Knowing what species are present in a particular area is important both now and in the future. To that end, a team from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is engaged in a yearlong species survey at the Cross Timbers Wildlife Management Area in Love County.
The effort is being conducted by the Wildlife Diversity Program, which includes Mark Howery, a wildlife diversity biologist with ODWC.
"We're not just going on bird-watching trips," Howery said. "The point is to document the presence or absence of species and their relative abundance in ways that can be repeated over time to detect broad changes in populations."
He said surveyors ideally could return in 10 or 20 years to the same area to see whether they find any dramatic differences in the species present in the area.
The Cross Timbers species survey is the first such survey in quite a few years. From 2002 to 2005, Howery said species surveys were conducted on Beaver River, Sandy Sanders, Spavinaw and Pushmataha wildlife management areas. But over time, the surveys were discontinued.
Now, a new survey team has begun work at Cross Timbers WMA.
Howery said the goal is to conduct at least six surveys on-site during the calendar year. So far, surveys have been done in February, March, April and May. Another is planned in June. Then one will be done in July or August, and finally one in the fall. He said he makes it a point not to conduct any surveys during important times when hunters are likely to be using the area.
Cross Timbers potentially contains about 200 vertebrate species within its 8,200 acres in southern Oklahoma, Howery said. The survey team attempts to document the various birds, fish, amphibians, and small and large mammals by using techniques that can be repeated later, such as setting out traps for a specific amount of time.
Howery said the biologists and technicians assigned to oversee the Cross Timbers area often help with the surveys. They play a big part in the success of the surveys because they are most familiar with the area.
ODWC technician Kelly Adams participated in the survey conducted. "During this survey, we discovered that Strecker's chorus frogs and Great Plains narrow-mouthed toads exist on the WMA.
"Years from now, if we can't find those species, then we know something has changed," Adams said.
Howery said finding the Strecker's chorus frog was a bit of a surprise, as it is the first time that species has been documented in Love County. He also said finding a Great Plains narrow-mouthed toad during the April survey was somewhat rare.
"The area has a good population of fox sparrows and spotted towhees. White-eyed vireos and painted buntings are common breeding birds there," he said.
In conducting surveys, the team members use several techniques. For birds, a "point count" is employed. This technique places a surveyor at a point, and the surveyor then counts every bird seen or heard in a given amount of time.
For frogs, surveyors usually will conduct a "calling" survey at night. They listen and record any frogs heard, and note the dates and temperatures so surveys can be repeated.
Baited traps are used to assess smaller mammals, and tracks along roadsides are recorded to account for larger mammals present at the site.