By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Idabel Chamber of Commerce will host the 11th annual Red Slough Birding Convention from Saturday, May 4 through Tuesday, May 7. The event will offer tours of three Oklahoma birding hotspots giving new and experienced bird watchers the chance to test their bird identity skills and add new species to their list of live birds.
Participants will visit Red Slough Wildlife Management Area, Little River National Wildlife Refuge, and the McCurtain County Wilderness Area – the state’s hottest birding destinations.
“We’ve timed the convention with some of this area’s best bird-watching opportunities,” said Robert Bastarache, U.S. Forest Service district biologist and event committee member. “Migrating warblers are a tour staple, but we also expect to see a variety of marshbirds, shorebirds, and songbirds.”
Participants will visit numerous habitats including developing wetlands, mudflats, reservoirs, scrub/shrub, and willow tree rows. Organizers predict that over 100 species of birds will be viewed in a day during the month of May.
According to the Oklahoma Wildlife Department, specialty birds that will most likely be seen include swainson’s warbler, red-cockaded woodpecker, purple gallinule, black-bellied whistling ducks, white ibis, scarlet tanager, brown-headed nuthatch, neotropic cormorant, and painted bunting. Many other species of migrating warblers, resident neotropical songbirds, marsh birds, wading birds, and shorebirds will also be seen.
More than 150 species were tallied during last year’s convention. Group field trips are scheduled for both morning and afternoon. Morning tours focus on the area’s diverse bird life and afternoon outings spotlight dragonflies, wildflowers and champion trees.
The Red Slough tour includes a one mile walk around Bitten Lake. Participants are encouraged to bring rubber boots, bug spray, water and cameras. Bird viewing will be done from levee roads and observation platforms
The star of the Little River Refuge Birding tour is the Swainson’s Warbler. Other sightings may include Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Yellow-throated Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, White-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrushes and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Wading birds of many types are likely including: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Little Blue Heron.
The McCurtain County Wilderness Area (MCWA), managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has the largest block of virgin shortleaf pine forest in Oklahoma. It is also the state’s primary location for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). Other birds on this tour can include the scarlet tanager, summer tanager, red-headed woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, pine warbler, Kentucky warbler, black-and-white warbler, yellow-throated warbler, indigo bunting, brown-headed nuthatch, bachman’s sparrow, yellow-throated vireo, red-eyed vireo, eastern wood pewee, and great-crested flycatcher.
MCWA tour participants will learn about shortleaf pine/bluestem restoration projects and RCW management within the MCWA and adjacent Ouachita National Forest. The tour also includes a demonstration of tree climbing for RCW management. This tour is geared more towards viewing the habitat and understanding management principles than walking and looking for birds.
Visit this link for a complete list of possible bird sightings on each tour.
Registration for the convention will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, at the Mary H. Herron Conference Center, Museum of the Red River, 812 East Lincoln Road, in Idabel. Dr. Walt Frey will offer the welcome and introductions at 6:30 p.m.
That evening at 6:45 p.m., keynote speaker Dr. John Abbot will discuss “The Wonders of Southern Africa and Madagascar.” His presentation will include photography on insects in flight and wildlife of South Africa. Dr. Chris Butler will provide a presentation on yellow rails on Sunday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Sponsors include: Idabel Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, Idabel Industrial Development Authority, Museum of the Red River, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma State University
Forest Resources Center, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.
A registration fee of $125 includes six tour options, including transportation to the conservation areas, three evening presentations, a banquet, and the birding convention T-shirt. Space is limited.
Tour information, past bird lists, and the registration form can be found online at redsloughconvention.com. To learn more, contact Betty Johnson, Idabel Chamber of Commerce, 580-286-3305.