May 10, 2018 North Platte, Nebraska

Abandoned Kansas Farm
Abandoned Kansas Farm

Poking Around Kansas and Nebraska

Old Kansas Barns

Over the past few weeks I have racked up a lot of miles in the Prius traveling the dusty back roads of Kansas and Nebraska searching for picturesque old barns and farmsteads.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Unfortunately, what I have discovered is that most of the old wooden barns have long since gone the way of the dodo bird. Most are just piles of rubble and all of them have been replaced with modern metal buildings, very functional, but surely lacking the aesthetics of the old wooden structures.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Abandoned farmhouses dot the landscape out here and I always wonder exactly what caused the owners to leave these these buildings to the elements.

Nebraska Barn
Nebraska Barn
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

I have not taken any images of the main streets of the many tiny towns you encounter along the back roads here for it is indeed a sad sight to see. The old brick or stone buildings are all vacant and most are crumbling, but the small towns probably lack the resources to demolish them. Needless to say, the general stores and small restaurants and hotels that supported these farming communities have all fallen victim to “progress”.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Wildlife Along the Backroads

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Unfortunately, I have encountered very little in the way of wildlife in my recent travels …

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

… a Red-tailed Hawk or two, a few wild Turkeys and Ring-necked Pheasants strolling the remains of the harvested cornfields ( of which there are  a few acres devoted to that crop in Nebraska ) …

Nebraska Does
Nebraska Does

… and here and there I have encountered a few White-tailed deer, does only, no fawns seen yet.

Nebraska Sandhills
Nebraska Sandhills

I have driven to check out the Nebraska Sandhills, a vast expanse of sand dunes, disguised with a thin covering of grasses.

Endless Nebraska Sandhills
Endless Nebraska Sandhills

These dunes seem to go on forever and must have been something for the early westbound settlers to traverse in their wagons. You can right click on this image to get a larger version to get a better sense of the vast expanse  of the these sandhills.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

One day, while traveling between North Platte and McCook, Nebraska, I saw a beautiful herd of horses grazing in a pasture along the highway. When I noticed a large number of mares with fairly new foals amongst them, I had to stop for shots.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

A youngster enjoying a roll around on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

The differences in coloring of the moms and the colts was kind of interesting.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

Unfortunately, the majority of the mares with young walked away when I approached the fence to take my pictures, probably to protect the youngsters from any possible threat an unknown presence such as myself might cause. Or it could have been Pearl’s few barks of alarm from the Prius when she noticed these huge beasts just outside the windows of the car.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

This were absolutely gorgeous animals, as if they were brushed and carefully groomed just for these photos. If you right click on the image above ( or any image in these blog posts for that matter ), it will open a larger image in a new window, and you will see what I mean.

Nebraska Horses
Nebraska Horses

I wish I could have gotten this lone white horse to position itself right next to one of the black ones, would have been a neat shot, but I waited and waited and this was the best I could get.

I am probably headed to the badlands of southwest South Dakota next, while I await the release of winter’s grip on Yellowstone NP. Snow is still falling there as of this post and some of the roads are still closed by snow. Hoping I can get there to see some early season bear activity, assuming I can get a spot in the campground at Mammoth Hot Springs, something I have not had any luck doing the last two times I have attempted to visit Yellowstone.

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May 3, 2018 Hunter Cove, Alma, Nebraska

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

Snowy Egrets at Cheyenne Bottoms

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

A couple posts ago I mentioned that I had found some Snowy Egrets gathered at an outflow the refuge, but the afternoon light was all wrong for getting any great shots of them, as illustrated in the above image. I vowed to return the next morning when the rising sun would be at my back and hoped that the birds would also return in the morning.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

And return they did. I hit the bonanza here!

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

I spent two hours here, shooting hundreds of shots, as the egrets fought for position, grabbed minnows, and sometimes larger fish that were stunned as they tumbled over the rocks.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

At times, I felt this scene was almost too perfect, the birds often positioned themselves in perfect composition, the light was bright enough to give me some depth of field and yet still shoot at a high enough shutter speed to freeze wing action, and at one point, even a great Egret joined the fray.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

And the action was continuous.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

Love the “hair” of the bird in the lower right.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

Aerial battles sprang up from time to time.

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

Finally the show had to come to an end …

Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets
Cheyenne Bottoms Snowy Egrets

… and that presented me with a couple more nice opportunities. A morning to remember!

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May 2, 2018 Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas

Kansas Storm
Kansas Storm

Great Blue Heron and Scary Weather

I had planned to depart Cheyenne Bottoms for Nebraska Monday morning but decided to stay put when the weather forecast called for 40 mph winds with higher gusts during the afternoon. It is no fun traveling in the motorhome and battling winds that strong, and besides, I don’t really have to be anywhere at any particular time, so I remained here and drove out into the refuge and looked for something to shoot.

Great Blue Heron Catching Catfish
Great Blue Heron Catching Catfish

That something turned out to be this Great Blue Heron ( GBH ). I found him at the same outflow I had been shooting Snowy Egrets the day before ( those images coming next post ).

Great Blue Heron with Catfish
Great Blue Heron with Catfish

He nabbed this catfish and waded out away from shore a bit.

Great Blue Heron with Catfish
Great Blue Heron with Catfish

As usual with these guys, he agonized over swallowing a fish this size and must have played with it for about five minutes, dropping it then spearing it, turning it, flipping it, etc.

Otter
Otter

While I was concentrating on the GBH, out of the reeds came an Otter! He was moving too quickly for me to get any good shots and disappeared as fast as he showed up.

A Frightening Night Storm

Kansas Storm
Kansas Storm

When this area was put under a tornado watch late yesterday afternoon, I figured I had made a good decision to stay put and not travel farther north.

Kansas Storm
Kansas Storm

The area only seven miles north of here was given a tornado warning at 5:30. That warning extended up to the area I was heading for before I made the decision to stay put.

Kansas Storm
Kansas Storm

These storm shots were taken just after it turned dark and were the most impressive and scary lightning displays I have ever witnessed. The sky to the north was was filled with lightning, cloud to cloud as well as bolts to the ground. The lightning was constant for over an hour and a half! The forecast called for two inch hail and damaging winds in this storm.

Here at Cheyenne Bottoms, the sky was clear and filled with stars, but the scene to the north looked terrifying. I guess I made a good decision, and will be heading north towards Alma, Nebraska today.

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April 27, 2018 Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas

Cormorant with Bullhead
Down the Hatch

A Trip to Quivira NWR

With some very nice weather the last few days I have had to postpone my editing of images from my Prairie Chicken adventure in favor of getting out and exploring this part of Kansas. Quiver NWR is located forty plus miles to the south of where I am presently camped at Cheyenne Bottoms, so I took advantage of the nice weather and made two trips down there this week.

Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe

Quivira has a series of salt water ponds and marshes as well as extensive grasslands and is a major stopover point for migratory birds along the Central Flyway.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Killdeer
Killdeer
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant

The refuge burns off it’s grassland areas with controlled burns to keep invasive plants and brush down …

Ring-necked Pheasant Pair
Ring-necked Pheasant Pair

… as well as to promote vigorous new growth of native grasses.

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalaropes were a new bird for me …

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson's Phalaropes
Wilson’s Phalaropes

… and I got a kick out of watching their feeding behavior.  They continually walk in rapid small circles stirring up small prey from the mud below with their feet. When you see a group of 20 or 30 birds doing this non-stop in close proximity with each other, it’s a rather interesting sight.

Wilson's Phalaropes Mating
Wilson’s Phalaropes Mating

Even when feeding as described above, they are never too occupied to take care of business during mating season.

American Avocet
American Avocet
American Avocets
American Avocets

Lots of American Avocets at Quivira.

White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelicans
White Pelicans

I estimated about 250 White Pelicans gathered here, quite a distance from the auto road through the refuge.

White Pelicans
White Pelicans

But it was my good fortune to have them all take flight and head right towards me …

White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelican
White Pelican

… eventually flying directly overhead.

Cheyenne Bottoms Campsite
Cheyenne Bottoms Campsite

Cheyenne Bottoms

I am staying at the free primitive camping area on the west side of Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve. There are five rough campsites along a gravel road that leads into the refuge. This is a rather rough camping area, level grass, actually dirt with some grassy areas, but there are picnic tables and a fire ring at each site. No water, electric, dump station, restrooms, or trash receptacles here.

I actually enjoyed my stay here since it was very quiet, there is no lighting of any sort, and only one or two other campers stayed her during my weeklong stay. Fortunately, it didn’t rain here during my stay since it looks like the place would get very muddy when it rains.

Maltese
I’ll Come when I’m Ready

Pearl is now four months old and seems to really enjoy this lifestyle. Still very independent and afraid of nothing … but the dark. When I take her out at night, she is all ears, staring warily at the tall grass and brush just across the road, and hurriedly does her business and races back to the motorhome door to be let back in. During daylight hours I have a job convincing her she needs to go back inside, since she delights in exploring and racing around, running loops around the motorhome.

Maltese
Kinda Windy here in Kansas

Still delights in tormenting poor old Sam, but Sam now does at least a couple of serious play sessions with her every day, careening around the limited confines of the motorhome, bouncing off walls and furniture, hopping up and down out of the dog bed and my recliner. They also now can be found sleeping in close physical proximity almost all the time.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Cheyenne Bottoms Birds

Since I am staying within the confines of the refuge, I do make a morning and an afternoon trip around the refuge roads every day.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds doing their thing hanging off the reeds and cattails along the roadsides, as well as a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, of which I have not managed to get a good shot.

Cormorant with Bullhead
Cormorant with Bullhead

A bit of luck encountering this Cormorant just as it surfaced with a bullhead ( or some kind of small catfish ). The bird spent a good deal of time maneuvering the fish just so before gulping it down.

Cormorant with Bullhead
Down the Hatch

Luckily one of the series of shots I took happened to catch the fish being tossed up to ensure that it went down head first.

White Pelicans
White Pelicans

As at Quivira, lots of White Pelicans here also.

White Pelican
White Pelican

The weird, knobby growths on the bill have something to do with breeding season I believe.

American Avocet
American Avocet

All kinds of small wading birds here including Avocets, Plovers, Dowitchers, and more but it is difficult to get any decent shots because of their small size and the ability to get close enough here to get any good shots.

Also all kinds of ducks, lots of Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and Ruddy Ducks, with a few Mallards, Pintails, and others found throughout the refuge, but I haven’t bothered concentrating on these since I already have an extensive library of duck shots from other refuges where the conditions for flight shots are much better than here.

Snowy Egrets
Snowy Egrets

Late one afternoon I came across a lot of Snowy Egret activity at the outflow of a culvert under one of the refuge roads. Water was being released from an area on one side of the road to a large pond on the other side of the road. The rapidly moving water, tumbling over some large pointed rocks was apparently stunning the small fish caught up in the rushing water, and the Snowies were taking advantage of this bonanza.

Unfortunately, the only vantage point from which to shoot this scene was looking directly into the sun, resulting in just impossible lighting conditions to catch the action. I snapped a few shots anyway and then just sat there watching the action as as many as a dozen of these Snowies bounced around the stream jockeying for position. I vowed to come back in the morning and hoped the water would still be flowing and the birds would still be there ( it was and they were and I did, and wait til you see those shots! ).

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