This is it! Day 1 one ‘Voices of a Flyway’. So much work has gone into getting the project to this point, but now all that’s left is to hit to road and head to the Gulf Coast and start collecting sounds and stories. But first, I needed to drive to Houston,TX to pick up Jacqueline and Tyler on Friday.
I left the house at 8 am this morning and proceeded to drive southeast into Kansas where I’ve stopped for the night. I have never been to Kansas and I was probably more excited than most people can understand. I was most eager to see the vast expanse of prairie and search for any signs of migration.
Not long after crossing the border into Kansas, I saw what I was looking for as several Turkey Vultures circled over the interstate. They are such a common sight during the summer that I often take them for granted, but on this day, their wobbly soaring was a very welcome sight.
I noticed countless Western Meadowlarks singing from fence posts, as well as plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds who had already staked their claim to prime wetland real estate. Finally, I spotted a couple of shorebirds, including Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs. Altogether, a sure sign that migration is well underway and that I was headed in the correct direction.
During my drive, I also made a point to remember the human element of the project and the first thing that stood out were the countless wind farms that I passed. In many ways, these are a welcome sight as they suggest the country is slowly taking hold of using renewable energy sources. I couldn’t help but wonder what the locals thought of them and how many people in the area this industry might employ.
Unfortunately, wind farms also claim their fair share of bird fatalities. Nocturnal migratory birds are especially prone as they may not notice the spinning arms, which can top out at close to 200mph, and either get struck directly by the blades or sucked into the vacuum and thrown to the ground as the blades pass by. This technology certainly has room for improvement but is a step in the right direction.
I spent the evening birding at Cheyenne Bottoms Refuge in central Kansas. This place is an amazing example of how powerful conservation efforts can be. The 41,000 acre refuge sits in the middle of vast expanses of farmland and attracts migratory and breeding bird species by the hundreds. The fields surrounding the refuge weren’t totally empty of birds, but pretty close, especially in comparison. Places like Cheyenne Bottoms provide excellent habitat for breeding birds, as well as a much needed refueling stop for birds headed north in the spring and south in the fall.
I arrived shortly after 4pm and was greeted by untold numbers of birds, especially waterfowl. I came here hoping to spot the ultra-rare Whooping Crane, but had no such luck. However, I was treated to over 10 species of ducks, a flock of over 5,000 blackbirds soaring overhead that took close to 5 minutes to pass, a group of gorgeous American Avocets, two very hard-to-spot American Bitterns, and a solitary Short-eared Owl hunting the wetlands at dusk. A very successful evening, only to be followed by some wetland dawn chorus recording in the morning, if the winds die down.
Looking forward to the next stage of the journey and arriving at the Gulf in two days!