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McCurtain County Wilderness Area

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society. This account was partially reviewed and updated in 2007.

Situated in the Kiamichi-Ouachita Mountain region of southeastern Oklahoma the McCurtain County Wilderness Area is one of the last sizeable expanses of old growth oak-pine forest in the state. It was originally set aside as a wildlife sanctuary by an act of the Oklahoma Legislature in 1918. These 14,087 acres made up the first large tract of land assigned to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Wilderness Area terrain is characterized by a series of steep and narrow wooded ridges. Elevations vary from about 575 feet above sea level at Broken Bow Reservoir to 1,363 feet on Pine Mountain. Within the wettest region of Oklahoma, annual rainfall averages 47.5 inches. Temperatures range from an average high of 93 degrees F in July to an average low of 28F in January.

Most of the wilderness area is heavily forested. In the uplands, shortleaf pine, hickories, post and black-jack oak compose the dominant overstory vegetation. Sugar and red maple, blue beech, sweet gum, red, and white oak are prevalent trees on the lower slopes. Dogwood and redbud are also common trees and produce a brilliant floral display in early spring. Shrub layer vegetation includes sumac, huckleberry, elderberry, beautyberry, hawthorn, buckbrush, and others.

At least 110 bird species have been recorded within the wilderness area boundaries. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a federally endangered species, has its last toehold in Oklahoma within this wilderness area. Here the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is on the northwest extreme of its present continental range. Other species indigenous to southeastern Oklahoma and found as year-round residents in the preserve are the Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler. Pileated Woodpeckers are incredibly common. Resident Wild Turkey, Wood Duck, and Red-shouldered Hawk can also be encountered regularly. As many warbler species as can be found anywhere in Oklahoma migrate through the Wilderness Area with at least fifteen species verified as nesting here. These include Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

The Wilderness Area is located 25 miles north of Broken Bow and 8 miles east of US 259. A billboard-sized Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation sign is evident from the highway, marking the turn-off to the east. After turning, smaller directional signs lead the way 8 miles over graded roads to the west entrance of the wilderness area. A small parking lot is situated within a quarter-mile past the west entrance. Visitors may park here and hike the mile-long nature trail which is open all year. The trail winds through upland and bottomland forest down to Panther Branch and Waterthrush Creek. These drainages shortly flow into Broken Bow Reservoir, creating an ecotone of several habitats and hotspots for finding birds characteristic of each habitat type.

Across Broken Bow Reservoir to the east lies the main body of the wilderness area. It is a rugged land with only a few primitive access roads. For excursions into this part of the preserve, arrangements must be made by writing McCurtain County Wilderness Area Manager, P.O. Box 12, Bethel, Oklahoma 74724 or calling (405) 241-5272. Special arrangements may also be made by writing the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1901 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, Okla. 73105.

Ticks are abundant in southeastern Oklahoma which unfortunately includes the wilderness area except in winter after periods of frost. Chiggers and poisonous snakes are also out during the warm season; therefore, special precautions should be taken before leaving the roadway.

The best opportunity for finding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers lies within the rugged area east of Broken Bow Reservoir. There is absolutely no guarantee for observing one, even there, however. If one is fortunate enough to encounter a Red-cockaded, all needless disturbance to the bird should be avoided.

Although overnight camping is not permitted in the wilderness area, well developed camping facilities are available at nearby Beaver's Bend and Hochatown State Parks. Motels, restaurants, gas and grocery stores are located in Broken Bow, population 3,965.

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Last modified: September 21, 2009




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