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Coots, Early Spring Day on the Prairie

Coots

Yesterday was such a beautiful day that my husband and I decided to go out for the day, We drove over to Sooner Lake, near Ponca City, Oklahoma and hiked one of the trails along the western margin of the lake. That hilly trail, through fields of huge round hay bales allowed good views of the lake and surrounding fields. Many fishermen were out on the lake, probably hoping to hook into any of several large species of fish to be found there. The lake’s water is warmed by the effluent from a power plant situated on the Northwestern side of the lake. That plant pulls water from the lake for cooling and the resulting warmer effluent is pumped back into the lake behind a very long dike. Many prize-winning fish have been caught in the lake, due in part to that warm water. As we walked we were able to observe the flight of about a dozen red-tail hawks which were taking advantage of the windy conditions to soar almost effortlessly, following the contours of the hills and hollows. Many small birds, mostly sparrows and some small finches, were seen at close to ground level, taking advantage of shelter from the wind in heavy grass and reed growth. Those small birds would wait until we were almost on top of them and then fly out, close to the ground, to another point of shelter. While we saw many deer tracks in muddy spots, the deer never showed themselves. We did see some water birds, especially in a couple of small pools in indentations of the lake shore. Among them were two coots which paddled about quite calmly. Coots, while they look much like ducks, are of another bird family entirely. They are entirely black, and have white bills. Their feet are not webbed like a duck, having retractable scales on their feet instead of webs. They are unusual in another respect, too, in building a floating nest on which to lay and hatch their eggs. Sooner Lake is fed by waters from Red Rock Creek, and contrary to the conditions found at most of the other lakes in this Western part of Oklahoma, is almost full. The lakes out here are now at extremely low levels, due to the extended drought conditions. The boundary path around Sooner Lake which we chose to venture on gave us a very enjoyable chance for exercise and observation. Nearing the parking area, we were thrilled to hear the melodious sounds of numerous meadowlarks inviting each other to join in a Spring fling. As we made our way home, a distance of about 150 miles, we were fortunate to see a vast flock of blackbirds searching for a place to settle in for the night. Their undulating, ribbon-like, precision flight, going first one way and then another, up and down, and seemingly almost never-ending, wingtip-to-wingtip in perfect harmony together, was a joy to watch. That lovely avian flight was witnessed against a spectacular sunset which encompassed every color of the rainbow. Fluffy cumulous clouds reflected and refracted that etheral light display across the entire horizon, pinpointed here and there by oil-wells busily pumping. All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable day. The picture of the two coots shown was taken by my husband while on a canoe trip he made in 2013 on another Okalahoma lake, Watonga Lake, at Roman Nose State Park.

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