14 - 17 September 1995
by Pete Janzen
The trip participants were Bob Gress, Bob Dester and myself.
We left Wichita, KS in the afternoon, bound for Elkhart, KS, and the Cimarron Grasslands. This drive crosses mid and shortgrass prairies, and much farmland. SWAINSON'S HAWKS were common during the trip, and we must have seen 300 KESTRELS over the course of the weekend. MISSISSIPPI KITES were seen in most towns.
A few areas on the way out offer good birding, and we stopped at several of them. Kingman State Lake is currently drained for dam repair, but we found some passerines in brush on the shore, including MOURNING WARBLER, WARBLING VIREO, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, CEDAR WAXWING, and numerous E. BLUEBIRDS. Kiowa St. Lake, another hour down the road, was devoid of all except a DC CORMORANT and a group of 8 SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS on the shore. We decided to postpone supper, and try to reach Clark Co. St. Lake before sundown. We reached the lake by 6:45 PM. No waterfowl on the lake at all, but an amazing 8 OSPREY were in trees on the shore of this beautiful oasis on the High Plains. We also saw a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK and numerous TURKEY VULTURES. A walk in the tall cottonwoods below the dam turned up an EASTERN SCREECH OWL roosting in a cavity, but little else. Coming up out of the canyon at sundown, we saw our first SAY'S PHOEBE of the trip, hawking insects on the ridge.
We reached Elkhart at about 10 pm, and fell asleep quickly.
After a pre-dawn breakfast at the restaurant, we hit the cemetery for our first shot at the western species that draw Kansas birders to this area each year, especially during migration. Very few birds were in evidence, nor at the famous shelterbelt across the road either. The nearby sewage lagoons had 8 duck species, an EARED GREBE, some BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS, and a somewhat unexpected SANDERLING. We then cruised some alleys in town, which can be rewarding at times in this oasis of trees. We were about to quit when we found an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and a WESTERN TANAGER near the edge of town, about the only passerine migrants we had found yet, except for many WILSON'S WARBLERS.
On to the Grasslands, where the first stop was the work station, which has a large grove of junipers and pines. This was another disappointing stop, although an empid seen here had field marks consistent with HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER. We flushed a GREAT HORNED OWL, and a BARN OWL as well. Several hours of driving along the Cimarron River, and through the adjacent sand-sage prairies produced few birds of interest, although we did get a great look at a LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER at Middle Springs, where we also found a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD and a pair of BG GNATCATCHERS. Several ROCK WRENS were at Point of Rocks, where the ruts of the Santa Fe Trail are still visible in the prairie.
The "Boy Scout Area", another well-known birding spot, produced BEWICK'S WREN, MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, and a very worn DUSKY FLYCATCHER. At the end of the day our trip list stood at 98 species. Not a bad start, but few rarities so far. A trip after dark to try for Western Screech Owls along the river at the state line was a bust, although we did see 10 BURROWING OWLS standing in the road on the way out, which seemed mesmerized by our headlights, and let us approach very closely. Bob Gress was in a sporting mood, and showed us how to catch Kangaroo Rats with a flashlight and a quick hand, a skill he learned in grad school.
In the morning we met the Wichita Audubon group, and left for Baca Co., Colorado, just across the state line. On our way out of KS., we stopped to watch LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKENS feeding in a field a few miles outside of town. Several FERRUGINOUS HAWKS were seen well in prairie dog towns along the road. The caravan got broken up when several cars went back to find SCALED QUAIL seen by part of the group, and suddenly our van was in the lead.
Near Campo, we saw a PRAIRIE FALCON, then a MERLIN about 10 miles further down the road. Also a SAGE THRASHER was along the road, the only one of the trip as it turned out. Pictured Rocks campground was pretty quiet, although a few CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS were around, along with CANYON TOWHEES, ROCK WREN, WILSON'S WARBLERS, BLUE GROSBEAK, and some empidonax flycatchers. one of which was probably a CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER, although discussion was vigorous as to its identity. On to Cottonwood Canyon, where the usual group of LEWIS WOODPECKERS and SCRUB JAYS was foraging along the creek. A WESTERN TANAGER was the only migrant of interest. WILSON'S WARBLERS were abundant. A BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE at the old cabin was the first I've ever seen in Baca Co. Bushtits and Plain Titmice were absent. Birds in general were scarce.
We split from the group about 2 PM, and headed south for the Black Mesa in the Oklahoma Panhandle. On the way, we found a group of CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS in a farmyard, along with 3 CURVE-BILLED THRASHERS. Colorado birders might be interested in the SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER we saw on Road J. Another big miss for the trip was Pinyon Jay, usually seen on Road 8 as it nears the Oklahoma line, absent this year.
In Oklahoma, the Tucker ranch, near the tri-state marker, had 1 or 2 female BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDS at the feeders, and several other trip birds, including a very cooperative YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT in the bushes near the house. By now it was 4 PM, and we headed for the Regnier Ranch. For those familiar with the place, Mrs. Regnier is still alive, although a few young-uns are living in a mobile home near the old ranch house. Birders are still welcome at the ranch. Again, few birds were around, although we did find WESTERN WOOD-PEEWEE, TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, LESSER GOLDFINCH, a flock of 25 BUSHTITS, GREATER ROADRUNNER, and numerous CANYON TOWHEES. Lake Etling had 2 OSPREY, another SHARP-SHIN, and a number of calling CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS. The sewage lagoons at Boise City had a couple of BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS, and a COOT. It was now sundown, and the trip list stood at 129 species. Back to Elkhart for a good night's sleep.
A cool front had moved in overnight. In the parking lot in the morning, the sky was full of chip notes, and we had word of a large flock of PINYON JAYS seen the day before at Point of Rocks by Sebastian Patti and others. The majority of the group peeled out for there. We elected to search the migrant traps in and near town, but in spite of the hopes raised by night migrants, few birds were on the ground. It was kind of a strange morning, with no wind at all, heavy fog on the sagebrush prairie, and zero birds. A flock of 30 Avocets circled the sewage ponds, but moved on without landing. We saw another MERLIN fly by as well. We did see a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER on a wire by the highway at the edge of town, and a flock of SCALED QUAIL in a salvage yard north of town. Another LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER was at the Wilburton river crossing, and a COOPER'S HAWK was perched on a post in the grasslands. We began our trip home at 11 AM.
A few birds on the way home merit mention. Just outside of Hugoton, 7 CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS, scarce in KS., were in a plowed field. Meade State Lake experienced a big fire in riparian timber along the creek 2 years ago. Woodpeckers are abundant, and many CAROLINA CHICKADEES, along with a SOLITARY VIREO, NASHVIILE, WILSON'S, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS were also feeding in the burned timber. We found an early TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE in cottonwoods near the lake.
Near the Meade-Clark County line, a pair of GOLDEN EAGLES was perched on a bluff near the highway, our 13th raptor species for the trip. A small population nests in this area. Acting on a tip from Duane Wilson, who had passed that way a few days before, we checked a small pond along the road near Sharon, and found what he had: 3 LEAST BITTERNS, and a SORA. all feeding in the open. The Bitterns were grasping weeds in the water, and picking prey from the water. They were apparently oblivious to the highway traffic, birrders, and the fact that they were out in the open. A final stop at Lake Afton brought our trip list to 151, a good total, given the scarcity of migrants in general, and "zooties" in particular.