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Red-wings in Kansas

June 7, 2010

Another thing about birding that makes it so darn appealing (add it to the list) is the fact that any trip away from home is an opportunity to put yourself in a new place with a completely new suite of birds to enjoy.  This past weekend I found myself in Lawrence, Kansas, ostensibly to celebrate the wedding of a cousin (Congrats Mike and Gracie!), but the chance came to take one of the mornings I was in town to get in the field and see what’s around and maybe add some birds to my Kansas list.

Thanks to help of eBird’s hotspot finder, my dad and I zeroed in on Haskell-Baker Wetlands, several acres of marshland behind Haskell Indian Nations University, managed in tandem by Haskell and the University of Kansas just down the road.

The wetlands themselves were nice enough, if not particularly notable, and while I didn’t turn up any birds that I’d be unlikely to find in a similar wetland complex here in North Carolina it was worth it to get out and enjoy the morning.  My dad and I got good looks at a couple singing Baltimore Orioles, and the Dickcissels on territory were great considering that’s a species I’m only likely to get during migration if at all at home.  But there were also the resident eastern woodland and wetland species, like this Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Kansas is generally considered to be “west”, one of those rectangular states that you could level a painting by, but the eastern part of the state, where Lawrence lies, is entirely hilly and mostly forested.  While there are genuine real-deal prairie species around, most of them are further west, and the vast majority of the birdlife consists of species someone in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania would be familiar with.

Wetlands are slightly different, of course, and during migration this place is right down central of many fantastic shorebird species’ routes, but in June the most prominent bird by far is one with which nearly every birder in North American is well acquainted, the Red-winged Blackbird.

Given the opportunity to observe so many individuals on this damp, reedy patch of ground, it stands to reason that I’d try to take some photos.  Some better than others, of course, as the birds were constantly shuttling back and forth between fields, displaying scarlet epaulets prominently.  The air was thick with their scratchy, discordant calls.

Though the males were, by design, the most evident, there were lots of females around too.  These birds seemed paler and more subtly buffy to me than the Red-wings in North Carolina, but that could just be my imagination as I’ve never really taken the time to observe this species around here like I did this weekend.

Though I didn’t find anything new, not that I expected anything like that anyway, it was well worth it to find time to get out in the field.  No matter where you go, no matter how outwardly boring the location might seem at first glace, being a birder means there’s always something new and exciting about any sort of travel destination, as my time in Kansas made clear yet again.


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