Posts tagged ‘January’

January 11, 2014

Stories in the Snow

Animals venturing out in the snow leave a story behind. These stories, often otherwise invisible, shed light on animal behavior and provide visual clues into how critters make use of their habitat.

Snow Tracks

Snow Tracks 06The photo above, taken Tuesday, shows the imprint made by the feet and the tail feathers of a crow during landing. The crow walked up to a tree, turned left to walk down some steps, and then took flight again.

In the photo at left, we see a mouse hopped out a short distance from the rock and then returned to protective cover. At some point, a cross-country venture started here, too. But although this mouse only made one trip in this direction, a wider view shows a well-established “runway” between the rock and the tall grass in the other direction.

Both of these events are commonplace in the park, but the snow “captured” these two stories in a way that revealed something more than I could see with my eyes alone. In the first case, because I wasn’t there to witness the event, the crow’s landing and short stroll would have escaped my notice had it not been frozen in the snow until I happened along. And in the second case, even had I observed a mouse near the rock on several occasions, I probably wouldn’t have realized that a single runway existed between it and the grass had the snow not shown the cumulative track lines.

Next time snow carpets the ground, why not head outside and see what stories you can find “printed” in the snow?

January 6, 2014

A Look Back: January 6, 2010 – Jumbo Icicles

The snow on the ground today harkens back memories of cold weather on this date a few years back.  These pictures are of jumbo-sized icicles found on the Loop Trail Bluffs and below the Sand Creek Bluffs on January 6th, 2010. (The rusty color is probably from tannins leached from fallen leaves.)

Icicles 02

Icicles 01

January 5, 2014

More Snow And Cold Weather For Osage Hills State Park

CCC-built Pump House

Snow fell again in the Osage Hills. The flurries started Saturday night and continued through the morning with temperatures stalling at 15°F. The dry snow never seemed to stay put – the wind busily rearranged it all day – which made taking measurements a challenge. I found it from 3.25 inches deep near Group Camp to 6.5 inches deep on rocks in a ravine. Officially, the National Weather Service reported 4.7 inches.

Low temperatures for Monday will range from 5 to 10 degrees above zero, with highs in the lower twenties. Wind chill values from -5 to -26 degrees are expected.

Tractor Clearing Snow From Roadway Over CCC Culvert

Tractor Clearing Snow From Roadway Over CCC-built Culvert

January 12, 2013

Swan Update

Swans on Farm Pond in NE Oklahoma

***Feel free to call the park office to ask if the swans have returned before you make a dedicated trip to see them.***

A survey of Lookout Lake Friday morning revealed that the swans had finally departed after a four-day stay.

However, I received word on Friday afternoon that immature swans had been seen on a pond within a few miles of the park.  I didn’t verify the report, but I assume these are the ones that had recently graced our lake…    Maybe they’ll return?

The photo above was taken in November of 2010 near the settlement of Bowring, located about ten miles north of Osage Hills State Park.  Across the road from this pond is one of similar size where several years before a number of swans were slaughtered.  Someone drove by, spotted the large birds, grabbed a gun, shot every last one dead, and left the carcasses to rot.  (Also nearby, during a different winter, a crowd of well-meaning bird watchers harassed a snowy owl to death.)


      In autumn when the grip of the frost congealed the surface of its native lakes and streams the Trumpeter gathered in mighty flocks, circled high in air and moved southward in great flights using the V-shaped formation so characteristic of migrating Canada Geese.  This is written in the past tense as there are no longer any great flights of the species.  Then, as now, the Mississippi valley was a highway of bird migration and there, at times, in autumn, when the icy north wind blew, the sunset sky was overcast by clouds of waterfowl moving in dim strata near and far, in varying lines, crossing, converging, ascending, descending, but all trending southward toward waters as yet untouched by the frost.  The rushing of their wings and their musical cries filled the air with a chorus of unrelated sounds, blending in rough harmonies.  Above them all, in the full light of the setting sun great flocks of Cranes passed along the sky, and higher still in the glowing firmament rode the long “baseless triangles ” of the Swans, sweeping across the upper air in exalted and unswerving flight, spanning a continent with the speed of the wind, their forms glistening like silver in the sunset glow.  They presented the most impressive spectacle in bird life ever seen in North America.  When at last they found their haven of rest they circled with many hoarse trumpetings in wide spirals from that giddy height reconnoitering the country as they swung lower and lower until, their apprehensions at rest, they sailed slowly down to drink, bathe, feed, and rest on quiet, peaceful waters.

     The reason for the rapid decrease of the Trumpeter is not far to seek.  It is the largest and most conspicuous of waterfowl.  Wherever, in settled regions, Swans were seen to alight, every kind of a firearm that could do duty was requisitioned and all men turned out to hunt the great white birds.  They were not much safer in the almost uninhabited North, as the demands of civilization pursued them there.  The records of the traffic in Swans’ down tell the story of  decrease in the territory of the Hudson Bay Company.  Just previous to the middle of the nineteenth century about five hundred Swans’ skins were traded annually at Isle à la Crosse and about three hundred were taken yearly at Fort Anderson.  These were mainly skins of the Trumpeter Swan.  The number sold annually by the Company slowly decreased from 1312 in 1854 to 122 in 1877.  In 1853 Athabasca turned out 251, in 1889 only 33.  In 1889 and 1890 Isle à la Crosse sent out but two skins for each outfit.

So the demands of fashion and the blood lust will follow the Trumpeter to the end.


Thank goodness he was wrong, if ever so slightly!

January 11, 2013

Uncommon Guests Make For A Good Day At The Lake

2 Adult & 3 Juvenile trumpeter swans on Lookout Lake

Five trumpeter swans, the largest North American waterfowl, have recently chosen Lookout Lake as a stopover point while waiting for their tundra home to warm up again.  While watching them paddle around on the far shore, it’s easy to overlook the full-grown ducks swimming nearby.

These birds may be common within their summer range up north, but they are uncommon guests in northeast Oklahoma.

This hasn’t always been the case.

Unfortunately, due chiefly to human interference, the trumpeter swan went from ranging “over the greater portion of the continent” and breeding as far south as northern Missouri to doubts in the 1960s that any breeding was taking place within the United States.  Many feared the extinction of the species was merely a few years away.  Today, thanks to reintroduction programs and good management, the species is making a comeback.

If you come out to Osage Hills State Park to see “our” swans, please bring binoculars or a spotting scope.  Observation areas will be limited to the dam and the maintained trail along the south side of the lake.  Off-trail hiking at the lake will be prohibited for at least the next two weeks.

Swans are wary of humans, and it has been my experience that once flushed from a small body of water, they are not likely to return.  Besides, State and Federal laws prohibit not just the killing of these birds, but even their harassment.  So please, be courteous to the swans and to fellow park guests.  Don’t get too close.  If you disrupt a swan, immediately give it more room.


Bald Eagle Flying Over Trumpeter Swans on Lookout Lake

A bald eagle, the subject of its own recovery success story, flies past our visiting swans.