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Sooner Lake
Noble & Pawnee Counties

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by John Dole and Jim Arterburn
From the Spring 2000 issue of The Scissortail,
newsletter of the Oklahoma Ornithologists Society
Access Instructions updated in 2010


Sooner Lake Access

In recent years, due to homeland security concerns, OG&E had restricted access to much of their property.  In 2006 Jim Arterburn worked out access arrangements with OG&E for birder’s wishing to visit Sooner Lake. Cyndie Browning currently administers This process. Following is a Cyndie's instructions on the access requirements:


Your name and home address MUST be on OG&E's approved list of birders who want to bird inside the gates/fences of the power plant. If you're not on the list, you can't get in. Period. NO exceptions.

Also, everyone in your party MUST be on the approved list AND MUST present a photo ID to get in; if anyone in your party is not on the list and does not have an approved form of photo ID (driver's license or passport; call the security gate if you have questions about using any other kind of photo ID), those people will _not_ be allowed to bird inside the fences at the plant.

If you want to be added to the approved list, send your name and home address to Cyndie Browning at vermilion_flycatcher@yahoo.com However, if you're not on the list yet, it won't do you any good to e-mail me on a Thursday or Friday that you want bird at Sooner Lake on Saturday; I need at least 3 days to get the revised list to OG&E.

Assuming that your name(s) is/are on the list, you should call the security gate before you arrive at Sooner Lake. The number is 405-553-2919. Tell the guard your name(s) and what day and time you'll be there and how many people will be in your group. Remember, everyone in your group MUST be on the list and present a photo ID at the time they arrive at the plant to bird or they will not be allowed inside the gate.

Also, your minor children are permitted to bird with you but OG&E requires the child's parent to fill out a Minor Liability Waiver Form and bring the form with you when you come to Sooner Lake. Cyndie Browning has the form and can send it to you when you send her your name and home address (see above).

The new security system "reads" your driver's license and reproduces your license photo on a pass card that you must keep with you at all times while you're birding inside the plant, and you must also show it to the guard as you leave the plant. However, you will be allowed to keep the pass card so you can bring it with you the next time you come back to bird at Sooner Lake.

If you do not plan to enter the power plant itself or to enter beyond the posted signs, but instead just plan to drive the roads outside the fences or enter those areas accessible to fishermen, you don't need to request permission to enter the property or to obtain a pass at the security gate. I have detailed below the areas that are now accessible, those that are off-limits, and the requirements for birders entering the property.

The Sooner Lake property is divided into two areas. The first is the property that is accessed by entering through the main entrance to the power plant off Hwy 177. This area basically includes the areas on the north side of the lake. After checking in at the security gate, you take the first left turn and head north past the weight station to the first paved road that turns back east. This road will take you just north of the inlet canal, south of the coal pile and under the conveyor belt to the back pond. ALL of this area is accessible. If you continue east of the back pond, you come to the dike that leads east to the dam. This area is also accessible all the way to the dam. However, there is a large gate on the north side of the dam, that is, before you get to the dam; the gate may be open or closed, but the area beyond this gate INCLUDING THE DAM IS ALWAYS OFF-LIMITS. The main area that we no longer have access to inside the power plant is the north-south causeway that's just east of the plant and was accessed by driving through the plant.

The other area of the Sooner Lake property is the rest of the property that is not accessed by entering the main entrance to the power plant. Some areas off of Hwys 177 and 15 have access points for fisherman which are open to anyone and you do not need permission to enter these areas, but no one is allowed to walk in past the No Trespassing signs.

OG&E has stepped up their security patrols and all their employees are more diligent about knowing who is on their property, so expect to be stopped from time to time and asked to show that you have permission to be on the property. Please follow these rules, as Sooner Lake is too valuable of a birding spot to lose because someone chooses not to follow the rules.

Since its construction in 1979 as a source of cooling water for the Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E) Power Plant (Sooner Power Plant, Sooner Lake has become one of Oklahoma’s premier birding hotspots. Sooner Lake is a classic  prairie reservoir which harbors abundant waterfowl and prairie birds.

Peak activity is usually in the day and early winter when regularly occurring waterfowl arrive for the winter, including Greater Scaup. Pacific Loon, Western Grebe, Tundra Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Oldsquaw, Surf and White-winged Scoter are rare but regular visitors., Even more unusual birds have been Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Black Scoter and Barrow’s Goldeneye that have shown up at least once. The large flocks if Canada Geese often include sizeable numbers of White-fronted and Snow Geese and small numbers Ross’ Geese. In migration, enormous flocks of Franklins Gulls numbering in the tens of thousands are found on the center of the Lake.

Certainly one event that may not be repeated was the discovery of all three scoter species at Sooner Lake at the same time. The very rare Black Scoter was discovered first by James Arterburn on November 22, 1996 on the Back Pond. Seven days later John Dole found one White-wing and one Surf Scoter together on a nearby pond. Arterburn, Dole and others then visited the area the next day on November 30, 1996 to see all three scoter species in the same. The birds remained in the area for several days during which time numerous people were able to observe all three species.

Sooner Lake and the surrounding area host large number of raptors. Regular winter residents include Northern Harrier, Sharp-shined Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and Short-eared Owl. Raptors that occur year-round and breed in the are include Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, ‘Fuertes’ Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl, Osprey and Swainson’s Hawk are common migrants and Mississippi Kite is a summer resident. Less common are migrating Peregrine Falcons., Even more unusual were the spectacular Snowy Owls which occurred in the prairie areas around the lake for three winters (1992-95) in a row with up to three birds located during the winter of 1993-94. Snowy Owls have not been seen in the Sooner Lake area since 1995; they should be looked for during invasion years when Snowy Owls occur in large numbers in the northern United States.

The prairies around Sooner Lake support an impressive array of grassland birds. A robust population of Smith’s Longspurs occurs from late October/early November to mid/late March during which time they can often be found flying overhead in large flocks. The other three longspur species have occurred here but are rare. A wide variety of sparrow species can be found at any time of the year with LeConte’s being occasionally common during migration and American Tree Sparrow and Harris Sparrow abundant during winter. Common summer residents include Upland Sandpiper, Scissor-tail Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissel, and Grasshopper, Field and Lark Sparrows,. Rare summer residents include nesting Henslow’s Sparrow and Greater Prairie Chicken. While the Greater Prairie Chicken can be flushed at anytime from the prairies, they are best seen when displaying on their booming grounds northwest of Sooner Lake. In December 1997, a Snow Bunting appeared for two days before leaving.

Directions: Sooner Lake is in Noble and Pawnee Counties and is equidistant between Stillwater and Ponca City. Sooner Lake is accessible form the Cimarron Turnpike (US 412). Most of the areas adjacent to the lake are owned by the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company and are open to the public with no fees. The area immediately around the Sooner Power Plant is closed to the public but is accessible with special permission; see location #2 below. The remaining areas are privately owned. Note that Hwy 15 joins Hwy 177 at two locations and this article refers only to the southernmost intersection where Hwy 15 goes east form Hwy 177 (approximately 1,5 miles north of the Cimarron Turnpike on Hwy 177). Hwy 15 also goes west from Hwy 177 and that junction is approximately 5.5 miles north of the Cimarron Turnpike on Hwy 177.

Five areas of primary importance for bird watching are:

1) The largest area is Sooner Lake itself and can be viewed from several points.

   - Hwy 177 (first mile north of Hwy 15 east of intersection

   - Hwy 15 (first three miles east of Hwy 177)

   - ‘Snowy Owl Area’ (east 3 miles on Hwy 15 from Hwy 177 and north 1.5 miles to end of road)

   - ‘Swan Area’ (east 4 miles on Hwy 15 from Hwy 177, north on dirt 2 miles and west ¼ mile to parking area)

   - East side of lake (east 4 miles east on Hwy 15 from Hwy 177 and north on dirt road from Swan Area to the dam)

2) The most interesting area for waterfowl is often Back Pond, which stays open in all but the coldest of weather. The Back Pond is insides the grounds of the Sooner Power Plant and as such access is limited to members of the Payne County and Tulsa Audubon Societies. The entrance to the plant is located on the east side of the road, approximately three miles north on Hwy 177 from the southern junction with Hwy 15., The Back Pond is on the northeast side of the plant grounds.

3) The ‘Snowy Owl Area’ is named for the Snowy Owls spotted there for three years in a row. This area provides a good vantage point to view part of Sooner Lake. Fields on the west side of the end of the road have been excellent for Smith;s Longspurs. The area west of the road is accessible by foot. Note that the area to the east of the road is private land and should be respected. This area of the lake is also good for Pacific Loon and Western Grebe. See directions listed above.

4) An excellent example of tall grass prairie can be found by going 2 miles north on Hwy 188 form the southern junction with Hwy 15. Turn east (right) and go approximately ½ miles to the parking area. Go through the walking gates and continue going east by foot on the two-track road. Short-eared Owls (winter) and Henslow’s Sparrows (summer) are found about halfway up the low hill. The Short-eared Owls are found by walking the prairie until one or more take flight. The Henslow’s Sparrows are found by listening foe their peculiar ‘sillick; song. Do not walk the prairie as the birds may be nesting. The Smith’s Longspurs are generally in the less dense grass southeast of the parking area. Sprague’s Pipit may also be found in the areas southeast of the parking lot if the grass is short. Horned Larks are occasionally in the parking lot; watch for them as you drive in.

5) The largest area of woods is located northeast of Sooner Lake along the Arkansas River and is home to Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Summer Tanagers and various other woodland residents and migrants. To reach the area drive four miles north on Hwy 177 from the southern junction with Hwy 15, turn east (right) and drive approximately five miles until the road reaches a creek and turns to the south (right). The road continues along the creek until it crosses the creek and stops in a field,. The field is private property but the road can be birded., This road can be virtually impassable during wet weather.

A list of selected species and general directions to observe them can e obtained from John Dole, 2491 N. Monroe, Stillwater, OK 74075.

 

Note on Shorebirds at Sooner Lake
 

•  Sooner Lake is not that dependent upon the lake level

•  Not a lot of flats

•  Prime attraction is rocky causeways

•  Best spot in Oklahoma for late spring migrants

•  Black-bellied Plover

•  Whimbrel

•  Ruddy Turnstone

•  Sanderling                                                       

•  Unfortunately the north-south causeway is now off limits

 

 
Click here or on map for a full PDF version

 

 

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Last modified: September 10, 2010

 

 

 

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