Bird-watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts have long been making the trek to southwestern Oklahoma to experience Hackberry Flat WMA, a historical wetland rich in resource and tradition. For years, the restored wetland provided waterfowl and other birds a place to land, and waterfowl hunters a place to pursue their game. But a severe drought from 2011-2015 threatened to turn the fertile wetland into a barren dryland.
“After four years of drought the wetland units were dry as a bone,” said Kelvin Schoonover, wildlife biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “For the birds, it meant a favorite restaurant had closed.”
In May, 2015, the area received 13 inches of rain and the bird’s “restaurant” reopened.
“We went from ‘zero to 60’ in the matter of a month,” said Schoonover. “Hackberry Flat immediately responded to the rain; frogs began calling and wetland birds were nesting within two weeks of the first rain.” The long-needed rains continued last fall and this spring, leaving the WMA saturated with water and wildlife-watching opportunities.
The Wildlife Department encourages enthusiasts to celebrate Hackberry Flat WMA’s feathered homecoming with a visit. If this is your first trip to the area, we offer the following tips:
· Take a Hike
Most bird-watching is done along the WMA roads from a vehicle, but exploring by foot is a great way to see the area. Birding from the area’s 35 miles of dikes may even offer a better chance or a closer look at a higher number of species. In addition to birds, wildlife enthusiasts may also encounter a variety of reptiles and amphibians like the Graham’s crayfish snake or Texas toad.
Visitors to Hackberry Flat WMA must have either a hunting or fishing license or a conservation passport. The sale of these licenses is the primary source of funding for conservation in our state.
· What to Look For
Hackberry Flat WMA’s 7,120 acres are managed as 35 wetland units to provide a wide range of habitats for birds. Look for secretive birds like rails and bitterns in management units with shallow water and abundant vegetation. Other water birds like ducks and grebes are often spotted on open water. Shorebirds congregate on mudflats during their migration; it’s not uncommon to see more than 25 shorebird species in a single day from March through May. Away from the water, search along the management area’s tree rows for songbirds and in the grasslands for sparrows.
· Scout eBird Before Your Trip
Bird-watchers have reported 226 species of birds at Hackberry Flat WMA using eBird, a global database of bird sightings. The interactive website provides a printable checklist for the management area – an eBird Hotspot, shows high counts of individual species and compiles sightings by month so you can plan your visit to coincide with the sightings of specific birds. You can also view checklists from top birders; Mary and Lou Truex visit the WMA weekly during spring and share their sightings on eBird.
In addition to bird-watching, Hackberry Flat WMA offers premier waterfowl and dove hunting opportunities. Check hunting season dates and special regulations for this WMA in the Oklahoma Hunt, Fish & Waterfowl Regulations Guide.