Now that the holidays have passed, it's time to put those gifts we received to good use.
Our electronic and digital devices can offer virtual reality on a small screen, but there is not a handheld gadget that provides the fresh air and sunshine that rejuvenates our souls like the actual image. Instead of a telephone or tablet, break out the binoculars, charge the camera batteries, slip on comfortable hiking boots and make your way to an Oklahoma State Park, where angry orange birds and snickering green pigs do not exist.
One of the most popular wildlife attractions this time of year are real birds such as bald eagles and waterfowl that make Oklahoma's lakes and rivers their wintertime destination. Several state parks and wildlife refuges host eagle watches where guests can view the majestic birds up close.
Partnering with the nearby Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge at Vian, Tenkiller Park naturalist Leann Bunn goes an extra step to ensure guests get a peek at the winged wonders.
“Before the tour begins, we observe a pair of eagles via a webcam that is placed above their nest within the refuge,” she explains, “then we discuss the natural history of the southern bald eagles. Along with eagle sightings, we observe other animal species that live within the refuge.”
After the morning tour through the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, loon watches are offered in the afternoon at Tenkiller State Park.
At Lake Thunderbird State Park near Norman, the eagle watch begins at the Discovery Cove Nature Center with an informational program that includes photographs and articles on display.
“Our program will share the unique history about the life of a bald eagle, an account of their near extinction in much of the United States and their subsequent re-establishment,” said naturalist Kathy Furneaux. “We also talk about ways to recognize bald eagles and distinguish them from other large birds.”
Participants travel by car to several sites where eagles are likely to be seen perched or in flight. Other birds may include great blue and green herons, gulls, coots, Canada geese and occasionally an osprey or a flock of white pelicans.
Other Oklahoma State Parks hosting eagle watches include Greenleaf State Park near Braggs, and Sequoyah State Park near Wagoner.
Established in 1930 as a breeding ground and feeding area for migratory birds, the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge near Jet lists more than 300 species that have been observed there since it opened.
In the cold months bald eagles and sandhill cranes are two of the most sought after species for watching. Birders are also treated to the large numbers of ducks, geese and wild turkey at the refuge. You can enjoy a tour from the warmth of your car on the 2.5 mile-long Harold F. Miller Auto Tour that runs along ponds and fields where other wildlife is common. The refuge is adjacent to the Great Salt Plains State Park, where relaxing in a comfortable cabin is a great way to end a busy day at the refuge.
Winter wildlife watching doesn't always mean you have to seek a particular species. Nature trails at most state parks provide the average watcher with a variety of furry and feathered friends to discover. During the early evening hours, whitetail deer can be seen foraging for food in the forest and brush. Songbirds, raccoon, opossum, wild turkey and armadillos are among the other species that make the state parks their home.
For information and dates for the eagle watches visit the Oklahoma State Park page and event listings on TravelOK.com.
Keli Clark is marketing coordinator for Oklahoma State Parks.