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Optima National Wildlife Refuge

Texas County

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From Optima NWR material and by Larry Mays, from a posting to OKBirds

Located in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle, the 4,333-acre Optima National Wildlife Refuge is made up of grasslands and wooded bottomland on the Coldwater Creek arm of the Army Corps of Engineers Optima Reservoir Project.

The panhandle area of Oklahoma is often referred to as "No Man's Land" because it was the last wild west frontier, making it a favorite location for outlaws. Homesteaders began settling in the panhandle in the mid 1880s and called the area Cimarron Territory. One of the earliest towns in the territory was Hardesty, founded in 1885. It was located about three and a half miles northeast of the present town of Hardesty. "Old" Hardesty was relocated in 1901. That same year, the railroad tracks were extended from Liberal, Kansas, to Texas and the town of Guymon was founded. Guymon grew steadily as did the other towns that sprang up in the area of the present-day refuge.

Optima NWR is located in the central mixed-grass prairie. The bottomland habitat is dominated by mature cottonwood and tallgrass prairie species such as big bluestem, little bluestem and Iindian grass. Shortgrass prairie species such as buffalo grass, blue gramma, sandsage, and yucca are found at the higher elevations. This area offers a home to many species of native wildlife, and provides for a variety of wildlife dependent recreational opportunities.

Optima Dam was completed in 1978 but the impoundment never reached expected levels. To date, the lake has never filled enough to flood any of the Refuge lands. The intended purpose of the Refuge was to provide migration and wintering habitat for the shortgrass prairie population of Canada geese and the high plains population of mallards, but the lack of water has reduced the potential for waterfowl management. The Refuge does, however, provide an island of prime habitat for resident species such as white-tailed deer, coyotes, Rio Grande turkeys, quail, and many others. Because of its important habitats, Optima is a migratory stopover and summer home to many species of songbirds and raptors.

Raptors are common year-round. During the spring and summer months, common species include Turkey Vulture, Mississippi Kite, American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Swainson's Hawk. Species common in the fall and winter months are Bald and Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Ferruginous Hawk. Resident game birds include the Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Bobwhite Quail, and Scaled Quail.

A variety of mammals are also found on the Refuge including white-tailed and mule deer, bobcat, coyote, beaver, porcupine, black-tailed jackrabbit, badger, raccoon, and striped skunk. Reptiles include the prairie rattlesnake and the Texas horned lizard, commonly called the horned toad.

Following is excerpted from an OKBirds posting by Larry Mays:

Optima can also provide some fantastic birding. Earlier in the year there was a pair of Harris's Hawks reported just northeast of the lake.   One of the ways to get down to the water is to take the road that leads north from the wide overflow/spillway at the south end of the dam. Unless the scant rain has washed the road out, you can get down quite close to the lake.   Another way is to find the boat ramp near the parking lot off the first left as you come in from Hardesty. You take a left, then the next left, then the first right, and wind down to the ramp. People drive down the ramp and follow a two rut road about a mile or so toward the east. You can then walk along there and get to some interesting wetland areas at the west side of the main body of water. I've done it in my two wheel drive Chrysler van, but do be cautious. Lonely out there. I've found nesting Harriers in that area. 

In winter, Long-eared Owls have been regular in the junipers along the campgrounds in that area as well. You can usually stir up a Barn Owl, too.  

You have been to the campground below the dam. That's where you found the rickety bridge over the canal with the nature trail. There in the early morning and late evening you can usually find Poorwill, though it may be a tad early. We had a Lewis's Woodpecker there two years back.  

At Hooker point on the north end of the dam (first access left after crossing the dam proper) you can find a prairie dog town that may have burrowing owls (again, slightly early).  

Another thing I like to do is to take the dirt road which you can access just north of the Beaver River off of SH 94 (about 3 miles N of the junction with SH 3). That road goes on forever, and takes you near a lot of the big cottonwoods along the river. It actually can be followed through to county NS 104 on the north side of the lake from whence you can circle back across the dam, but it's a long spooky drive (I say this because when I get out there I start thinking about how godawful far I am from anywhere, and which way is the nearest living human being, and will they ever find my poor, bleached bones and...and...). But you CAN drive a mile or two just to look it over.  

Anyway, that's Optima for ya. What a boondogle!   Oh, and for Scaled Quail check around abandoned farmsteads and such anywhere in the area. Only place I've seen them in THAT area was along SH 3 about a half mile east of Hardesty. I have a BBS route that starts about 5 miles north of the lake and runs to north of Guymon about 8 or so miles. Actually, if you go out of Guymon on SH136 and go 4 miles north of the Y junction with SH3 then west on the dirt road for about two miles there is a spot at that corner where Scaled Quail are pretty common. In June it is a lovely drive with tons of wildflowers. Lovely drive unless there has been rain.  


Click here or on map for a full PDF version

Click here or on map for a full PDF version


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Last modified: September 21, 2009




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