Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Joe Neal visits Oklahoma prairie preserve to escape pressure of living in Harleyville
In my email are two photographs from The Nature Conservancy's 40,000 acre Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma. Normally a tax paying resident in good standing of Fayetteville, I was in Oklahoma as a refugee when the Harley storm of noise and civic chaos called Bikes, Blues and Barbecue (September 27-30) broke over town and flooded me out.
Just for the record: there's nothing wrong with enjoying life, or Harleys, or motorcycles riders, but vast amounts of unmuffled roar and semi-organized social chaos associated with 4 days of up to 400,000 visitors for a motorcycle rally just doesn't work for some.
Doesn't work for me. So September 29 found me cresting a low hill west of Harleyville in the Oklahoma grasslands, and unexpectedly face-to-face with a large hawk perched on a substantial steel post, part of the Preserve's bison fence. I was struck by a white face with a few dark markings. Joan Reynolds stuck her camera out the window, got one image of a perched hawk, a second as it flew, large rat in its talons.
Getting away from noise and chaos of Harleyville was a prime inspiration for this trip, but also Eryngium leavenworthii. It's a relative of rattlesnake master, familiar resident of quality tallgrass prairies in Arkansas. This one is a purple, cactus-like cylinder with extending lavender flower parts, the whole surrounded by rosettes of lances sharp and stiff. Think purple cactus. One was being visited by a huge bumblebee.
The first striking bird of the trip was a dark morph Harlan's Hawk, deep chocolate brown with a mostly white tail, conveniently perched on a powerpole along the highway. Nesting in Alaska, its presence in Arkansas-Oklahoma is a clean marker of fall migration and coming winter. Also an accurate harbringer of what was to come.
Just down the road, a fine male Spotted Towhee, fresh arrived from the west, occupied a dense thicket of blackberries, rough-leafed dogwood, and persimmon sprouts. All but invisible, except for those loud SRINKs! We saw 3; 1 around western Arkansas I count as a good season.
Blue Jays were migrating over both mornings, with 327 in 12 flocks September 29 and a heaven-shaking 565 in 13 flocks the following. We noticed jays concentrated in open hardwood Cross Timbers.
And flickers were shooting over in 1s and 2s. We had both yellow and red-shafted forms. We occasionally see western red-shafteds around Maysville in extreme northwest Arkansas.
We found E. leavenworthii in several fields, often associated with blue sage, Salvia azurea, whirls of bluish purple in a grassy landscape, attended by hordes of migrating monarch butterflies, and yellow provided by goldenrod species and elegant stands of tall Maximilian sunflowers.
Here, allow me a special shout out for these sunflowers: their upraised and arm-like offerings, first of sunny rays, then seed. Red-winged Blackbirds, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfinches making rounds of sunflowers, inspecting seed heads for appropriate ripeness.
I could go on here, for bison saved from extinction and this year's calves, for a dusty ornate box turtle and a tarantula crossing roads, masses of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, pelicans migrating over as we drove through Pawhuska, and ultimately, blessed, soul refreshing awayness from a Fayetteville already overpopulated, but for four days transformed by mercantilistic crankiness into Harleyville.
Back home, bird guides in a comforting array, I can say 100% that Joan Reynolds had presence of mind to quickly photograph a juvenile female PRAIRIE FALCON.
And finally, a shout out for you riders on Harleys who also respect nature and quiet spaces and operate your fine machines accordingly. I write this on a go to work Monday morning, Fayetteville reemerged from Harleyville. You are hereby welcome to join next year's Birds, Botany, and Bison, to be held whenever in fall 2013 those other Harleyvillians return.