The Plain Truth

Sadly, my photos from our Great Plains trip are pretty bad--lots of focus issues. Of course, you won't believe that without evidence, and they do say a picture is worth a thousand words...

Okay, here are a few of the least crappy:

100_4565.JPGThis is tallgrass prairie. I know this because I took the picture at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a few miles west of Emporia, Kansas. I spent most of a morning wandering around it looking for birds, but the combination of a high wind and scorching temperatures meant that the birds were staying in cover and having their songs drowned out.  Frustrating. On the plus side, it was a beautiful landscape, and if you like Dickcissels and Eastern Meadowlarks, you'll see plenty of them here.

100_4561.JPGThe TGNP sits on the site of an 11,000-acre ranch built in the late 1800s. The main house, outbuildings, and even outhouse are built of limestone, as is this one-room schoolhouse that sits on the property. Here's Dad, giving it a closer inspection. Alas, it was locked.

100_4575.JPGTGNP did not yield up any new life birds for me, and the shores of Council Grove Lake didn't do so either. With our next hotel reservation set in North Platte, Nebraska, Dad and I decided to make one last desperate attempt to get me a lifer, stopping at Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge, just shy of the KS/NE border, right after the visitor's center closed for the day. Luckily, there was a wildlife drive around the central lake, and in the course of exploring that drive (and the scores of egrets and pelicans hanging out by the lake) we passed by a stand of large cottonwood trees. In those trees, I spotted a Western Kingbird (not the one above, which was photographed later in NE) and was able to check Kansas off my list with only twenty-five miles to spare.

100_4572.JPGLife mammals, I'm happy to report, were in pretty good supply out west. Here's the first such critter I spotted, a thirteen-lined ground squirrel (a/k/a a golden gopher) that crawled out of the grass and onto the pavement at a T-intersection in Lexington, NE, while we waited for the light to change. I had always assumed they'd be bigger than squirrels, but this thing was no bigger than a chipmunk.

100_4582.JPGApparently, the place to go to see birds in the Great Plains is near the water. At both Kirwin and at Crescent Lake NWR, you can see species that love the water and/or the marsh, including Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, White Pelican, and even Black Tern (seen above, barely; you may want to click on the image and enlarge it.

100_4579.JPGMind you, to GET to the waterside, you've got a bit of a drive ahead of you. The road to Crescent Lake NWR is almost all unpaved, and it runs over twenty-five miles through the Nebraska Sandhills north of the town of Oshkosh. It's one of the most isolated spots I've ever visited, and that includes the Big Bend of west Texas.

100_4577.JPGStill, along the course of this road, I was able to log my first Lark Sparrow AND my first Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Lark Buntings and Horned Larks were plentiful as well, so there are some advantages to making this trip.

100_4594.JPGAnd yes, the mammal viewing remained pretty awesome, too. On the way into the Refuge, I spotted my first black-tailed jackrabbit, a creature so huge I thought it was a small pronghorn antelope, and on the way out, I got my first pronghorn antelope, (which was, admittedly, far larger than the jackrabbit).

100_4592.JPGSo: three life birds in two states, plus three life mammals. Also, I got my first view of the Front Range before flying home from Denver, ate some terrific dry-rub ribs at Bobby D's in Emporia, and learned that the scenery of Kansas and Nebraska is not nearly so drab and featureless as rumor would have it.

But yeah, northeast Colorado was really pretty boring.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 9, 2011 10:06 AM.

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