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Oxley Nature Center/Mohawk Park

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

Mohawk Park

Bonded in 1927 as a nature park, the 2,800-acre park has long been noted for its bird life. Large areas of the park are in a natural state, with woods, streams, lakes, and some grassy fields. Park improvements have somewhat diminished the natural character of some sections, but extensive areas remain to attract the birder. Many of the better locations for finding birds are within the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center.

The main entrance to Mohawk Park is 2.5 miles east of US 75 on 36 St. N (Port Road). There is a $1.00 per car entrance fee on weekends and holidays from April through November after 9:00 a.m. This fee is waived for Friends of the Nature Center or for Tulsa Zoo Friends. On weekdays and winter weekends there is no fee.

Lake Yahola

In the western edge of Mohawk Park, Lake Yahola is the traditional starting point for birders going to the park or to other areas in northern Tulsa County. The lake is on Mohawk Boulevard 0.5 mile east of Harvard or 0.5 mile west of Winston. To reach Yahola from I 244, travel 3.5 miles north on US 75 and exit on 36 St. N. Turn left and proceed east to the traffic light on Harvard, then left again to Mohawk Boulevard. Follow the Boulevard right to the parking lot south of the lake, opposite the water treatment plant. To reach Yahola from the Nature Center, bear right at the first intersection; follow the road as it curves left, and turn right at the stop sign. The latter route is not open at all times.

In early mornings and at dusk thousands of Chimney Swifts are seen entering and leaving the tall smoke stack from April through October. Walk up the steps from the parking lot to the Monument and scan the lake. During winter and in migration the lake may have every possible Oklahoma duck; three goose species and rarely Ross's Goose; Horned, Eared, and Western grebes; White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant (abundant). Common Loons sometimes winter, and White-winged and Surf scoters have been recorded irregularly from October through February. The Long-tailed Duck has been recorded from December through mid-March in severe winters with ice on the lake, at which times Bald Eagles may also stop in trees.

Sabine's, Glaucous, Laughing, and Thayer's gulls, although rare, have sparked the interest in finding the unusual in October. Rafts of Franklin's Gulls join Ring-billed and Herring gulls in October and Bonaparte's may stay through November. Early fall is the season to find Forster's, Caspian, and Black terns on the lake. If the water level is down, exposing gravel bars, look for Water Pipits, Ruddy Turn­stones, Snowy, Piping, and Semipalmated plovers. The lake edge may have Willets and Avocets. Early morning, before fishermen arrive, and late afternoon are best times for observing birds.

Trees at the Monument may have warblers in May; trees and brush on the left, additional passerines. Other points where one may view the lake include the smaller parking lot to the east and the road leading to the North Woods. After leaving the lake, check the swampy area 0.3 mile east, stopping well off the road. Scanning from the road edge occasion­ally produces Black Duck and Osprey. Both Pileated and Red-headed wood­peckers have nested in the snags. Listen for Bell's Vireo in brushy edges in summer.

GPS coordinates of the Lake Yahola Monument are N 36 degrees 12.940', W 095 52.085, 628 feet elevation.

The North Woods

To reach the parking area for the North Woods Unit of the Nature Center, continue east to the stop sign (Winston). Turn left and proceed north to the graveled road, following the road around the lake to the end.

From the Oxley Nature Center in the eastern section of the park, continue west to Lake Yahola and turn into the graveled road on the right after crossing the bridge, or from the south, go north on Winston from 36 St. N. [NOTE: On weekends and holidays, April through November, the road north of the North Woods entrance road is closed, necessitating the use of the main Park entrance, 0.3 mile east of Sheridan on Port Road (36 St. N).]

The North Woods is a mature oak-hickory woods with excellent birding the year round. In spring it holds scores of migrating warblers and other species. Several ponds provide habitat for water birds including both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Herons, and there have been two reports of Anhinga. Several trails are available. North Woods Trail, beginning at the parking lot, leads north between two ponds. This is fine warbler habitat in early to mid-May, producing the rare Connecti­cut and Hooded warblers; four Empidonax flycatchers sing on location, and in winter Ruby-crowned Kinglets forage with pairs of Golden-crowned. The uncommon Yellow-throated Vireo arrives in April and has nested.

The trail leads to the north shore of Mallard Lake, continuing left onto Beaver Lodge Trail or right to connect with the North Woods Loop. Both are good birding areas. Numbers of Woodcock have been seen along the south shore of Mallard Lake in September. The use of a scope is advised. The swampy areas or pond sides with standing timber are usual­ly full of nesting Prothonotary Warblers. Northern Parula and Kentucky warblers nest as do White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos. In spring be alert for the song of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Check dead stubs in tree tops both spring and fall for Olive-sided Flycatchers. Barred Owl and Pileated Woodpecker are permanent residents. In winter, sparrows and juncos are abundant in grassy clearings, and Winter Wren, Evening Gros­beak and Purple Finch are possible.

The Sierra Club Trail is found by walking east from the parking lot along the small dike east of Yahola. Look over ponds to the right and wet areas to the left. In mid-May the Philadelphia Vireo and the Canada Warbler (uncommon) have come to buttonbush and small trees that fringe the pond. In about 200 yards the trail heads down steps to the left. In a newly opened area which has not been birded extensively, the trail could become one of the better birding spots. On returning to the road, look below the dike for Rufous-sided Towhee and Fox Sparrow in winter. In spring the trees, brush, and edges of both pond and road attract Black-and-white, Swainson's, Magnolia, Black­throated Green, and Palm warblers, plus a dozen more common warbler species. In winter Savannah Sparrow and occasionally a Le Conte's Sparrow are found in grass along the big dike. Search for Sedge Wrens here in March and April.

Mary K. Oxley Nature Center/
Oxley-Yetter Interpretive Building

The Mary K. Oxley Nature Center is the birding hub of Mohawk Park. To reach the Nature Center, pass the toll booth and take every left turn to a large sign indicating "Mary K. Oxley Nature Center". Turn right at the sign and follow the road east to the parking lot by the Interpretive Building.

GPS coordinates of the Oxley nature Parking lot. N. 36 degrees 13.418' W. 095 54.235' 573 Elevation.

Located in the northeastern section of the park, the Center embraces a wooded lake which holds two sizeable islands, a marsh with boardwalk, wet prairie, dry grass fields, and hardwood groves with scattered cedar, small streams often dammed by beaver, and Bird Creek which batters its way across the county to the Kerr-McClelland Waterway.

The area immediately surrounding the parking lot is a good place to begin birding. The ponds, fields, and groves of trees offer diverse communities to explore. Three trails are accessible from this location, as is the grassy clearing known as the Flowline. Summer birds to find here are Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, orioles, six woodpecker species, four Tyrant flycatchers including Scissor-tailed, herons, egrets, Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, hummingbirds, and a few warblers. The wooded area behind the building has had nesting Kentucky Warblers, the Acadian Flycatcher which nests, and perhaps the Willow Flycatcher. Appropriate areas should be checked for Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Dickcissel. Owls are sometimes found in the woods or in cedar trees to the west. Woodcock are possible nearby. The pond near the building is a good place for birds of the season and has even attracted a White-faced Ibis. Winter sparrows coming to feeders are White­throated, Lincoln's, American Tree, Harris's, Goldfinch and Pine Siskin. In the meadow below the boardwalk are Fox and Song sparrows. Eastern Phoebe builds its nest under the boardwalk.

Your visit should include hiking at least one of the trails that allow access to the forests, fields, and wetlands of the Nature Center. The trails may be hiked seven days a week, year-round. The trails are closed to the public during Mohawk Park's curfew hours: 9:00 pm. to 5:00 a.m. You may park outside the gates from 6:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. to walk the trails even when the gates are closed.

The trail system is comprised of many individual loops and stretches of trail linked together. The main part of the trail system centers around the Interpretive Building. Click here for a trail map. A second set of trails, the North Woods Unit, may be found northwest of Mohawk Park's Golf Course and northeast of Lake Yahola. Click here for a North Woods trail map

There are nearly nine miles of trails. Most of them are flat and fairly smooth. Wheelchairs and strollers may be taken down many of the trails unless rain has made the dirt or grass surfaces too soft or muddy. The trails are not set up for horses or bicycles or vehicles of any kind. Following is a brief description of some of the trails.

The Red Fox Trail (0.3 mile) is a wheelchair accessible trail.

The Green Dragon Trail (0.5 mile) wanders through the deep woods and along Coal Creek.


The Blue Heron Trail (0.3 mile) has bird blinds overlooking Lake Sherry.

The Prairie Trail (0.4 mile) winds among the various prairie plants and wildlife trails of the old field area.



Wildlife Study Area

This peninsula is accessible by foot from the Nature Center parking lot. Walk along the entrance road to a pass-through in the wood fence on the right and follow the path across the old road to pick up the path again. Listen for Yellow-breasted Chat in low trees and scrub east of the lane and follow the thin warbling song of the Painted Bunting which has nested nearby. The path parallels the creek for a way, with grass and weedy habitat on the right. Excellent numbers of winter sparrows, including Harris's, Lincoln's and Song are found here.

Near the treeline ahead, watch for a path to the left which enters the woods. Be alert for Barred Owl and Pileated Woodpecker which are fairly regular here. In winter watch for Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nut­hatch, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Where trail and creek curve to the right, there are frequently Wood Ducks, and in winter hundreds of water­fowl rest along the bend. In spring listen overhead for Yellow-throated Warbler and under the canopy for Northern Parula. Both kinglets are here in winter and Acadian Flycatchers in summer. The trail continues through the woods and eventually emerges on the original path which turns right toward the Nature Center. Other birds frequenting the area include Indigo Bunting, Summer Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, several buteo species and occasional warblers. Both Prairie and Peregrine falcons have been seen overhead.

Blackbird Marsh

Blackbird Marsh and Lake Sherry is a short walk from the center via a bridge across Coal Creek. To drive from the Center, take every left turn through the park to the stone shelter on the left (1.9). Park in the circle drive and follow the creek downstream to the right. Good birding is found on this walk at any season. White-crowned Spar­rows (uncommon) with many immatures are frequently found in fall, with Fox and Harris's sparrows, Rufous-sided Towhees, and Brown Thrashers. Cross the cable barrier and immediately check the marsh on the right. Scopes are needed and in summer may reveal Green-backed Herons, many egrets of several species, and with luck, American and Least bitterns. After a preliminary survey, continue to the start of the boardwalk.

The three acre marsh is man-made but has attracted a wide variety of birds, including several rarities. In spring be alert for warblers, especially Common Yellowthroat. Look and listen for Sedge and Marsh wrens, Sora, Virginia Rail, or even Common Moorhen. From mid-summer when migration begins, a parade of shorebirds will continue into October if the water level is down. In winter migrating waterfowl are sometimes abundant, and the edges are excellent for various finches and sparrows, including Swamp Sparrow. One recent year an Ani species was found here.

The boardwalk continues through the marsh and gives good access to hidden areas. The end of the walk is at the south end of Lake Sherry near the new observation tower. The lake should be scanned for waterfowl; in dry summers exposed mud flats may host many waders. The tower gives excellent views of both the lake and the marsh, a place to pause awhile before returning to the car.

Lake Sherry

There are several ways to reach this 70-acre lake. Walk three-fourths mile from the Nature Center, or drive through the park to the east end of the lake, turning left at every opportunity for approximately 3.5 miles where the road ends. This is a vantage point to scope the lake if waterfowl are present. Many ducks come to the lake in early winter; Hooded Mergan­sers occur regularly. Check cormorants (spring) and gulls (winter) for the occasional rarity. Franklin's and Bonaparte's gulls pass through as do Forster's and Black terns. In summer several species of swallow feed over the lake. Next cross through the rail fence and walk the old road on the north shore. In winter this is the place to check for waterfowl. Scoters and Oldsquaws have been recorded several times. In spring the trees will have Northern and Orchard orioles; Warbling Vireos nest in the taller trees. Common Yellowthroats nest in tangles of shrubby growth across the stream north of the path. A variety of thrushes may be found in early spring. In summer and early fall egrets and herons congregate, and night-herons are possible. Shorebirds usually find exposed mud flats at the west end of the lake. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks are frequent, and Sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawks are a possibility in fall and winter.

Many maps show this lake with the name "Recreation Lake." However, over 20 years ago the lake was renamed in honor of Dick Sherry, who was instrumental in the founding of the Center. Not all the map makers have yet gotten the word!

Sanctuary Woods

To reach Sanctuary Woods from the Nature Center, turn left at the first intersection (0.4) and left again (1.0) into the circle drive. Always lock cars with valuables out of sight when parking. Before entering through the split rail fence, pause to check for possible Mississippi Kites from late April to September. They nested here in 1984. The area near the gate is called Thrush Gate by local birders as the first report in Oklahoma of Varied Thrush was from this spot. Veery, Hermit (winter), Swainson's (common), and Gray-cheeked thrush are possible in spring.

The short path through the woods has traditionally been an excellent bird­ing area. Pairs of Red-breasted Nuthatch have been called up near the fence in winter, and the Kentucky Warbler usually nests in deep woods in summer. The White-eyed Vireo nests in shrubby areas, and in damp spots off the trail either of the waterthrushes and the Ovenbird may turn up in migration. The trail opens on the north into a long grassy clearing called the Flowline. Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak are common in summer, and Broad-winged Hawk has nested in the tall trees. If kites are around, they may hunt over the Flowline. Barred Owls call from here in the evenings and must nest nearby. When returning through the woods to the car, find a spot to sit quietly and listen. (Watch the poison ivy.) In mid-May, with as many as 15 warbler species migrating through, the sound can be unforgettable.

The East Road and Phoebe Bridge

The park road technically called Cherokee Drive is better known to the birders as the East Road or Phoebe Bridge Road. This is the first road to the right after the toll booth at the park entrance. To drive from the Nature Center, proceed as for Blackbird Marsh past the circle drive to the next intersection, which is mid-way along the road described below. This area may be birded while driving or on foot. Road-side trees and brush hold many species, and there are several equestrian trails to walk with good opportunities to find birds.

Much of this section is wet in spring and attracts Wood Ducks, Yellow­crowned Night-Herons and Little Blue Herons. The small bridge on the road is usually among the first spots each year to have Eastern Phoebe. The woods near the bridge may have both Barred and Great Horned owls. Check the trail east of the bridge and big trees near the roadside. Past the bridge (0.2) is another wet spot which can be interesting as Red-shouldered Hawks have nested in nearby trees. Farther east and. north along the road near the intersection from the left is a large, grassy soccer field where large 'flocks of Brewer's Blackbirds have come in early winter and in spring, Bobolinks. Frequently the field may be covered with Killdeer or Robins. Eastern Bluebirds nest, perhaps in open ends of the soccer goal pipe as well as natural wood cavities. At the intersection, bear right and continue to Sherry Lake or left to the stone shelter, called the Boathouse.




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Copyright © 2009 Tulsa Audubon Society
Last modified: September 21, 2009




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