This page contains feature articles from our Summer, 1997, semi-annual newsletter, which you will receive by becoming a member.
- Songs of the Prairie
- Oklahoma's Nesting Eagles, 1997
- Greater Prairie-Chicken Study Begins
- New Faces Join Sutton Board
- New Staff on Board at Sutton
Songs of the Prairie
by David A. Wiedenfeld
KOTV photographer Mike Woods and Sutton biologist Don Wolfe were huddled in a small blind on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve before dawn, watching the growing glow across the sky and waiting for prairie-chickens to start their dance.
As the light slowly waxed, a flock of prairie-chickens flew in and landed before the hide, and began a low, booming noise. "I think I'm getting good sound," Mike whispered. As the day brightened, the camera would catch the chickens with their necks stretched forward and neck-ruff feathers and tails fanned, standing erect. "They're doing all of this to attract the hens to this area, which we call a lek," Don whispered back as the camera rolled intermittently for the next hour.
This story is part of a half-hour television special "Songs of the Prairie," about the work of the Center. It aired on KOTV, Channel 6 in Tulsa, in late June. The special was produced by Wendy Burkeen at KOTV, and was sponsored by Southwestern Bell and Phillips Petroleum Co. Scott Thompson, three-time Emmy-winning reporter for KOTV, wrote the script, and photographers Joe Durant, Mike Woods, and Grant Gerondale taped the visual segments.
KOTV also publicized the special feature with "news series" short segments presented during KOTV's regular news programs in late May, and with a series of "eco-mercials." These latter were half-minute commercials designed for attracting viewers to watch the special in days to come.
Planning for the program was begun in January. Even so, because of the difficulties involved in filming in the field, we worried that we might not get enough good pictures of birds in time to bring it all together.
With a short time frame to work in, scheduling was tight. Alan Jenkins flew with photographer Joe Durant and pilot Jim Bredy to tape views of a Bald Eagle nest. Would there be anything to see? Yes, two eaglets in the nest! The adult eagles were near, and with a slow flyby, Joe could get good pictures of them, too. Next, Steve Sherrod and Joe traveled to the Oklahoma panhandle to tape other raptors.
It’s an eight-hour drive over to the Black Mesa area, and if the weather was bad or the birds uncooperative, it would mean three or four days wasted. The crew checked twelve Golden Eagle nests and every one was unoccupied. Joe got some good tape, but it would have been nice to have seen the birds with young. The prairie-chickens were cooperative for the camera. They’re more reliable than some of the other birds, because they return to their leks every day during the spring.
Time to try filming the mist-netting and banding of prairie songbirds with Dan Reinking. It turned out to be a dark and foggy morning. The nets weren’t very productive, but Dan managed to catch a couple of Blue Jays, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and then as the fog burned off, a Dickcissel.
Scott and Grant had to pull together many other bits for assembling the final product, the half-hour special. Tape of mockingbirds singing and interviews with the biologists all had to be blended into a script that made sense, was interesting and beautiful. Only a few weeks remained for that work. In the end? "Songs of the Prairie," a marvelous presentation that showcased the Sutton Center, its work, and conservation of birds in Oklahoma.
If you didn’t see it on the air, KOTV has made videotapes of the special available. Order the "Songs of the Prairie" videotape for $9.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling by calling 918-665-7020 or 1-800-322-9220. We appreciate what KOTV, Phillips Petroleum, and Southwestern Bell have done for Sutton. Proceeds from the sale of the videotape go to support the Center and its important bird conservation work.
Oklahoma's Nesting Eagles, 1997
by M. Alan Jenkins
With help from a few friends, the Bald Eagle nesting survey went smoothly this year. The best friend an eagle surveyor could have is someone with an airplane specifically designed for low-level wildlife surveys, who has experience in survey flying and who is not afraid to fly low and slow, but safely. Our uncle is such a person--Uncle Sam, that is. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regularly flies surveys over their refuges.
I was given the opportunity twice to participate in aerial waterfowl surveys in the vicinity of Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge by the refuge manager, Steve Berendzen and Regional Pilot, Jim Bredy. My reaction was to beg NOT to be thrown into that briar patch, and this reverse psychology worked. I was also invited, in part, because as a former Air Force pilot myself, I could be counted on not to throw up on the instrument panel during the g-pulling tight turns required of low level work!
The aircraft FWS uses is a Partanavia Observer. It has a Plexiglas nose and side fuselage in front of the observer and pilot giving a great view of the ground below, a feature not found on most aircraft. The high wing and wing-mounted engines also add to the plane's suitability. So, at 200 feet above the whitecaps (yes, I'm being dramatic here) and at 120 knots, we flew the main Oklahoma Bald Eagle nesting habitat along the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers.
The results included discovery of three new nests along those rivers, which, when combined with the rest of the state's nests, gave a record of 24 occupied nests. Only one of these pairs failed to lay eggs, meaning 23 nests were active, but there ends the good news. Some unknown factor reduced the number of nests until only 11 were known to produce 16 young.
Additional bad nesting results were learned when Steve Sherrod and the Panhandle raptor crew of Richard Day, Steve Trent, Oscar Pack, David Williamson, and Clifton Vincent went west to film part of the KOTV feature story. They found no young produced from the twelve known Golden Eagle nest sites in the state. This is especially odd since Golden Eagles depend on mammals as their primary food source, and Bald Eagles depend primarily on fish.
We have speculated endlessly as to the possible causes of this year's low eagle reproductive rate: was it food supply, bad weather such as hail, or what? We cannot say for sure because we have not kept an eye on all the possible factors, but we are hopeful that it was a one year aberration. Our hopes are in the knowledge that many animals have cyclical populations with good and bad years which average out in the long run to keep the species going.
Greater Prairie-Chicken Study Begins
by Don Wolfe
On 15 April, 1997, after a hectic month of building traps, ordering and testing radios and radio receivers, and hiring technicians, the completed traps were readied to start catching prairie-chickens on traditional "booming grounds." This is where males put on an elaborate show to attract potential mates.
As the first rays of morning sun rise over the eastern horizon, I start to hear the males making their unforgettable booming ...now, just sit and wait, and HOPE that we catch something. About 6:15, I thought I saw a bird in one of the traps, and after watching carefully for about five minutes, I was sure. Then about 15 minutes later, another bird in a second trap. As soon as technician Standy Stevens arrived, we ran out and took the first two birds of our study, both hens, out of the traps and attached radio transmitters to them. This was going great!
One month later, on 15 May, we had caught a total of 31 prairie-chickens; not quite as many as we had hoped, but we still felt like we had done well. Only two more birds were radioed after that date, and one of those was a hen captured on a nest. Now it was a matter of tracking all these birds all day, every day, and even at night to determine habitat use and to locate and monitor nests.
All this effort is being put out to try to identify why Greater Prairie-Chicken numbers are plummeting. Everyone you meet from land-owners to hunters to cowboys to oil pumpers to biologists, all agree that prairie-chickens aren't nearly as numerous as they were 5, 10, 20, or 30 years ago. What data are available support this; some suggest about an 80% decline in the past 30 years.
Sutton biologists had been planning this study for several years and had decided that attaching radio transmitters to the birds and following them to the nests, to their roost sites, and to foraging areas year-round would eventually allow us to unravel part of the mystery as to why these birds are disappearing. We only hope that it isn't already too late. Anyone who has witnessed the ritualistic booming of the males in the spring or hunted this elusive game bird would certainly agree that the answers we find will be worth the effort.
Funding for this study has been provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and from a select group of business people, outdoor sporting enthusiasts, and corporations throughout Oklahoma and nationwide.
New Faces Join Sutton Board
by Steve Sherrod
Several new Members will soon be attending Sutton Research Center quarterly board meetings.
Margaret P. Kelley developed an early interest in birds and wildlife from her father as she grew up in Vermont. Later attending Vassar followed by MIT, she gravitated to the Zoology Department there. Today she resides on Nantucket Island in between trips to Yucatan, the Amazon, Africa, and, most importantly, stints to help out at the Sutton Center both physically and financially.
Carol McGraw is the mother of four children and is a trustee and board member of Brush Creek Boys Ranch. She serves on numerous boards and organizations including the League of Women Voters, the Environmental Advisory Council, the Green Country Lung Association, Southside Ladies Investment Club, and the Tulsa Boys’ Home. Together with her husband, Joseph R. McGraw of McGraw-Davission-Stewart Realtors, she attends Missions Council First United Methodist Church in Tulsa.
Vesna Mihailovic, M.D., came to the U.S. from Croatia in 1974. She is employed by Cooper Hospital on the campus of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden, New Jersey. There she practices endocrinology and teaches medical students. Dr. Mihailovic became interested in birds and their relationship to the environment in the early 80’s. She is involved in conservation efforts in New Jersey and has been an active supporter of the Sutton Research Center for years.
After M. David Riggs graduated from OU, he continued his education at the University of Tulsa Law College. He served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for 15 years and in the Oklahoma Senate from which he retired in 1988. He is a board member of a number of public service organizations and is currently an Adjunct Settlement Judge for the Tulsa Federal District Court. He maintains a general law practice in Tulsa with an emphasis on civil litigation.
Joe Westervelt is a husband and father of two, and he originally hails from North Carolina. In his spare time he is President of Mapleview Associates, Inc., a real estate development consulting firm based in Tulsa, and he is a managing partner with West-Tech, L.L.C., which specializes in new construction in the older areas of Tulsa.
He also has ranching interests south of Pawhuska. Joe has served on numerous boards and committees in the Tulsa area, and if there is any time left over, he enjoys saltwater fly fishing, quail hunting, and collecting vintage motorcycles and autos.
New Staff on Board at Sutton
by Steve Sherrod
The Sutton Center has been joined by additional staff members who continue to help us keep up with our work. Dr. David Wiedenfeld, our new Director of Research, comes to Oklahoma from the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University. Karen Kilbourne surfaced just in time, right here in Bartlesville, to take over as our Office Manager. Last but not least, Amy Burruss, also from Bartlesville, is now in charge of our Grounds Maintenance and Quail Operations. We are pleased to have these new staff members on board.