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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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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When you click ( on the image below) through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !