool I'll use is one I heard recently: easterns fly like they're on caffeine, westerns like they're on Jack Daniels.

I also saw a golden eagle (and two balds) in a beautiful new eagle aviary operated by the Ioway tribe of Oklahoma. The Ioway have an active conservation program, not only rehabilitating injured eagles for release, but raising a herd of bison on native prairie. The tribe received support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build the flightcages and mews, and uses nearby Oklahoma State University veterinarians. The Ioway are also able to keep molted eagle feathers for ceremonies.


Blogger amahia said...

How does a Big Year birder treat a species that they hit and kill with a car? Is it fair to add that to list as a sighting? If you were on a bike, you could hear the difference in the lark call and you could probably better tell if it was espresso or Jack. Sigh. When is your bike trip, anyway? Is it going to be when mine is? We can bisect.

Blogger Jeff said...

As the Car Talk guys say, doesn't anyone screen these calls? If forced to answer, I'd say it's only fair to add a dead bird to your list if you identified it alive (the bird, not you). Protocol says only wild birds in a natural environment count on a list--that's why I didn't add the golden eagle I saw in Oklahoma. So I think a dead bird wouldn't qualify.


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