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River Parks/Arkansas River

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

Interior Least Terns

The section of the Arkansas River between 11th and 91st Street in Tulsa provides sandbars and barren beaches of gravel and sand used by the Interior Least Tern as nesting habitat. The terns arrive mid-May and depart in late August - early September. The Least Terns may be seen on the sandbars in the river in summer months. They have returned each year since 1981 when there were 16 scrapes and 32 young hatched. Monitoring of nesting sites is conducted by volunteers with the Tulsa Audubon Society who also work closely with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to limit public access to the nesting areas.

The Terns nest on the river on Zink Island at 15th Street. Good observation points are at 15th St., 31st St. and south of 81st St.

Fred Pianalto

Fred Pianalto, 1927 - 1996, was one of the first people to discover the Terns utilizing the river, and spent many years observing and protecting them.

Despite debilitating arthritis, Fred, who had special permission, would drive his pickup along the bike trail and set up his scope to watch over the birds. Over the years he became a fixture at Riverparks, and became one of Tulsa Audubon's greatest ambassadors to the Public. Thousands of people learned about the Terns and other wildlife along the river from Fred.

Click here for a tribute to Fred

River Parks extends from 11 St. South to 101 St. South between Riverside Drive and the Arkansas River on the east bank, and along the west bank from 21 St. to 41 St. S. There are parking areas provided on the east side at Galveston St., 31 St., 41 St., and 51 St. Parking west of the river is located at 21 St. A jogging and bicycle path begins at 11 St. and follows the river to 56 St. S. For additional information visit the River Parks web site.

Walk the river bank south of 11 St. There are large cottonwood, elm, oak, willow, and mulberry trees with heavy underbrush along the river. In winter White-crowned and White-throated sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are numerous. The Purple Finch and American Goldfinch are also common. The Clay-colored Sparrow has been found during spring migration, a time when many warblers gather here including Parula, Yellow, Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Wilson's. Ducks can be observed on the rocky reefs in the river in winter and spring and shorebirds are regular visitors in migration.

The man-made Zink Island, in Zink Lake, the impoundment formed by the low water Zink Dam, is used by the endangered Interior Least Tern for nesting. The island may be observed from the River Parks area near 15th Street, which features a bench dedicated to the late Fred Pianalto, a Tulsa Audubon member who first publicized the Least Terns on the River and was known as the "Birdman of Riverparks".

At 19 St. park on the west side of Riverside Drive and walk south. Bell's Vireo has nested here in the underbrush. Thrushes are here in migration and the Bobwhite is a resident.

The parking area at 31 St. is located on the east side of Riverside Drive. A pedestrian bridge allows access to the west bank of the river as well as the east bank. A jogging and bicycle path also goes east along the abandoned railroad right-of-way. (See Midland Valley Trail)

The 41 St. parking is on the west side of Riverside Drive south of the 41 St. intersection. Bald Eagles are often seen along the river, and in 2007 one was nesting on the west bank directly across form the 41 St. parking lot. White Pelicans stop over in migration; Cormorants may number in the hundreds; and Osprey are occasionally seen. In the large trees in summer are Northern and Orchard orioles, Eastern and Western kingbirds, Summer Tanagers, Painted and Indigo buntings, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Warblers, Catbirds, and thrushes frequent the mulberry trees and the shrubbery along the bank. This is also a likely place to look for the Caspian, Black, and Forster's terns in late spring and early fall.

There is a good trail south to 61 St. The best birding along this five-mile mile trail is found during the morning hours.

Click anywhere on map or here for an

interactive map from the River Parks web site


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




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