April 29th 2017

Are we being watched?

Are we being watched?

“The Marks are Back”

Arcadia Lake was the site of the Oklahoma Master Naturalist (OMN) workshop about city trees and wildlife.  People clothed in insulated attire braved the cold and wet to attend the event.  Arcadia Lake is a manmade 1800 acre body of water that started life as an earthen dam on the Deep Fork River in 1980.  The city of Edmond and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the lake in 1984 to combat flooding, provide a water source for Edmond and offer recreational opportunities.

The 720 acre Conservation Education Area is managed by the OK Dept. of Wildlife Conservation.  From mid-January to the end of September, one can take a self-guided walk along the ¾ mile trail.  The 7,000 square foot Outdoor Education and Training Center overlooks Arcadia Lake from the south and offers the perfect venue for wildlife classes.  Large windows surround three sides.  The concrete floor has a map of Oklahoma with its ecological regions stained in different colors.  The walls have taxidermy specimens of antelope and deer heads, one bison noggin, and the three subspecies of wild Oklahoma turkeys:  (Merriams’ are found in the OK Panhandle, the long-legged Rio Grande prefer the Central OK, and the Eastern with white edged tail feathers  lives guess where?  A vivid blue headed turkey was trying to fit in.  A former resident of Central America, this beautiful bird was much smaller.  It is known as an ocellated turkey.  The tail feathers seem to have eyes. Various stuffed birds and waterfowl were flying or perched on window ledges, preserved raccoons peeked around corners and a ten foot alligator was on the floor. It looked so lifelike. Nature inside and out.

The first presenter for the workshop was Mark Bays.  The coordinator for Urban and Community Forestry Services in Oklahoma put up pictures of our earth in showing stages of change, from pre-babyhood through present day to the future.  The continents have been constantly on the move.  Cycles of wildlife come and go. Some left evidence such as the petrified wood in Altus. Not exactly fossils, the plant cells were replaced with minerals that preserved the wood structure.  With the appearance of the rigid and more rot resistant lignin in the cells, the herbs turned into taller trees. The decay organisms were not as plentiful and as the plants fell, they accumulated, piled up, became compacted and, voila, the gas, oil and coal companies rolled into Oklahoma.  Okay, it took millions of years before the Nellie Johnstone No. 1 commercial well was dug in Bartlesville, Oklahoma April 15th 1897.

Five ice ages with alternating glacial and interglacial periods have happened on our earth.  We are currently in the interglacial part of the Quaternary Ice Age. Let’s put things into perspective. Neanderthals existed over 200,000 years ago in Europe, but vanished about 30,000 years ago.  Paleo Indians may have come into North America 16,000 years ago.  The newest question: a 130,000 year old mastodon was just discovered in California; its bones had been deliberately smashed.  Who did it?  Did Scrat, the saber-tooth squirrel from “Ice Age” see it happen?

Break.  Mark, a devoted motorcycle rider, was presented a birthday card from OMN.  Envision a salesman extolling the benefits of a new motorcycle to an older cyclist: “It has extra lumbar support, a bifocal windshield, a pill dispenser…”

When you think of live oaks, does your mind take you to a southern plantation with large old oak trees covered in Spanish moss?  There are 2 species of live oaks: the Southern live oak found at that plantation, Quercus virginiana, and the Texas live oak, Q. fusiformis.  The Southern live oak is strictly a coastal species, hugging the Atlantic Ocean from VA to TX.  The tree can reach 40 to 80 feet in height. My great aunt Inez lived in Rockport, TX where can be found one of the largest Southern live oaks in the US.  Yes, of course it is in Texas.  Its age is estimated to be between 1,000 to 2,000 years old!   The other live oak species, the Texas live oak,  is much tougher and can be found all over Fort Worth and Dallas area.  This scrub live oak only gets 20 to 40 feet tall. The native range extends from the Quartz and Wichita Mts. in SW OK through TX into MX.  I love abbreviations.

Wildlife habitat maps, precipitation maps, and ecoregion maps all show the numerous variations and diversity found in Oklahoma from west to east, north to south.  Precipitation rises and falls along with the temperatures over time.  The few super droughts and flooding events are dominated by more normal weather patterns.  For thousands of years, all have left their marks on the land.  Dr. Stahle, dendrologist from the Univ. of AR, studies the trees in Cross Timbers region.  They compose remnant forests that covered the region for thousands of years.    Pollen studies and core samples, done in a bog near Atoka, OK present the graphic evolution of plants:  10,000 years ago the area was grassland, 9,000 years ago some oaks appeared (grasslands became savannas),  5,000 years ago the oak populations began increasing, 2,000 years ago pine pollen was seen and 1,200 years hickory pollen floated around.

Twenty-six species of oaks live in Oklahoma.  The “Creek Council Tree” grows on a hill overlooking the Arkansas River in Tulsa.  This was a mature oak tree in 1836 when the Creek Lochapoka clan arrived and chose the site for their council ground.  Opinions vary whether it is a post oak or bur oak.  Oaks are notorious for hybridizing.  The “Creek Hanging Tree” in downtown Tulsa is a bur oak estimated to be over 200 years old.

Pine (Loblolly prefer damp soils), hickory, pecan, and Eastern red cedars are familiar trees.  The red cedar (a true Juniper) is native to all counties except the Panhandle.  The oldest red cedar in OK is over 620 years old. In a vintage picture of the 1889 Land Run, there stands the capitol building by itself surrounded by deep mud.  To the left of the capitol stands the one and only tree…a red cedar.  True.

Lake Arcadia Education Center

Lake Arcadia Education Center

TREES.  Trees have great value but are too often involved in land development issues.  Pick out one tree in your yard.  Your tree is a word.  Combined with your neighbor’s trees you have a sentence.  Include the streets in your group, you have a paragraph.  Bring in your entire city with all its trees and you have a novel or story.  There are 19,637 park trees in OKC.  An assessment was made, and an inventory created  and each tree was catalogued according to species, height, canopy and other characteristics.  A handy tool used by foresters also available to the public is www.itreetools.org.  This program helps those see the broad picture of tree plantings in the community and forests.  The different characteristics of each tree species can be used to create a virtual landscape.  The benefits and environmental impacts are shown. Trees add value.  They are investments that grow through time.  If building a house or structure, the value increases 18% if the mature trees have not been cut down, the worth of lots that border woods increases 35%, and wooded lots 37%.  Check:  www.naturewithin.info.


  1. Trees improve air quality. Leaves provide more surface area to catch dust, reduce surface level ozone in parking lots and improve health.  After Emerald Ash Borer beetles decimated an ash tree (Fraxinus) lined street, and the next few years cardio and respiratory diseases increased.
  2. Trees reduce storm water runoff. Tree canopies temporarily detain rainfall before the water flows down the stems and branches and goes into through fall.
  3. Trees stabilize soils. They increase infiltration and percolation of water.  The trees transpire (moisture travels from the roots to the pores on bottom of leaves and vaporize); thus the hydrologic cyclic is contained.  Severe erosion is limited by the presence of roots,  leveling of river banks and installing rocks and native plants.
  4. Trees reduce energy. The urban heat island effect raises temps 7 to 15 degrees.  Shade is good.  Parking lots need to be designed with porous permeable paving surfaces, green spaces and Bioswales of plants that filter runoff water. Green roofs insulate, slow down runoff and mitigate the heat island effect.
  5. Trees add quality to living. Can’t spell street without tree.  Kathleen Wolf PhD intricately links nature with the workplace. “Human communities need nature in and around them to thrive.”  She calls it A.R.T. or Attention Restoration Theory.  Even having a view of nature from a work cubicle works.  Shinrin-Yoku is Japanese for “Forest Bathing.”  Visiting a forest provides a multitude of health benefits.  The Myriad Gardens has the “Great Lawn” in OKC.  The annual ecological benefit (water, energy, air, temperature) of OKC parks amounts to $808,728.71.  Please look at nature-rx.org.
Sustenance Awaiting

Sustenance Awaiting

The potluck lunch was amazing.  I loved what our participants brought. The pasta salads were refreshing, and the spinach, quinoa and strawberry salad was both sweet and tart.  Plates of cheeses, pepperoni, salami, crackers, veggies, grapes and other tasty edibles shared the table with German potato salad, Subway Italian Hero sandwiches, and a sliced half of ham shank.  A large bowl of peach, blackberry and blueberry compote as well as cookies completed the meal.

As the lightning illuminated the sky, thunder boomed and the rain fell in squally fits, we settled down to listen to Mark Howery, the OK State Diversity Biologist.  He lives in the zoo.  Ahh, his office is in the OKC Zoo.  His department is different in that it is funded by license plates, fishing, hunting and other licenses; thus it is a user-pay agency.  Of the 320 employees, about one third deal with Law Enforcement (game wardens) and one third work in the Fisheries Division with its 10 regions and 4 hatcheries.  The last third is the Wildlife Department comprised of 6 regions staffed by area and statewide biologists as well as information and education specialists.

Oklahoma has 63 wildlife management areas of which about 40 are federally owned and leased; the wildlife department owns 23 wildlife areas.  Federal cost-share programs form a backbone and assist in the recovery of endangered or threatened species and conservation.  This is because animal populations are dynamic.  They reach their lowest points now, but zoom back up to their highest levels in June and July.  About 50% will die through the winter as the cycle continues forward to spring.  There are core game species such as deer, ducks, fish, quail and others.  Paddlefish are becoming a familiar species, one of the 900 vertebrate species in OK.  Over 600 vertebrate non-game species and thousands of insect species call Oklahoma home.

Did you know the black rat snake can live 15 years?

The federally listed endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker  only lives in McCurtain County and only in mature pine trees. Fewer and fewer older pine tree forests remain.  The small bird is the size of a Downy woodpecker; its young fledge in 18 days.  The endangered Least Terns number about 1200 and live along our rivers.  They nest in open sand bars that are now being swallowed by reservoirs.  The greatest number of terns live in the Mississippi River area.  The endangered black-capped Vireo only visits OK in the summer, spends 2 weeks sitting on eggs before they hatch and will leave in September.  Their habitats are being destroyed and the brown-headed cowbird parasitizes the nests.  Nature doesn’t play fair.  It is survival of the fittest.  We humans play this game every day.

Fifty three Fresh water mussel species live in OK.  One stage of their life cycle is parasitic.  The tiny babes need to attach to fish gills for a time before detaching.  The fish are fine.  Reminds me of the harvest mite.  They need warm blood during their second stage of development.  We are fine, except for the welts left by the chiggers.  Several species of mussels are heading for extinction.  The Rabbit’s Foot freshwater mussel is a threatened species.  Notes:  a “Pelagic Spawner” is a fish that requires moving water when laying its eggs.  The Prairie Speckled Chub is a fish with a long spawning season.

Oklahoma has 8 to 13 Ecological Regions, depending on what criteria is used.  With such wide diversity comes some species that have specific, not general, requirements. Some of our guys are in trouble.  Species in decline include Horned lizards, Trumpeter swans, spotted skunks, and whooping cranes.  These either live here or migrate through.  From Texas to Alberta (that’s Canada for some of you) and back again fly the endangered Whooping cranes.  Their current population is about 350.  The birds only lay 2 eggs that usually result in one viable chick per year.  Not exactly rapid reproduction.

Six hundred to eighteen hundred eagles usually overwinter in Oklahoma, but their numbers flux with the temperatures.  This past mild winter resulted in most eagles staying in Illinois and points north.  About 130 to 150 pairs of eagles form the resident population in Oklahoma.  The females of these large birds of prey are larger than the males.  Weights range from 9 to 14 pounds depending on sex.  The further north they live, the larger the birds are.  Ninety per cent of the diet is fish.  Their wing span averages 7 feet.  In Oklahoma the bald eagle nests in later winter—end of January into early February.  It takes 35 days for the eggs to hatch inside the 5 foot in diameter nests that form large platforms that weigh over 1.5 tons.  Usually cottonwoods or sycamores are chosen for the nest sites.

Eagles lay 2 or 3 eggs and begin incubating with the very first egg laid.  The chicks will be various sizes and will fledge at 11 to 12 weeks.  The young eagles have dark brown eyes and body.  At about 4 to 5 years of age they develop white heads and tail feathering.  Their eyes turn yellow.

Two Toms

Two Toms

The Scissor-tailed flycatcher, a tropical migrant, spends its’ spring and summers in 6 south-central states and its’ winters in Central America.  This bird is the state bird of Oklahoma.  Maryland has the other Neotropical state bird–the Baltimore Oriole. It has a wider spring/summer range that extends through the eastern USA into Canada.  The bird also flies further south in winter–South America.  Sixty seven species of birds nest in Oklahoma but overwinter in the tropics.  Swainson’s Warbler, another Neotropical bird (its numbers are in decline) is a non-descript, very secretive bird with a beautiful, loud ringing song. My attention was caught when I heard the bird has been found in Wister (my stomping grounds) Wildlife Management Area (along the Fourche Maline and Poteau River) and a few other wildlife areas in eastern Oklahoma.

Mark discussed other wildlife species: Lizards, frogs, legless snakes, fish, black bear, mountain lions (many genetically traced back to the Dakotas) and others.  Bats are the only flying mammals and bear live young called pups.  Oklahoma is home to 22 species; 3 are listed as endangered.  Several species migrate to warmer areas, but others build up fat reserves and hibernate right here. No big woo after this winter; they now have to exercise and lose the extra weight.  Free-tailed bats can live over 20 years.

So many interesting animals and plants share Oklahoma with so many of us humans.  So many are under siege and they need our help to survive.  What can we do?

That is why you are participating in the Oklahoma Master Naturalist Program.  Keep up the good work. Nature loves you.