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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April 25, 2018 Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas

Courting
Courting

Kansas Prairie Chickens

Tuesday I was up and on the road by 4:30 AM to meet up with five other folks for a chance to photograph Prairie Chickens doing their springtime mating rituals on a lek north of Cheyenne Bottoms NWR. This was an organized tour led by the folks at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms. Limited to six people, a staff member drove us about ten miles or so north of the refuge to a privately owned site where they had set up a small trailer that was used as a blind.

We had to arrive at the blind before it became light to avoid scaring the birds from approaching the lek. Almost as soon as we all were tucked into the tight confines of the blind, I could just make out some birds moving onto the lek about 100 feet in front of the trailer. It was still way too dark to bother taking any photos as about seven or eight males started strutting their stuff in front of us.

Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise

With barely any light to work with, since sunrise was still an hour away when I finally started shooting, I had to bump the ISO up to 1600, really too high for any decent shots with my Nikon D810, but these first shots were taken with the lens wide open at ISO 1600, so that I could get a shutter speed that might almost freeze the birds’ movements.

Face-off
Face-off

I suppose I was wasting my time shooting under these conditions, but I had never seen a Prairie Chicken before and who knew if there would ever be enough light for some good shots before the birds left the lek.

Face-off
Face-off

So I started shooting and was a little surprised when I got these images onto the computer screen and a few of them were fairly sharp.

Face-off
Face-off

Nothing great, mind you, but not bad considering how dark it still was. The shots above were taken when you could barely make out the birds in the darkness, these images appear much brighter than the actual scenes as seen with the naked eye.

Prairie Chicken Display
Prairie Chicken Display

Gradually, some light began to illuminate the lek as the sun started to approach the horizon.

Male Prairie Chicken
Male Prairie Chicken

A Prairie Chicken male with his ” ears ” down and his pouches collapsed.

Male Prairie Chicken
Male Prairie Chicken

As the light became a little better, I could now see there was going to be a problem with grasses here and there on the lek. Two thirds of the area where the males displayed was covered in short green grass with the remainder being patches of wispy taller dried grasses that withstood the winter. Needless to say, the birds made no attempt to do their best displays out in the clear short grass, showing no consideration for the folks in the trailer.

Male Prairie Chicken
Male Prairie Chicken
Prairie Chicken Display
Prairie Chicken Display

In addition to the taller grasses, there also were dried cow pies scattered about the lek and, of course, most of the action took place around one of these.

Prairie Chicken Display
Face-off
Face-off
Face-off
Prairie Chicken Aerials
Prairie Chicken Aerials

The males spent the majority of their time just parading around, attempting to impress the few females that showed up. But every so often two guys would square off facing each other, crouch down, and then one, or sometimes both, would hop straight up, I suppose trying to intimidate the other bird.

Prairie Chicken Aerials
Prairie Chicken Aerials

Unfortunately, most of these aerials were performed before the light became bright enough to be able to freeze the action using a decent ISO and aperture.

Prairie Chicken Display
Male Prairie Chicken
Prairie Chicken Display
Male Prairie Chicken
Prairie Chicken Display
Double Date

As the light slowly became better and I was able to get the ISO down to 800, I managed to start getting some decent shots.

Male Prairie Chicken
Male Prairie Chicken
Courting
Courting
Face-off
Face-off
Courting
Courting
Face-off
Face-off
Prairie Chicken Aerial
Prairie Chicken Aerial
Morning On the Lek
Morning On the Lek

All told, there were probably eight or nine males that performed on the lek the morning I was there. Females were hard to count since they would come in, check out the various performances, then mate ( or not ), then leave the lek. The males all stayed to the bitter end, then trotted off when it was somehow determined that the show was over.

I was in the blind/trailer from around 5:45 AM until the birds all left the lek at about 9 AM. All the images in this post were taken before the sun actually broke the horizon. Since I took over 1400 images during this three plus hour stay, I still have a LOT of images to process, and these unprocessed ones were during the time of decent light. So, next post may have some better images … we’ll see. Stay tuned.

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April 21, 2018 Marion, Kansas

Abandoned Kansas Farmhouse
Abandoned Kansas Farmhouse

Driving the Backroads of Kansas

I have been staying at another Army Corps of Engineers park on the shores of Marion Reservoir the last week or so. Cottonwood Point Campground is yet another great COE campground with 171 campsites spread out over many acres along the shoreline of the reservoir. The sites are mostly level backins with a few pullthroughs, most have gravel pads, picnic table under a shelter, fire pit and charcoal grill. Most have 50 amp electric  with water spigot and some sites have full hookups.

Since there is almost no one here this early in the season, I was able to grab a great pull through site at the very end of one of the four camping loops, guaranteeing me the solitude I love. This site, like most in this campground is waterside with lots of trees around the campsite. Very strong Verizon signal for my internet and this site allowed me easy access to the southern sky for my satellite TV. And for all this I have to pay all of $10.50 ( with my senior pass ) a night, pretty hard to beat that.

Cottonwood Point COE Campsite
Cottonwood Point COE Campsite

My only gripe is that yesterday I had to move from the wonderful site seen in these images to another pull through ( that proved to be every bit as nice ). The reason why ? Well, even though there are only about a dozen campers here amongst the 171 sites, this particular site has been reserved for the weekend. An all too common occurrence with campgrounds that allow reserving specific sites as opposed to reserving a guaranteed open space in the campground ( like the Texas State Park system does )

Cottonwood Point COE Campsite
Cottonwood Point COE Campsite

Notice the rapidly growing Pearl next to Sam. Weighed 2.4 pounds at her first vet visit a month ago, and now 4.4 pounds at her vet visit this week ( for the last of her puppy shots and her first rabies shot ). She remains bold and very independent, to the point of stubborn at times, but recognizes that she does have to pay attention, and respond, to my requests … at least most of the time. Continues to harass poor old Sam, but I do catch Sam actually playing with her quite often now, and even seeking her out to snuggle with once she sees that Pearl has finally shut down and fallen asleep.

Kansas Farmscape
Kansas Farmscape

The weather has been all over the map during my stay, from lows in the low 20’s to highs around 80, with rain, snow and a little bit of sun. The only constant has been the wind, blowing from all directions, but continually blowing, often up to 40 mph.

Kansas Farmscape
Kansas Farmscape

I have been driving all the back roads looking for old barns, but there are very few left standing, most farms now have metal barns, nowhere near as picturesque as the stately old wooden structures.

Abandoned Kansas Barns
Abandoned Kansas Barns

It’s not like the wooden barns didn’t once exist here, it’s just that what I see now are mainly just piles of wooden debris scattered through the woods that border the fields.

Abandoned Kansas Farm
Abandoned Kansas Farm

Once in a while I come across one that is still sort of standing, as in the images above, but these are few and far between.

Remains of a Stone Farmhouse
Remains of a Stone Farmhouse

I suppose that if a stone structure, like the one above located in the middle of a cultivated field, can’t survive here, it probably is little wonder that the old wooden structures have all disappeared.

Controlled Burn
Controlled Burn

Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands

I made a 200 mile round trip to check out the Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands west of here the other day after I went online and managed to reserve a spot on the last day of trips to a blind ( limited to only 6 people ) set up next to a Prairie Chicken lec to observe their mating rituals. The smoky scene above is what I encountered as I approached the wetlands. Unfortunately, there was a controlled burn in progress out on the wetlands and a lot of the area was thus inaccessible on the day I chose to visit.

Cheyenne Bottoms Birds
Cheyenne Bottoms Birds

I did manage to drive a bit of the roads in the wetlands and encountered a few birds here and there.

Avocet
Avocet

Certainly worth visiting again.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

I will be returning there with the motorhome next week and hope to get a better chance to explore the area for birds. These wetlands are located along the Central ( migratory ) Flyway and are a main refueling stop for all kinds of birdlife heading north to their breeding grounds.

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April 14, 2018 Marion, Kansas

Endless Prairie
Endless Prairie

The Strange Weather Continues

As I write this, I am staring out the motorhome window at swirling snow and swaying trees as the winds howl out of the north and the temperatures continue dropping, now at 30 degrees and supposed to continue falling to around 22 degrees tonight. Springtime in Kansas!

Endless Prairie
Endless Prairie

Yesterday, however, it was a balmy 50 degrees with the wind howling out of the south with gusts up to 45 mph. The heavy clouds with intermittent sun made for some nice opportunities to shoot prairie landscapes, though it was no simple task to keep the camera from shaking.

Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Stone Farmhouse
Abandoned Stone Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse

Lots of abandoned farmhouses and barns in this part of the state, though most of the wooden barns I have come across have long ago given way to the elements.

Stone Barn
Stone Barn

This barn, built in the 1880’s, with stone walls 18″ thick, most likely will be standing for quite a while yet.

Bison Herd
Bison Herd

A shot of one of the bison herds that have been reestablished in the state of Kansas, this one at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.

Maltese
Growing Up Fast

Pearl is growing up fast! Big enough now to really give poor old Sam fits, just harasses the living daylights out of her.

Maltese
Windblown

This shot gives you an idea of just how hard the wind is blowing out here. As with everything else, the howling winds and blowing snow do not faze Pearl in the least, outside playtime is enjoyed whatever the conditions may be.

Her bold nature almost did her in two days ago as a large, rangy bobcat sauntered into our campsite around 7AM while I was outside with the two dogs for them to do their morning business. The cat eyed Pearl, then me, then Pearl, as if trying to decide if I was enough of a deterrent to her being able to grab an expensive breakfast. Just as the cat decided to give up that idea, Pearl spotted the cat and started to run her way. Thankfully, she responded when I bellowed her name, and stopped before she got close enough for the bobcat to react. Since Pearl is about the size of a very small rabbit, I have no doubt the bobcat was eyeing her as prey. I have always been on the watch for coyotes anywhere I camp, but I have to admit, it never occurred to me that a bobcat would be this bold, especially in broad daylight. Needless to say, I am now even more vigilant than before and try to make sure that Pearl doesn’t get very far from me no matter what time of day we are outside.

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