Friday, May 28, 2010


Didn't sleep too well, but up early and two Sausage McMuffin with Egg, one for breakfast, one for lunch. I get really tired of these, but they serve. Met the birding group at the motel and we convoyed out to the Chicken lek in the dark. The neophytes got led out to the blind, and the rest of us waited along the road. Chilly. The chickens came in as dawn cracked and we started getting some good looks, but when I finally got the scope set up in the back of a truck it was very good. Some other folks tried it too, and by then the birds were comfortable enough that they showed no signs of alarm, not until the falcon came by, and even then they carried on. Some of us made an excursion back along the road to some water spots and found a few species, Brewer's Blackbirds, and a Yellow-headed.

When the chicken action had faded and we released the blind folks, we all headed farther west to the valley of the Salt Fork. We made one stop at an almost abandoned village, nothing remarkable, and then drove on out to a ranch in the river valley. The owners and the caretakers welcomed us and led us on out to the actual river, where some small bluffs lined the far side. That was the place we hoped to find Rufous-crowned Sparrows. Not much luck on that, tho we did hear one call, but there was plenty of brush for them to hide and they may be a species that hunkers down when subjected to playback. I'm guilty there, need to work on a fine tuned protocol for using the recordings. First, second and third, just listen. Then one short play at low volume, listen some more, and so forth. Anyway nobody ever got a good visual, I walked a lot of cliff edge looking down, seems that's the only view I've ever had of them. We did get a good look at a Bewick's Wren, a new KS bird for me.

From there we drove out into the grasslands to some caves associated with a small creek. The focus here was bats, mostly as a sample of hibernaculum habitat. Didn't see any actual critters. I should mention that the botanizers were very happy with the general area, finding some unusual plants on the edge of spring bloom.

We went back to the ranch building area, some stayed and some left including me. I still had to get to Morton County before dark. In Elkhart, gas was as dear as anywhere on the trip which boded badly, but it turned out to go down as it worked out, partly maybe as the developing Gulf oil spill put a bad spotlight on the oil producers. I drove up to Cimarron National Grassland, and stayed at Middle Spring, a good place for birding, nothing special, still a little early for leaf bloom and migrants. Went to sleep early, needed some catch-up, and nights were still pretty long. Woke up well before dawn and was driving into Colorado with the sunrise in the rear-view mirrors. One curious thing was an area north of the grasslands with lots of low strobe lights not far off the ground. I'd never seen such a thing and was concerned for their effect on Prairie Chickens. Thought they might be something to do with oil wells. Later wrote the non-game biologist that had arranged the lek viewing, and he also didn't know what it was. But later his inquiries had paid off with the news that they were lights on irrigation arrays, made them visible at night so the ranchers could be sure they were turning. No chicken habitat there, so not a problem.


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