Since I wrote a post about birds for my other blog, I thought I would re-run this piece from a few years ago. I know it isn't useful for genealogy, but I also like information that gives me a sense of how my ancestors lived.
SOME WINTER BIRDS OF OKLAHOMA
BY WELLS W. COOKE, 1914
Less has been published about the birds of Oklahoma than about those of any other state in the Union. It seems advisable therefore that a record should be made of the notes made during a seven months' residence there the winter of 1883-4. The center of observations was the town of Caddo, on the M. K. and T. Ry., twenty miles north of Denison, Texas. The country at that time — the Choctaw Nation — was devoted principally to the grazing of beef cattle. Right in the town of Caddo there were a few small cotton and corn fields, but a half mile in any direction brought one to the open range, never as yet overstocked, and scarcely changed from its condition before it was trod by the white man's foot. Much the same could be said about the timber. There were no forests anywhere and no evergreens. The country as a whole was well grassed prairie, but every little 'branch' was fringed with brush, and when enough of these had united to make a permanently flowing stream its banks were lined with a thin fringe of trees, which widened as the stream enlarged until it became a bottomland of tall fine hardwood timber. Such a bottomland existed six miles south of Caddo along the Blue River and many of the observations here recorded were made in this timbered area. It had never been lumbered and the few enormous black walnut logs that had been marketed — logs so large that twelve yoke of oxen were required to haul a single log — had made no impression on the tract as a whole. In fact the conditions, so far as land birds were concerned, were the same as though the country had never been settled — making it all the more desirable that bird notes made at that time should be published for comparison with conditions as they exist today.
The writer reached Caddo August 27, 1883 and left there April 8, 1884. Although bird observations were a side issue, yet close watch was kept of the ever shifting bird population, several hundred birds were collected for purposes of identification, while a bird diary extending over more than eighty foolscap pages serves as the basis for the following notes.
Migrating birds were present during the first week of September; Barn Swallows and Nighthawks passed each evening and September 10, Tree and Cliff Swallows with Cowbirds were common in migration. Other duties prevented a visit to the heavy timber of the bottomland during the whole of the fall and the notes to the end of November pertain to a strictly prairie country, but it seems probable that September 14-21 was the height of the fall migration of warblers. September 15, first rain, ending a dry spell that had lasted since the middle of June; September 21, first ducks of the season — a flock of Mallards. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Swallows, and Nighthawks continued to drift by the last ten days of September and disappeared early in October. Meanwhile Cowbirds and Mourning Doves had gradually increased until by October 10, the former were in flocks of 100-150 birds, and the latter were at least five times their September numbers. On this last date the first flock of Canada Geese appeared and flocks of Flickers began to pass in migration. October 15, first large flock of Meadowlarks, about 150, drifting southeast; October 20, first flock of Horned Larks; November 3, first flock of Robins.
By November 6 the Brewer's Blackbirds and Purple Crackles which came in late October had increased until they and the Cow- birds were present in multitudes. The first week in November brought the first visitors from the north of the Tree, Song, White- crowned, and Harris's Sparrows, Junco, Myrtle Warbler, and Ruby- crowned Kinglet.
The trees had shed about half their leaves by November 9, the first norther of the season November 13 froze water slightly and stripped off many more, while a real norther November 26 tore off most of the remainder.
The first hard rain of the season, December 3, marked the beginning of the wet season; the 'tanks' were filled for the first time since July, and December 13, the lowlands were half-flooded by a down pour. A norther and everything frozen December 19; a temperature of 74° on December 23 and freezing the next day; real winter from December 24 to January 27, with zero weather on January 5 and + 4° on January 24.
The Longspurs began to arrive November 17 and increased November 26; after the hard freeze of December 19, the most common birds were the Junco, Tree Sparrow, and Brewer's Blackbird. All through December the Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks gradually decreased until by Christmas they had ceased to be conspicuous. The lowest ebb of bird life was December 24-January 15; after that date, in spite of the cold, Blackbirds began to increase until by January 20, both they and the Horned Larks had doubled in numbers.
McCown's Longspur came January 19; the first spring song of the Meadowlark was heard January 21; stil1 further increase of Blackbirds on January 23, followed by Cowbirds two days later. First spring songs of Red-winged Blackbird and Song Sparrow January 29, when spring began with a rush, the temperature rose to 72° and in two days more there was no snow, ice, or frost anywhere. On January 31 there was a fine chorus of song from a dozen different species, while the Mallard and Green-winged Teal returned to the tanks and a few flocks of ducks passed north. Within the next few days the grass started and the Spring Beauty opened its blossoms.
February 6-14, a second winter.
Savannah Sparrows, Horned Larks, and Smith's Longspurs were abundant February 13, and the next day appeared a flock of not less than a thousand Lapland Longspurs. Innumerable Savannah Sparrows were present February 16, with the first Chestnut- collared Longspurs and Le Conte's Sparrows. By February 18, the latter were present in hundreds, while the Longspurs, Savannah Sparrows and Horned Larks showed a decrease. The remainder of the Longspurs and Horned Larks with all the Le Conte's Sparrows left the night of February 19, with the Red-winged Blackbirds and Savannah Sparrows showing much decrease.
The woodland birds on February 23, showed not much change from their November condition, except an increase of Field, Song, and Fox Sparrows. On February 26, Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brewer's Blackbirds and Cowbirds were common in migration and a flock of Sandhill Cranes went north at an immense height.
Real spring began March 5, with a maximum temperature of 79°, the arrival of the Purple Martin, and with a 'cloud' of Red- winged Blackbirds. The bulk of Juncos and Harris's Sparrows departed the night of March 9, but were replaced March 15 by large flocks of Fox, Harris's, and Savannah Sparrows and Brewer Blackbirds.
The least bird life since February 1 was on February 22, though at this date Savannah Sparrows were very abundant, but left in the next 48 hours. In the woods on March 25 Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were common. At the end of the next ten days a few Savannah and Lincoln's Sparrows were about all that were left of the winter visitants. During these days there occurred the principal migration of Shorebirds, Greater Yellowlegs and Upland Plover being especially abundant, while vast numbers of Sandhill Cranes passed north during the day.
I left Caddo April 8 and made no bird notes after April 4, at which date the migration of warblers and of the more common summer birds had scarcely begun.