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Copan Lake
Washington County

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society. This account has not been reviewed or updated to ensure accuracy.

Copan Lake, an impoundment of the Little Caney River, lies north of Bartlesville and just west of the town of Copan in northern Washington County. Spillway gates of this new lake were closed officially April 1, 1983. Recreational areas at this time are unfinished and some roads are off limits to vehicles, but all areas are open to foot traffic. Some form of hunting is allowed in most areas so be aware of hunting seasons.

Most visitors to the lake will drive to the town of Copan on US 75 and turn west on SH 10 to the lake. Travelers coming from the northwest should take SH 10 from SH 99 in Osage County and drive 22 miles east, crossing Hulah Lake Dam to Copan Lake. For areas on the east side of Copan Lake, take SH 10 west 0.8 mile from US 75 and turn right (north) on a graveled road. In 0.5 mile the road will intersect the former SH 10; go west about 0.5 mile. On the left is a paved road to the swimming area and boat ramp and ahead will be a barricade with the lake beyond. If the water is not up, the remnant of old road beyond the barricade is worth the walk. The graveled road to the right behind the barricade leads to a pump station and provides a mile of good birding. Look for native sparrows in winter; migrating warblers in spring; Bell's Vireo, Field Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Brown Thrasher, Blue Grosbeak and others in summer. The Wild Turkey and Eastern Screech-Owl are possibilities.

Return to the north-south road; drive north about 1 mile and turn left into Washington Cove. There are campsites for self-contained vehicles and a boat ramp. Shallow water areas north of the campsites attract ducks in migration. Section-line roads which intersect US 75 in Washington County have been numbered, starting with Road 1 near the Kansas line and are marked with green street signs, usually fastened to a traffic sign. Coming from the north on US 75, one may reach Washington Cove by taking Road 7 west 1 mile, then south 0.6 mile.

North from Washington Cove about 1.5 miles, the road ends at a locked gate. This is a wildlife management area, open to hunting in season. Before arriving at the gate, notice a road curving right. This leads to a model airplane park. The road is about 0.5 mile long. If the park is not in use, skirt the neat runway and go to the abandoned railway bed on the east. This is an excellent elevated walkway from which to see birds and flowers. Go over, under, or around the gate in the management area and walk an old road to the right or other roads to the lake edge. Dense woods, now drowning, prevent easy observation of the lake at this time, but the area will probably be good for waders in the future. The road to the right meanders through excellent habitat to the old railway bed. Possible bird species are Barred Owl, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, woodpeckers, flycatchers, Bell's and White-eyed vireos, Indigo and Painted buntings, Blue Grosbeak, and Common Yellowthroat.

Go back on the north-south road to SH 10 and turn west to the dam. Notice the field of wild flowers west of the headquarters building. Once across the spillway, turn left and go below the dam. With scope in hand, walk out on the dike bordering the channel. From this vantage point, one can observe the mud flats in the channel and the privately owned natural pond known as Young's Lake. This small lake has dried up twice in the past fifteen years but it usually contains a sheet of shallow water about "belly high" on a Great Blue Heron. Great Blues can number fifty or more in summer. Ocher visitors to this watery habitat have been White Pelicans, Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Great and Snowy egrets, Little Blue Herons, American Bitterns, an occasional Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, a flock of Black-crowned Night-Herons one fall, ducks, Bald Eagle, Osprey, plovers and sandpipers. One or two Harlan's (Red-tailed) Hawks winter regularly. The spillway structure is home to House Sparrows, Starlings, and Rock Doves. Rough-winged Swallows and sometimes Barn and Cliff swallows are present. Bank and Tree swallows have been reported.

From the dike return to SH 10. As it curves northward there is an overlook on the right. This is best in the afternoon with the sun to the observer's back. About 1 mile north of the overlook is the entrance to Post Oak Park. Park the car along the circle drive and walk the woods for small birds or a possible Cooper's Hawk.

Two miles farther north leave SH 10 where it turns west to Hulah Lake and continue north 1.5 miles to Osage Plains. This area of campsites and a boat ramp occupies a small wooded peninsula and the easternmost point gives a good view of shallow water favored by waterfowl. A large tree, now in the lake and accessible only by boat, contains heron nests. To the north lie the plains where buteos, Northern Harriers, and Short-eared Owls are found in the winter. The plains area is heavily used by hunters. In fall and winter the safest viewing is with a scope from the main road.

The graveled road goes north into Caney, Kansas, where one may get on US 75 east of town. To see the "A. J. B. Kirn country" return to the west end of Copan Dam and take rural roads into the area. Below the dam, instead of going to the dike, go right, then left along the west side of Young's Lake. Turn right for 0.5 mile, then left, and left again, birding all the while. This is Road 11; 2 miles ahead is the Little Caney River bridge and the area where Kirn studied and documented the birdlife prior to World War 1. US 75 is about 1.5 miles east of the bridge.

Additional Notes

I had a Marbled Godwit today at Copan Reservoir. It is either very early or very late! Hope this has nothing to do with global warming. It may have something to do with lack of moisture in the plains (or is that only happening in NE Oklahoma). Letís hope for a little rain.

I have seen interesting birds in this location over the years. There is a parking area west of highway 75 at road 0300 (almost to Kansas). Park there and across the RR tracks and follow the old road to the west. Then turn south. - Bonnie Gall, July 2006

Click here for PDF version of this map with recreation information




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Last modified: September 21, 2009




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