Thursday, May 17, 2007

Western Kansas

May 7, 2007

When I got up and ready to move I found that the road was flooded just a little way beyond the campground. I watched a truck taller then mine wade through, and decided against trying it. There had been some good birds reported on the north side so I went around that way, hoping I might find a way into the tour loop. I tried the most likely road shown on the GPS, and it had a tree down across it. Tried another one, and didn't get in there either but found a Prairie Dog town, with a Burrowing Owl and a Black-bellied Plover. What made it really interesting, and now a photo missed regret, was the ducks swimming between the flooded burrows. Everybody was sitting on the high spots around the entrances, looking wet and bedraggled. And as I was backing out of a different road, I saw some kind of shorebird in the rear-view, stopped and opened the door to use the binocs, and finally got my Upland Sandpiper, and a nice close view to boot. There was another road with a parking area for a Nature Conservancy site, where something I didn't find was reported, maybe Mountain Plover, it was one of those bare dirt spots, and down past that there was a tree windbreak that had some good passerines. I never did get to the central part of the Bottoms, but found three new species anyhow.

I made an exploratory stop at Cedar Bluffs Reservoir since the description in the Birdfinder sounded enticing. It was a place worth spending a day and camping sometime. The best parts seemed to be on the western end, good Cottonwood bottoms, and a fair variety of habitat and little campgrounds that it looked like only hunters would use. My favorites when there's no hunting. What struck me about it was the transitional nature of the ecology. It's almost exactly the 100th meridian, John Wesley Powell's divider of the arid lands from the moister east, and it was the kind of place where there were both Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles, and probably other overlapping species of sparrows, towhees and such. The country definitely got dryer to the west.

I finally admitted defeat and headed further west. I had often wanted to see the Monument Rocks, and was finally close enough to give it a try. One neat thing that happened on a fairly boring drive punctuated repeatedly by Horned Larks in the road, was a road bird, not a HOLA, that I got a really clear look at the tail pattern as it flew up. A McCown's Longspur, and the first of its kind that I made the ID on just using the tail pattern, tho I had tried that quite a few times. There was a state park near the Rocks that looked like it could be very good, Scott State Park, and I have it noted for a nature trail. There was a fair amount of water in a dry area, so it would most likely be a magnet during migration, but I didn't go in. I got back into the Monument Rocks, north of the park, and it was much more interesting than I'd been expecting. The only pictures I'd seen were of the focal rock formations, so I was unprepared for a whole landscape of bluffs and canyons that seemed more like Utah than Kansas. Driving in from the south I also went past a ranch site, not lived in it appeared, but with a beautiful stone house and big stone barn, lots of water and trees, lots of cattle, it must have been a primo operation and neat place to live (except for winter), not to mention place to bird if one could figure out how to get permission. So I got to the rock formations, they were twenty to thirty feet stone towers maybe fifteen or so individual units, set in a bone dry clay pan. I was hoping to find a Rock Wren, and finally spotted a bird atop one of the towers. Checked it out, color was wrong, bill was wrong etc, and I finally figured out that it was something else. I'm not totally stubborn. Looked it over well, and when I got back in the truck with a reference it was clearly a Canyon Towhee. I went to check it off on the field list and it wasn't there, but it was on the more extensive list. Later I sent an email to Pete Janzen, asking if that meant it was a big deal, and a few days later was informed that it was the first state record outside Morton County, home of the mother-lode of western birds in Kansas.

I looked around in Garden City, where I should have looked up Terry Manell, but didn't, feeling time pressed. Thirty miles west was Lakin, where I checked out a couple of places that I'd noted on the GPS mapping. South of there I found a nice little county park built around some sand pits, inexpensive and clean, so I camped there with enough time before sunset to catch up on records in the computer, work through an email pileup, write in my journal, and backup data.


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