Thursday, May 3, 2012

Birding Kansas

Marty, Nola and I headed out just after 6:30 AM last Sunday morning to drive to Weston Bend State Park north of Kansas City, MO in hopes of seeing some migrating warblers.  It began raining pretty soon after we set out, and kept raining all the way to Kansas City.  We decided to have a sit down breakfast to give the rain a chance to stop.  By the time we finished eating around 9 AM the rain did let up, so we went into the park to see what was about.  We only had maybe 30 minutes before the rain returned, and we saw a few birds including a barred owl, but there was no indication of a significant arrival of warblers.

We then drove across the Missouri River to Ft. Leavenworth, KS to check out the river bottom birding there to see if it might be better than what we had found up on the bluffs at Weston Bend.  No sooner had we reached the bottoms when the rain really began coming down hard, so we decided to give up on looking for warblers, and instead began the 4 hour drive to central Kansas in hopes of better weather at Cheyenne Bottoms which is just outside of Great Bend.

We arrived about 4 PM under sunny skies.  While briefly chatting with the staff at the visitor center to get our bearings, we pointed out a sora feeding in the small pond just outside the building much to the surprise and delight of the staff since they said one had never been seen before in that body of water.  We then began to tour the various water impoundments, and found a huge number of waterfowl and shorebirds including the black neck stilts in the above photo (click on any photo to enlarge).  There must have been 10-20,000 long billed dowitchers on the refuge, and close to that many semi-palmated sandpipers.

After about an hour we came upon another birder, Dave Williams, who had come down from the Kansas City area to bird the Bottoms.  He knew the area well and gave us good advice on where to look for certain birds he had seen earlier in the day.  He also told us we were very fortunate to have a day with so little wind.  While talking we saw a peregrine falcon fly by in pursuit of its dinner. 

Before we parted ways we also found out that he knew Pete Janzen, another of Kansas' fine birders that I had met at the Dry Tortugas during my big year in 2010.  Pete had given us quite a bit of good info to help us with our trip.  We had wanted to get together to bird with Pete, but in the end our schedules did not mesh.  We kept birding until the sun began to set, and then checked into our motel for the night.

The next morning we returned to Cheyenne Bottoms for a second helping of what it had to offer.  The gravel road we took to get to the refuge proved to be very birdy.  Whereas the afternoon before we had not seen a single sparrow, Monday morning we found 9 sparrow species including Harris', chipping, grasshopper, white crowned and white-throated, lark, Lincoln's, savannah and field.

After studying all the shorebirds in the inlet canal, particularly the hudsonian godwits, and flushing a short eared owl, we encountered swarms of barn, cliff and bank swallows.  The light was not very good, and the swallows were jittery with us nearby so the photo above of some cliff swallows did not turn out as crisp as I would have liked.  By noon we had done the full circuit again, and decided to head back into Great Bend to try some barbecue at Woodie's which hit the spot.

After lunch we made the 45 minute drive down to Quivira NWR to see if it would be as bird bountiful as the Bottoms.  I had read on the KS listserv that 2 days earlier there were an estimated 50,000 wilson phalaropes (photo below) at the refuge.  We found many but nothing approaching that number.  Overall, there just were not the numbers of birds at Quivira that we had seen at Cheyenne Bottoms. 

We returned to Great Bend to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant that proved to be only good.  A huge thunderstorm rolled thru town while we ate, and then the sun came out which generated a double rainbow.  We had planned to get up very early on Tuesday morning to drive about an hour south to try to see some lesser prairie chickens at a lek, but decided instead to begin heading back to Missouri early so that we could visit another birding hot spot--Marais de Cygnes wildlife area.

We drove thru more rain on the way, but by the time we got to Marais the rain had stopped.  We birded there for 3 hours, but once again found little indication of a major migratory push, so we climbed back into our car and pointed it towards home having seen 124 species in 3 days of birding.  Enroute to Columbia we did stop at another BBQ spot in Kansas City, KS to pick up some ribs to take home for dinner.  This batch put to shame the ones we had eaten at Woodie's the day before.

Since we got back a day earlier than planned, Marty and I went birding again around the Columbia area today.  We had a very good morning beginning with our finding 2 Henslow's sparrows.  We then heard mostly, but also saw a variety of warblers--prairie, blue-winged, Tennessee, Kentucky, worm-eating, northern parula, common yellowthroat, Louisiana waterthrush and ovenbird.  We also had summer and scarlet tanagers; pileated, red-bellied and hairy woodpeckers; acadian flycatchers; indigo buntings; blue-gray gnatcatchers; white-eyed and red-eyed vireos; and an eastern wood pewee. After lunch we went to Eagle Bluffs to see what waterfowl and shorebirds might be still around, but discovered that the warm front had pushed all the earlier reported birds further north. 

Tomorrow I begin a 2 day drive to Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio.  I read today on the Ohio listserv that 21 species of warblers had been seen by 1 PM at Magee--the spring migration is finally starting to arrive there.  Stay tuned!

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