More birds added to state's birding list

5/27/2014

By Ryan D. Wilson

By Ryan D. Wilson

Clay Center Dispatch, Kan.

(MCT) — Kansas continues to see birds never seen in the state before and birds seen rarely, said Geary Co. extension agent Chuck Otte.

The self-described "obsessive" birdwatcher told those at a recent Chamber Coffee forum he now has a new title — ambassador for birding and birders in Kansas.

"It a passion of mine," Otte said "My grandmother was a birdwatcher, my mother was a bird watcher, I was genetically predisposed, I never had a chance. I started birding when I was four-years-old."

Among rare birds recently seen include the American Red Star, a warbler about the size of a chickadee. Otte said his wife saw a pair of these birds rooting through the underbrush last Wednesday morning in Junction City.

"I'm jealous she saw them, and I didn't," Otte said.

He said the spring "in this area has been busy for bird watching" because of bird migration and movement with the south wind. Migration stops with the movement of wind by the storms.

Just after a storm is usually the best time to bird watch, especially for smaller song birds.

Active birder Greg Delisle has said in Cornell University's online birding collection program that Kansas is the top state to visit for bird watching in the spring behind Texas, Otte said.

"There is a lot of opportunity if people want to see birds," he said.

The Kansas Ornithological Society, a group made up of about 400 avid birdwatchers, held its spring bird watching field trip two weeks ago in Junction City and participated in the Kansas Birding Festival in Wakefield the last weekend of April.

In that weekend, the group saw more than 180 species of birds in Clay, Morris, Dickinson and Geary counties, Otte said. If the festival had been held the following the weekend, they might have seen more birds because of the storms moving through the area.

"I think it surprises people that you can go out in two days in Kansas this time of year and see 180 species," he said.

The record for the most birds seen in 24 hours in Kansas is 210, Otte said.

"We have an awful lot of birds here," he said.

Eastern birds are moving west to Kansas and birds native to the mountain west and desert southwest are following river corridors to visit the state, he said. It 's also north enough to see snowy owls occasionally.

He said Milford Lake and the Wakefield wetlands are an ideal location for bird watching with it's eastern deciduous forest, Tallgrass prairie and aquatic and wetlands areas in one place. In August unusual gulls and "birds you'd never expect to see in Kansas" come north to Milford Lake.

Migration is also bringing birds from the southeast and southwest, including greater roadrunners, which have been seen around Salina. Increasing amount of woodland along rivers and streams are "superhighways" for birds migrating, he said.

Pileated woodpeckers now can be seen nesting in Clay County, a bird that typically was only seen in southeast Kansas. Other such birds include the white-winged dove and the Mississippi kite. The red-shouldered hawk is coming up from the southwest.

A lot of birds that can be seen no where else in Kansas have been seen in Morton County along the Cimmaron River. There you can find the padded tanager and the gray vireo, seen for the first time in the Morton County. A hooded oriole was briefly seen at the end of April near Lawrence, which was the first state record and likely ended up there because of a storm.

Kansas now has 476 species of birds that have been identified in Kansas on it's official state bird list. About 276 species have been identified and recorded in Clay County and more than 350 in Geary County, he said.

Attendance at the Kansas Birding Festival was down this year in part because it followed Easter weekend. Only about 30 people from seven states attended, but Otte said the committee is already working on promoting the event in 2016.

One of the draws of the festival is that is one of the few opportunities to see the two species of prairie chickens, which are becoming increasingly more difficult to find, Otte said.

There were an estimated quarter-million prairie chickens 30 years ago in the five states where they have habitat; but counts last spring put that number to around 17,000, Otte said.

Disturbing habitat is the greatest reason for the decline and the lesser prairie chicken is more sensitive to that, Otte said.

Otte said bird watching, called "birding," has become big business in America with birdwatchers spending an estimated $82 billion on the hobby, according to a 2009 study. He said between 50 and 80 million consider themselves birdwatchers and their involvement ranges from watching and feeding birds in their back yard to extended trips to see particular species in their native habitat.

The hobby is also dispersed among several age groups from young couples to retired, he said, and tends to be people with disposable income.

"People ask me, Chuck why do go birding?" he said. "I don't go birding because of what I will see, I go birding because of what I might see. Birds have wings and they use them, and they don't read the bird books. They will go where they want to go."

Sewage treatment ponds, landfills and cemeteries also great places to find birds, Otte said.

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