Not in Kansas Anymore

Whew. Twenty-five miles.

That's how much of Kansas we had left when I finally logged a life bird there.

It wasn't the only reason for driving through Kansas, but it was certainly high on my list, and I have to say I was a little frustrated after a morning of birding at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The frustration might have been due to the temperature extremes (over 85 before 9:00 this morning, which made for an uncomfortable environment even in the shade) or to the high winds (a southerly blast coming over the Flint Hills at somewhere between 15 and 20 mph, which tended to keep a lot of birds down in cover and drown out the calls of others), but it was mainly due to seeing nothing but the birds we'd seen before: a bunch of Dickcissels, Eastern Meadowlarks, and swallows. Okay, the Belted Kingfisher was a bit of a shock--who knew there was even any water in this preserve?--but in general, it was a very hot morning of checking off birds I'd already checked off. Even the astonishing beauty of the preserve (and of the Kansas countryside in general) couldn't ease that frustration.

With the heat rising, Dad and I decided to go to the coolest place we knew--the car--and head north to Council Grove Lake, where we hoped a different environment would produce different birds. I did hear a Red-eyed Vireo and spot a couple of Baltimore Orioles chasing each other through a cottonwood (one which was shedding cottony dander at a rate known only to the narrator of the Bonzo Dog Band's "King of Scurf"), but the water had nothing on it but chop. Pretty soon we'd had enough. At Dad's suggestion, we headed west on I-70 with one last target: high in the northern part of the state, only two dozen miles short of the Nebraska line, Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge.

Kirwin has a nice lake in the middle of it, which is why it was crawling with waders: Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and at least forty Cattle Egrets were lurking in the shallows near the visitors center (which had closed roughly four minutes before our arrival.) Pelicans, cormorants, and a few unidentifiable ducks patrolled the waters, while a couple of over-heated Great-tailed Grackles lurked nearby as well. After a long day of almost nothing but roadside birding, it was simultaneously relaxing and exciting to get to a place where we could not only see but identify the birds. And when I saw a hawk flying overhead, just beyond a row of roadside cottonwoods, I thought maybe it might be my Kansas lifer. I got Dad to stop the car and jumped out for a better look, but even as I was climbing out, I caught a glimpse of something pale yellow with a dark tail in the branches.

I'm happy to say I made the ID immediately: "Kingbird!" And yes, it turned out to be exactly that: my first Western Kingbird. We saw three or four flitting back and forth out of the trees, each one distracting me mightily, and the presence of a number of Eastern Kingbirds made for a nicely ecumenical touch. I had been worried that I'd get skunked in Kansas after missing Kentucky (and both Vermont and New Hampshire) back in May, so I have to say that the final 25 miles of our many, many miles in Kansas were decidedly more pleasant than much of the middle.

From there, the afternoon shifted into a giddier mode, but since we had many miles to go before our stop in North Platte, Nebraska, we left the NWR fairly soon and jetted north. On the way, we noted a few other oddities: the presence of a sandwich stop called the Chubby Pickle in the town of Phillipsburg, KS; the proudly-displayed nicknames of the Lexington, NE, high school teams--the Minutemen and the Minutemaids; my first thirteen-lined ground squirrel playing on the pavement at an intersection in Lexington, and a few minutes later, my first jackrabbit a little while later.

Today's birding totals: 41 species in all, included the following I'd already seen on this trip: House Sparrow, European Starling, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, American Goldfinch, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, Upland Sandpiper, Barn Swallow, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo (V), Baltimore Oriole, Rock Dove, Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Canada Goose


New birds for this trip:
House Finch
Brown-headed Cowbird
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Indigo Bunting
Common Nighthawk
Great Egret
House Wren
Double-crested Cormorant

New birds for 2011:
Great-tailed Grackle
Cliff Swallow
Red-headed Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
White Pelican
Snowy Egret

And new, period:
Western Kingbird

A good day. But I'm still mad that I missed my first-ever chance to legitimately quote Dorothy until well after we crossed the Nebraska border.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 1, 2011 11:02 PM.

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