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Big Day (Bird Race)

03 October 1998

by Chuck Otte

Big Day Statistics:


"There was a general feeling that with a little bit of effort the Kansas October Big Day record (80 species) should be easily beatable.  When Mother Nature cooperated with summer-like weather lasting into early October, as well as many lingering migrants, an early October date was set.  We started in Manhattan Kansas at 6 a.m. immediately going after the resident owl species, also putting us at two prime locations at first light.  The Tuttle Creek reservoir Riverpond area is known to hold good species in early autumn and yielded two Caspian Terns.  The nearby Cedar Creek area and cemetery was sure to hold good migrants.  We were not disappointed and ticked lingering Eastern Wood-Pewee and Least Flycatcher as well as a very vociferous Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Indigo Bunting, and a cooperative Fox Sparrow.

The weather had broken fairly clear at sunrise but as the day went on we would fight periodic breezy situations, increasing clouds, and a little fog as we reached our next stop, the Junction City Cemetery.  This big, old cemetery has many large deciduous and coniferous trees, and some excellent tree rows that are known to hold good birds.  None of us expected the warbler count that we would tally.  At the south side of the cemetery was a row of cedar trees, a brush covered hillside, and a large old mulberry tree.  The area was alive with birds and a planned 15 minute stop for Red-breasted Nuthatches, that are known to be fairly common here, turned into an hour-long stop.  By the time we piled back in the van we had seen Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the expected Red-breasted Nuthatch, an early Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blue-headed Vireo and Nashville, Black-throated Green, Pine, Palm and Bay-breasted Warbler.  It seemed that there were Pine Warblers everywhere singing in the cemetery.

Ninety minutes of Interstate-70 road time later we were at Wilson SP at Wilson Reservoir.  Rock Wrens  are not uncommon in this area and we found 2 cooperative individuals.  A White-crowned Sparrow was a little early but not unexpected, and a Black-and-White Warbler added to our good warbler count from the cemetery!  A bite to eat on the run and we were on our way to Cheyenne Bottoms WMA.  W. Grebes have become a regular sighting at Cheyenne Bottoms in recent years and the group tallied 15, including some apparent young from the 1998 breeding season.   A lingering C. Moorhen and Black Tern were also added.  Between Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) a stop at a large prairie dog town failed to turn up any Burrowing Owls but did yield a Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a fence post.

Quivira NWR is always an exciting stop for any birder, any time of year.  The late warm weather had caused many at least a few indivduals of many species to remain somewhat later than normal.  Yet, surprisingly, many migrant species were also already present.  New species added at Quivira included: three American Bitterns, Gr. White-fronted Goose, twenty Ring-necked Ducks, King Rail, Sandhill Crane, forty Black-bellied Plovers, six American Golden-Plovers, Semi-palmated Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper and Swamp Sparrow.  There were only three species not seen by all team members, all of which were relatively common. While there no species that we would call a big miss, there were easily another dozen species which could have been added or had been seen in the areas in the few days prior to the Big Day.  Future October Big Day participants should set their sights on 150 to 160 species, as this team definitely believe's its possible."

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