Each summer in northern Oklahoma, many visitors are lucky enough to experience the Selman Bat Watch, where hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats soar through the dusk skies in search of insects.
The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma’s board chair, Ron Suttles, joined one of the groups on a Friday night this July. The following are images, video and commentary he collected during his visit.
Around April, 500,000 – 1,000,000 pregnant female Mexican Free Tail bats migrate north to Selman. They give birth to one pup and generally around September, the juvenile and female bats migrate south for the winter.
The first bats to emerge are the adult female bats (above). They are much larger and are more controlled flyers than the pups that emerge later.
The emergence of the adult female bats normally takes 45 minutes to one hour. Since they had a short feeding the previous night, they came out early and in more concentrated numbers. It only took about 20 minutes for the bats to emerge.
The pups took much longer to emerge, flew more erratically, and in lighter concentrations.
The area around the Selman Bat Cave is an excellent example of short/mixed grass prairie. The area burned a couple of years ago and there has been extensive clearing of salt cedar along the small stream that runs through the property. The combination has transformed the Selman area to a historically accurate condition.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation project manager for this area, Melinda Hickman, has done an amazing job of guiding the restoration, developing and overseeing the Selman Bat Cave project from its inception and shepherding the army of volunteers needed to conduct these viewings.
If you are lucky enough to be selected for a Selman Bat viewing, you will experience the premier wildlife and outdoor opportunity offered anywhere in Oklahoma.
Selman visitors should definitely come early the day of their viewing date so they can go through Alabaster Caverns. It’s cool in the caverns and well worth adding it to the day’s experience.
The tours happen every Friday and Saturday in July and each group is limited to 75 people. Keep an eye out in Spring 2018 for registration to open through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Registration forms must be submitted between May 31st and June 9, 2018.
For more information about the Selman Bat Watch, visit the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s website.
As the temperatures warm and plants bloom, we welcome a variety of insects and animals back to Oklahoma, including a number of important pollinators, like bees and butterflies. May is Wildlife Month, so it’s the perfect time to get your backyard garden in shape to help these crucial creatures thrive throughout Oklahoma.
What are pollinators?
According to the National Wildlife Federation, pollinators are animals that move from plant to plant while searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar to eat. As they go, they are dusted by pollen and move it to the next flower, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce and form seeds, berries, fruits and other plant foods that form the foundation of the food chain for other species—including humans.
Pollinators are themselves important food sources for other wildlife. Countless birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians eat the protein and fat-rich eggs, larvae, or adult forms of pollinators, or feed them to their young. Pollinators play a critical role in the food supply for wildlife and people!
Key features of a pollinator habitat
In addition to providing a natural habitat into growing urban and suburban areas, pollinator habitats and gardens bring a wider variety of species of wildlife, encouraging growth and expansion of species at risk of becoming endangered.
When choosing types of plants for your yard, always use plants that are native to your area. Learn about which plants fit well into Oklahoma’s landscape with this guide from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture by clicking here.
Here are some basic features to include in your habitat from the National Wildlife Federation:
Food: Native plants provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen and insects eaten by an exciting variety of wildlife. Feeders can supplement natural food sources.
Water: All animals need water to survive and some need it for bathing or breeding as well.
Cover: Wildlife needs places to find shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators or stalk prey.
Places to Raise Young: Wildlife needs resources to reproduce and keep their species going. Some species have totally different habitat needs in their juvenile phase than they do as adults.
Sustainable Practices: How you manage your garden can have an effect on the health of the soil, air, water and habitat for native wildlife as well as the human community.
Pollinator habitats across Oklahoma
In public spaces, such as the Tulsa and Oklahoma City Zoos, botanic gardens and city parks, you’ll find signs for monarch waystations or pollinator gardens, certifying they’ve met requirements to provide key elements to help pollinators grow, breed and thrive.
Take a tour of monarch waystations in Oklahoma by visiting MonarchWatch’s interactive Waystation Registry, which includes schools, public parks and private residences.
Certify your habitat
Thanks to our partners at the National Wildlife Federation, it’s easy to certify your habitat online. Visit their website and follow the checklist to ensure you’ve included everything to make your garden thrive for pollinators and wildlife. You’ll then receive a certificate and a sign, flag or plaque to signify your contribution to providing habitat for pollinators in your own backyard or property. May is Wildlife Month and through May 31, you can certify your habitat for 20% off!
MonarchWatch also offers a great resource for planning and registering your pollinator habitat. More than 15,000 waystations across the United States registered as of March 2017. Click here to certify your waystation and be added to the registry.
Check out the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma’s top picks for pollinator garden resources:
Winter is the prime season for bald eagle watching throughout Oklahoma. From weekend events and tours to online guides and more, it’s easy to learn the basics in spotting our country’s national bird in the Sooner State. Beginning in late November of each year, anywhere from 800-2,000 bald eagles migrate to Oklahoma from their northern breeding grounds and stay through March.
Where to find bald eagles in Oklahoma
Typically, bald eagles are found near lakes and rivers due to their preferred diet of fish, and according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the highest populations are found at the following lakes: Kaw, Keystone, Texoma, Tenkiller, Ft. Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains, Tishomingo and Spavinaw. Lake conditions change daily, which affects the number of bald eagles at each location, so call ahead to your preferred lake or state park to find out the eagle watch conditions for the day!
What to bring
First and foremost, dress for the weather! Winter days in Oklahoma can range from a comfortable 60 degrees to below zero, so check the weather conditions for the day and dress appropriately in layers and wear boots or closed-toe shoes for venturing out in nature.
A pair of binoculars or a spotting scope is ideal for spotting eagles. While you may be able to easily spot them with the naked eye, nothing beats seeing the detail of these miraculous birds!
A camera with a telephoto lens will help you capture photographs from afar.
A quiet voice! Keep noises to a minimum when viewing eagles, as many eagles will spend the energy they would normally use hunting fleeing noises from humans.
A snack and beverage will keep you sustained while searching for eagles. Plan to spend an hour or two or more to find the best spot, get settled and start spotting.
When to view
At most Oklahoma lakes, eagles are best viewed between sunrise and 11 a.m., when they are feeding along the riverbanks and lakes; however, it’s not uncommon to spot them soaring the skies throughout the afternoon on a crisp, clear day.
Bald eagles begin their journey to Oklahoma in mid-to-late-November and fly until they find unfrozen lakes and rivers, which means the populations largely depend on how cold and harsh the winter is for our northern neighbors! December, January and February are the best months to spot the winged beauty, as they begin their journey back north beginning in early March.
Inclement weather can have an impact on eagle viewing. Check the weather before heading out and again, contact your lake or state park of choice for updated information.
Upcoming eagle watching events
- Lake Thunderbird State Park, Norman: Jan. 6 and 20 and Feb. 4 and 18. Contact: 405-321-4633
- Quartz Mountain Nature Park, Altus: Jan. 7, 8, 14, 22. Contact: 580-563-2238
- Arcadia Lake, Oklahoma City: Jan. 8, 9 and 10. Contact: 405-216-7471
- Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Jet: Jan. 6, 7, 12, 14. Contact: 580-626-4794
- Sequoyah State Park, Hulbert: Jan. 14 and 28. Contact: 918-772-2108
- Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur: Jan. 21. Contact: 580-622-7234
- Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge and Tenkiller State Park, Vian: Jan. 21, 28 and Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25. Contact: 918-489-5641
- Kaw Lake, Kaw: Jan. 21. Contact: 580-762-9494
- Jenks: Jan. 28. Contact: tulsaaudubon.org
- Washita National Wildlife Refuge, Clinton: Wildlife tour Jan. 14. Contact: 580-664-2205
- Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow: Daily viewing areas. Contact: 580-494-6556
- Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge: Self-guided tours. Contact: 580-371-2402
Resources for bald eagle watching in Oklahoma:
It may have been a while since you’ve seen an influx of butterflies – especially monarch butterflies – in Oklahoma. After rough weather the last few years, plus threats on their habitat by things like climate change, pesticides and urban growth, butterflies have been making an appearance in fewer numbers. This year, they’re making a comeback and popping up across the state this summer.
Peak migration for monarchs is right around the corner: late September and early October are the best times to see butterflies. Don’t forget to report the monarchs you see in the coming weeks to Journey North via their website or app. Click here to learn more.
Check out our resources below on how to make the most of butterfly season in Oklahoma!
Where to see butterflies
Monarchs on the Mountain is a new festival celebrating Eastern Oklahoma’s role in the monarch butterfly migration. The festival takes place Sept. 24 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the pavilion area of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, 6850 S. Elwood Ave. in Tulsa.
Did you know I-35 is declared the “Monarch Highway“? The highway, which runs through several states, is along the main migratory path of monarch butterflies. In fact, earlier this summer, OKDOT opened a monarch weigh station, which includes flowers and plants that attract butterflies and encourage the growth of their habit. The transportation department mowed less this summer to protect butterflies’ favorite plants along highways. You can view the butterfly garden at the visitor center at I-35 and NE 122.
Oxley Nature Center is home to a monarch nursery and pollinator gardens a their facility in Tulsa, where each spring and summer, they plant milkweed and other favorite plants of the butterfly, raise them, educate the public and eventually release them into the wild to migrate. The center hosts monthly butterfly walks at 9:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month through October. You can also view a checklist of butterflies found in Mohawk Park for a perfect early fall activity!
Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City is home to 15-acres of indoor and outdoor habitats for insects and animals alike! View butterflies within the conservatory or explore the outdoor gardens for free, which includes a children’s garden, dog park and more. Myriad Gardens is hosting a self-guided butterfly garden tour on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Click here for more information.
Monarchs in the Park is a annual festival on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in Blanchard, which includes demonstrations, gardens art, face painting, a butterfly plant sale, free seeds and the beautiful gardens teeming with many different butterflies. The festival even includes a Parade of Butterflies at 2 p.m. and encourages participants to dress as their favorite butterfly! Visit TravelOK.com for more information about Monarchs in the Park.
The Butterfly Garden at the OKC Zoo is the largest walk-through outdoor butterfly garden in the state and includes more than 15,000 plants that attract and sustain butterflies. Located southwest of the Noble Aquatic Center, the Butterfly Garden is the perfect place to view butterflies as they migrate through Oklahoma in the coming weeks. Visit the gardens on Sept. 24 for the Monarch Festival from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.!
Honor Heights Park Butterfly House and Gardens in Muskogee is open every day April through Columbus Day. In addition to their gardens, the Butterfly House is an open-air sanctuary for native butterflies and invites visitors to get an up-close-and-personal view of butterflies throughout their life stages. Learn more by clicking here.
Plant your own butterfly garden
Check out the following tips to create a butterfly oasis in your own backyard from our partners at the National Wildlife Organization:
Pick a Sunny Spot
Monarch butterflies feed on flower nectar from plants that grow in sunny areas. Ideally your butterfly garden should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
Prepare a Planting Bed
Clear grass and weeds and gently turn compacted clay soil by adding compost to loosen and enrich the soil and improve drainage. The more area you can devote to garden beds planted with nectar and host plants, the more success at attracting monarchs you’ll have. Try for a bed that is at least ten by ten feet, or multiple smaller beds. Turning your whole landscape into wildlife gardens is the best of all.
Start by planting the seeds you receive in your Butterfly Heroes garden starter kit, then add more plants from your local garden center. Plants native to your region provide the best habitat for monarchs and all wildlife. Be sure to request plants grown without chemical pesticides.
Plant Densely and Diversely
The more native habitat plants you add, the more butterflies and other wildlife you’ll attract. Planting in clusters will make it easier for wildlife to spot the plants that you’ve put out to attract them.
When you design your garden, make sure that something is blooming in spring, summer and fall to provide food for monarchs throughout their migration and breeding seasons.
Don’t Use Pesticides
Monarchs and other butterflies are insects and insecticides will kill them, both as winged adults as well as during their caterpillar phase. Practice organic gardening and rely on birds, toads and predatory insects to control pests. No need to spray!
Learn more about the types of butterflies and the plants that attract them at NWF.org.
Have you seen monarchs in your area this season? Post your photos on our Facebook page to be featured!
The Glacier National Park Conservancy has kicked off a unique pilot program to help keep wildlife and visitors safe in Glacier National Park: Bark Rangers.
Gracie, a 2-year-old border collie, has been trained to keep wildlife away from popular tourist areas in the park and to teach visitors to keep a safe distance from animals native to the area.
From NPR.org and Montana Public Radio:
Encounters between visitors to national parks and wild animals can go awry. Sometimes, it’s the visitors who approach the animals, but just as often it’s the animals that approach the visitors.
“We did see a lot of crazy stuff up there. People getting way too close, trying to take pictures, or surrounding a goat with a kid on the outside running around crying, trying to get to mom but, you know, there’s 15 people around mom taking a picture,” says park ranger Mark Biel, Gracie’s handler. “That’s kind of unacceptable.”
Often, visitors assume if an animal is near popular areas and interacting with humans, they’re a tame animal. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Mountain goats especially have taken to congregating at a parking lot at Logan Pass — the most remote and highest point you can reach in the park by car — to lick up sweet-tasting, but poisonous, antifreeze and eat the salty snacks tourists leave behind. Biel says that’s a problem for the animals and for people.