For the Birds Radio Program: Birding along I-35
Laura drove down to Oklahoma, enjoying birds all along the way.
I just spent a week down in Oklahoma. It was easy to get there since I live a couple of miles from the northern end of I-35, so I just got on the freeway and drove. Freeway birding makes a long drive much more pleasant and interesting, especially if you’re driving all alone. Before I got out of Duluth, I had my car list up to 10: pigeons, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, crows, grackles, starlings, House Sparrows, and other such fare. I left home during afternoon rush hour, when concentrating on birds can be dangerous. Even at my preferred speed of 55, it’s hard to hear much with the window open. But I still managed to spot both a Pileated and Red-headed Woodpecker flying overhead, a kettle of migrating Broad-winged Hawks, and a couple of Red-tails. On the way down to the Twin Cities, I always watch for bluebirds sitting on the nest boxes along the highway’s Bluebird Trail—sure enough, I got two for the list. And the marshes near the Twin Cities usually have Great Egrets spearfishing.
I make it a practice to stop at every rest stop when I’m alone—it makes the driving easier and adds birds to the trip list. There’s a great rest stop at New Market, Minnesota. I didn’t even turn off the engine before I had male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and goldfinches sitting in a feeder right next to the parking lot. An oriole and a few warblers moving in a loose flock rewarded my walk along the rest area’s nature trail.
Once I reached Iowa, I saw a couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons, but by then, it was growing dark so I stopped for the night in Clear Lake.
The next morning, as I pressed southward, the birds started changing. I had my first Bobwhite in Iowa, and saw several more in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. A flight of nighthawks passed over the road in Kansas—perhaps they were on their way up here. Cardinals and mockingbirds sang at most of the rest stops, proof that I was truly out of the northland. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice also graced rest areas once I reached Missouri.
I keep lists of the birds I see in every state and province I’ve been in. I’d only been in Missouri and Kansas once before, on Christmas Day 1978, so those state lists grew by leaps and bounds. And my Zeiss list grew apace. I started keeping that list the day I got my new binoculars in September 1989. There’s lots of technical and sensible reasons, or excuses, to blow a family’s entire discretionary income on expensive Zeiss binoculars, but I must confess that what sold me on Zeiss over Bausch and Lomb or Leitz was that I planned to mark off every species I saw through them with a big red Z. My checklist now has 350 marks of Zorro thanks to that trip.
Throughout the hundreds of miles I traveled, I was eagerly anticipating seeing the Oklahoma state bird. Of all the birds in the world, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has to be the most beautiful of all. I got a glimpse of my first one at the 155-mile marker in Kansas, and had an even dozen by the time I reached Oklahoma. The first rest stop in Oklahoma was the big pay-off. There was a little sewage holding pond in the back, surrounded by barbed wire on which sat a scissor-tail. He fluttered up time and time again, catching moths in mid-air and returning to his perch to eat them. Every time he opened his wings, I marveled anew at the rich salmon pink underlinings. His pearl-gray breast was set off to perfection by delicate pink sides, and his incredibly long tail streamers flared out every time he flew.
Expressways may not be the most productive birding places in the world, but you’d be surprised at the treasures that are there.