Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maxwell Wildlife Refuge: PeRFAct Birding!

I recently found myself in central Kansas with a couple hours to spare, so I drove out to Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in McPherson County. This place has been a favorite of mine since childhood. I remember catching my first Hog-nosed snakes and 6 lined Racerunners in the Dakota Sandstone hills that dominate the landscape there.

But this visit was in the dead of winter, some 50 years after my childhood adventures. Some things have not changed at all. The herd of 50 elk that was introduced to the area in 1951 remains, hanging out in the bottomland timber on this chilly day.
The herd of American Bison numbers between 200 and 240 and is very approachable in between cattle guards on the 2000 acres of prairie.
Waterfowl squeezed into the remaining open water on McPherson County Fishing Lake within the refuge grounds. Highlights were Cackling Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Ring-necked Ducks and Common Goldeneye.
But today my target species was a particular raptor. Not the ubiquitous Red tails and harriers, but something a bit more swift and elusive. Somewhat of a nemesis bird to me through the years, I figured that my odds were good in the vast mid grass prairie on this winter day in central Kansas.

After completing my run through the refuge, I took a little used road one mile west of the public land. The red hues of the winter prairie glowed, even in the overcast, late afternoon light. It was there that I saw my prize lift off of the fence post and swing back beside me. Dark "wingpits", stealthy low altitude flight..... The falcon turned upward for a moment, and I saw it approaching a high altitude falcon before veering off to the west. I quickly backed the car up 1/4 mile to where I saw the bird dip into the valley, and there I relocated the beautiful adult Prairie Falcon on the fencepost.
All in all, I enjoyed two wonderful hours of wildlife watching in a place that can take you back in time 50 years, or even a 1000 years, on a Kansas prairie.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Prodigy Seen Through Rufous Colored Bins

One of the primary missions of the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society is to reach out to discover all those people in the general population who have more than a passing interest in birds, and then to provide opportunities to foster their avian interest. This is particularly challenging when the person with the birding interest is still living in his/her parents' nest. But, discovering and investing in these young people is the most rewarding of all of our Greater Ozarks Audubon ventures, and it can pay big dividends in education and conservation as the years pass and these young people become adults, expanding their geographic ranges to reach into troubled ecosystems and pursue ecological solutions around the globe.
David Ringer and N8 Swick
During the holiday season, I had the privilege of birding with two of the finest that GOAS has nurtured, David Ringer and Nathan Swick. Even though we only joined for a brief moment in the living room of the gracious host's home pursuing a winged winter resident in Ozark, it was delightful to overhear the conversation and bask in the warmth of the bird friendly environs. How fitting that the accidental lingering of a tiny Rufous Hummingbird should provide the impetus for our paths to cross once again! It was another milepost forged by years of local relationships centered around small winged jewels of adaptation.
photo taken by Marvin DeJong
David Ringer, of Search and Serendipity and Nathan Swick, of The Drinking Bird were both GOAS prodigies as teen birders. They honed their identification skills in the field and their communication skills on the Internet to adapt to a changing technological climate and carve out unique niches in the blogosphere. Their blogs are both informative, innovative, and dedicated to blazing a trail into the frontiers of birding, conservation, and ecotourism.
Be sure to follow their blogs in 2010. They both will be chalk full of birding adventures, ecological insight, and just plain fun!
Although they were once our young, inquisitive kids in the club, as adults they have exceeded our expectations and soared to new heights, both becoming conservation leaders in a world starving for their intelligence, creativity, and new ideas for sustainable living on Earth. The birds, the birders, and the "village" will be stronger for what they have to offer. We at GOAS are simply proud to watch them dip and soar on the warm winds of change.