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Fort Gibson Lake
Wagoner & Cherokee

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society, updated in September 2007 by Jeri McMahon.

Fort Gibson Lake, located about 50 miles east of Tulsa, can best be approached on the Muskogee Turnpike, exiting on US 69 to reach the west side or on US 62 through the town of Fort Gibson to the dam site and the east side. This is one of the outstanding places in the state for a diversity of birds all year. The lake encompasses over 19,000 acres of open water. It is bordered on the east by wooded hills and creek bottoms and on the west by rolling prairie grasslands.

The best route begins north of the community of Fort Gibson on SH 80. From the corner of Mac's Drive-in it is 5 miles to the dam site. This is Canyon Road along the Grand River. The 3 former picnic areas along this road are now closed to vehicles, but birders can walk in, especially at #1 and #3. Flowers Creek is area #3, and some good migrating warblers have been seen here in the past. Area #2 is overgrown with lots of poison ivy, and is not recommended as a birding site anymore. Many species of sparrows are found along Canyon Rd. in the winter: Fox, Swamp, Lincoln's, and others. Look for Bald Eagles in winter, perched in the trees across the river.

At the dam site, many gulls may be observed in winter - Bonaparte's, Herring, Ring-billed, and occasionally Glaucous, plus eagles and both vulture species. In recent years 10 to 20 eagles have been counted along the river. In summer Cliff Swallows nest under the concrete overhang below the dam. Follow SH 80 up the hill from the dam for 2.3 miles to the Norwood Baptist Church. Turn left (north) at this corner and proceed around the east side of the lake.

Near the Ranger Creek bridge, 1.1 miles from the church corner, is excellent birding, especially in the spring. Many good migrant warblers - the Ovenbird, Redstart, Black-throated Green, Mourning, Magnolia, and Wilson's - as well as nesting warblers - the Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, Kentucky, Parula, and Prothonotary - are found here. Check here in winter for the Rufous-sided Towhee and Hermit Thrush.

Facilities at the Wildwood Public Use Area, 4.3 miles from Ranger Creek, include one camping area, plus other pull offs, for a total of 2 miles driving through each area. It is a good place to have a full view of the lake and birding is fine. At the community of Hulbert, 4.8 miles from Wildwood, turn left (west) on SH 51 toward Wagoner. The entrance to Western Hills at Sequoyah State Park is 6 miles from Hulbert. A nice nature center is found in the park. The birding is good throughout the park, and one can spend hours exploring all the different areas. No map is needed. Just check each area from the main road for birds. Pine trees are numerous, so there will be Pine Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, etc.

The SH 51 bridge over the main body of the lake and the Taylor Ferry Public Use Area (1.7) are usually excellent places to see waterfowl and gulls in winter. On a section-line road 4 miles west of Taylor Ferry (just before a cemetery) turn south and travel 1.4 miles to another section-line road. Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks and hawks come to the open grassland in winter. Rough-legged Hawk is a possibility. Turn left (east) for 0.5 mile to the Fort Gibson Wildlife Refuge sign. Turn left to the headquarters and park. The area gives an excellent view of the Snow Geese which winter here. All three mergansers frequent the lake, and Bald Eagles perch in trees along the shore. White Pelicans are here most of the time. After leaving the Refuge, return to the section line, turning left (south) for 1 mile, then left. Follow this road 1.7 miles (it automatically turns south) to another section line. Turn left (east) on blacktop road and travel 1.7 miles to the 3-Bays sign (Sequoyah, Jackson, and Wahoo). Continue east on this road for one mile to the second 3-Bays sign. Explore all three bays as all are excellent birding spots. Jackson will have Snow Geese, ducks, grebes, plus Wild Turkeys if you are lucky. Wahoo will have Common Loons and gulls.

Return to the first 3-Bays sign and turn left (south) at the crossroads. Travel 2 miles and turn left (east) on SH 251A toward Fort Gibson dam. From this corner it is 1 mile to the Mallard Bay sign. Turn left (north) and follow this road to the lake. Common Loons, ducks, and Osprey are possibilities. Return to the main road. Turn left and continue 3.1 miles on SH 251A to the overlook and nature trail near the dam headquarters. From the west side of the dam, stop at the campground where birding is good if there are not too many campers. There may be Bald Eagles in trees along the river in fall and winter. Cross to the east end of the dam to conclude the trip.

Ornithologically, Fort Gibson Lake is truly the place in Oklahoma where east meets west. During spring migration virtually all of the passerines, including some 30 warblers which use the Central Flyway, can be looked for in the wooded hills and creek bottoms which border the lake's east side. Conversely, just across the lake to the west, a prairie habitat prevails and there is a western flavor evident in the avifauna. When possible it is preferable to work from the dam up the east side along SH 80 during the morning hours and on the west side in the afternoon, thereby keeping the sun at the observer's back and greatly improving visibility on the lake.


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