Date: 3/20/17 12:10 am
From: Eric Hough <000001be0e05c15a-dmarc-request...>
Subject: SW/central KS sightings (March 14-18) plus Clark Co. post-burn update
This past week (March 14-18, 2017) I was conducting bird surveys for work in Clark County in southwest Kansas, with additional birding in the afternoons plus stops while driving between Kansas City and Dodge City. Before I get into the sightings, I wanted to address the current conditions in Clark Co. since the previous week’s fire, which burned from the Oklahoma border up through Clark and Comanche counties, and was apparently the largest fire recorded in Kansas history (over 500K acres). On March 15 after surveying near Minneola, I went over to Clark State Fishing Lake via the western access (Hwy. 283 south of Minneola, then following the signs towards the lake). The fire affected almost all of the area lying east and south of the agricultural land southeast of Minneola where the wind farm is being constructed, and completely burned the area surrounding Clark SFL down to its shoreline. The prior grassland-yucca habitat on the surrounding hills was burned down to the soil, with yucca stumps remaining in some areas. I’m aware that grasslands are a fire adapted community, but I have no idea how/on what timeframe they recover when affected by unseasonal, high severity fires during dry years. It has been a very dry winter out there and none of the regional playas or tanks have water, except where manually brought in by ranchers for their cattle. In some spots there is already some grass (native?) sprouting up, but over much of the area it appeared to be bare soil. Hopefully enough vegetation can resprout and help stabilize the soil before the next major deluge, but either way there is bound to be heavy erosion in spots when they do get substantial rain. In the draws among the hills, some of the junipers and riparian shrub species were scorched, while others appeared to be moderately burned and may survive. Luckily, most of the trees and shrubs at the main camping/boat launch spots around the lake were only lightly burned and the ranger’s residence and outhouses buildings around the lake were untouched, undoubtedly due to the local firefighting effort during the blaze. In the riparian area along the Bluff Creek inflow at the north end of the lake, I hiked about 0.5-mile upstream to check out the damage. It appears that the fire burned through the understory shrubs and woody debris (including fallen logs), but all the larger trees and snags are all still present and appear to have only been lightly burned around the lower portions of their trunks. I would guess most of the larger trees will survive and the fire simply cleared out the understory and reduced the density of smaller shrubs and trees along this riparian corridor.

Anyways, here are some brief bird highlights by date in central and southwest KS:

—March 14: At a small farm lake at the intersection of Hwy. 50 and 170 Rd. in Chase County I had ~200 BONAPARTE’S and a few RING-BILLED GULLS. Also present was an early SPOTTED SANDPIPER and a few HOODED MERGANSERS and REDHEADS. Here is the eBird list if you want to see the map location and some gull photos:

Later in the afternoon I detoured up to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (Stafford Co.) At Little Salt Marsh, highlights included three BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS, 62 RING-BILLED GULLS, and scattered waterfowl (predominantly RUDDY DUCKS and GREEN-WINGED TEAL) at Little Salt Marsh. At Migrants Mile/Park Smith Lake I had a flyover flock of 22 SNOW GEESE, an assortment of seven waterfowl species including COMMON GOLDENEYES, and lingering AMERICAN TREE and HARRIS’S SPARROWS mixed in with a junco flock. At an adjacent farm field while checking out a herd of white-tailed deer, I was amused to see a young buck repeatedly chase a pair of CANADA GEESE, although I was too slow at getting my camera up to get any footage of it! On the main refuge road south of 170th St. I saw four SHORT-EARED OWLS foraging near sunset, along with more scattered, diverse duck flocks, and a few more AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS. Along 170th St. in the vicinity of Big Salt Marsh at sunset I counted at least 650 SANDHILL CRANES coming in, but at dusk I could hear many more south of 170th St. and flying over unseen in the twilight. I also saw another SHORT-EARED OWL at sunset and hundreds more ducks coming into the ponds.

—March 15: In the afternoon at Clark State Fishing Lake (Clark Co.), on the lake I had 12 waterfowl species including 232 LESSER SCAUPS and 150 GADWALLS, 15 RING-BILLED GULLS, and flyover flocks of 440+ SANDHILL CRANES. While hiking about 0.5-mile through the riparian area along the Bluff Creek inflow at the lake, I still found decent bird activity despite the recent burn, with highlights including at least two BARRED OWLS, 13 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS, nine DOWNY WOODPECKERS, four NORTHERN FLICKERS, two EASTERN PHOEBES, eight WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, a lingering WINTER WREN, 8+ CAROLINA WRENS, 10 EASTERN BLUEBIRDS including several singing males, 250+ AMERICAN ROBINS, plus several juncos and cardinals. In the junipers at the campground by the Bluff Creek inflow I had a few CEDAR WAXWINGS. While driving back to Dodge City from Minneola I saw a couple of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS (Clark/Ford counties). Stopping to refuel at the Cenex gas station on 14th Ave. on the south side of Dodge City, I saw a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE harassing some pigeons atop the ramada over the pumps (raiding their nest?).

—March 16: While surveying near Minneola in Clark Co. (not able to divulge exact locations) I saw several longspur flocks among farm fields and a couple of farm tanks that still had a little water, with dozens of LAPLAND LONGSPURS and smaller numbers of CHESTNUT-COLLARED and McCOWN’S. I also had my first-of-year VESPER SPARROW. In the late afternoon I checked out the Fowler Sandhills west of Minneola at the juncture of Clark, Meade, and Ford counties. Along C Rd. I saw a LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN fly over, then along County Line Rd. I saw another one fly north of the road on the Ford Co. side. I listened here from sunset through dusk and heard several LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKENS booming at leks on both sides of County Line Rd., although most were on the Ford Co. side and I only for sure heard one on the Clark Co. side. Earlier along C Rd. I saw a SHORT-EARED OWL and a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK cruising the grasslands. Along County Line Rd. at sunset I also had a couple flocks of NORTHERN PINTAILS fly over and a flock of ~50 CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS. On my way back to Hwy. 283 I spotted a SHORT-EARED OWL flying over my headlight shine along 108 Rd. south of Wrangler Rd.

—March 17: During surveys near Minneola (not able to give exact locations), I had my first-of-season BURROWING OWLS, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS, and COMMON GRACKLES.

—March 18: After finishing surveys, I had a couple of first-of-season birds southeast of Minneola: two GREATER YELLOWLEGS along a pond near the Bluff Creek bridge on County Rd. 14. and a SAY’S PHOEBE near some oil/gas machinery along this road south of the bridge.

On my way back to Kansas City, I made stops at a couple of birding sites I hadn’t visited before. At Texas Lake Wildlife Area near Pratt (Pratt Co.) I had lots of pheasants, sparrows, juncos, blackbirds, and meadowlarks throughout the grasslands, including one VESPER SPARROW and six HARRIS’S SPARROWS. There was a little water what my iPhone map showed to be the main “lake” that I could see from one of the parking spots, but I didn’t have wading boots with me so decided against trudging through the marshy area to look for potential ducks or shorebirds. While driving through the town of Pratt I saw my first-of-season TURKEY VULTURE fly over the highway. After getting a late lunch in Pratt, I checked out the Ninnescah River Trail next to the KDWPT headquarters, birding first along the segment on the north side of the river and then over on the boardwalk segments near Pratt County Lake. Highlights included watching a pair of TUFTED TITMICE carrying nesting material into a tree cavity and seeing a nifty intergrade Red-shafted x Yellow-shafted NORTHERN FLICKER. I also heard a chickadee along the riparian area, but left it as just Black-capped/Carolina in eBird since this area would appear to be roughly within the contact zone between the two species.

Good birding,

Eric Hough
Kansas City, MO

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