On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
I have so enjoyed Spring in Flyover Country! Not just the extraordinary photography that we have come to expect from Albatrossity, but also the stories. So many delightful stories! I have loved reading them and learning about these gorgeous birds. We’re not at the end of Spring in Flyover Country just yet, but I can see from Abatrossity’s descriptions that we’re heading toward the end of this particular road. There will be one more Spring in Flyover Country after today, and then it will be a long wait until next spring! ~WaterGirl
Winding down now, just one migrant in this batch, and lots of summer-resident birds. Some of them are pretty fine, however!
Here’s a shot of the fence-posts in a pasture south of town. One may wonder why the fence-posts seem to have been implanted in limestone boulders. But the reason lies, once again, in a fact that explains why our local native prairies are still intact rather than planted to row crops. The soil on this hilltop is too thin to allow a post-hole to be dug; the limestone bedrock is probably 2-4 inches below the surface And 2-4 inches is not deep enough to anchor a post that your cattle will be pushing against. So the ingenious solution was to drag some of the ubiquitous limestone boulders to the top of the hill, space them out, drill holes in them, and plant the fence-posts in the holes. Even in the most robust Kansas tornado, these posts aren’t going anywhere.
Here’s the sole migrant passerine bird I saw this week (third week of May). It’s one of those pesky Empidonax flycatchers, that are hard to ID from a picture and just about as hard to ID when you have them in your hand. From the picture we can reduce the possibilities to two: Alder Flycatcher or Willow Flycatcher. Interestingly these two current species were formerly lumped into one – Traill’s Flycatcher. The calls and songs are the only definitive discriminating trait, and fortunately I heard this one call. It’s a Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax trailli), which has been recorded sporadically as a breeding species in northeastern Kansas (including the county just to the north of me), but this one is probably headed out of town for the summer.
The most vocally obvious bird in this part of flyover country is the Dickcissel. A bird that prefers old fields and shrubby pastures, it is everywhere. If you can’t find a Dickcissel here at this time of year, you are legally deaf and blind. Here’s a newlywed couple, Mr and Mrs Dick Cissel, thinking about the eggs back in their nest, no doubt. When they flew off, they were followed by two other members of the wedding party: a couple of female Brown-headed Cowbirds who were also thinking of putting their eggs in that nest.
Our local tallgrass prairie hosts lots of Upland Sandpipers every summer as well. One of the few trans-equatorial migrants in North America, these birds spend the austral summer in the pampas of South America and the boreal summer in grasslands in North America. Researchers at KSU have trapped and transmittered some of these birds, and their migratory path is amazing. See the maps here .
Another prairie specialist, but one that is a lot less common, is the Henslow’s Sparrow. This species needs prairies with lots of last year’s grasses (the standing dead) before it is comfortable settling down and making a nest. It skulks through those dead grasses, only emerging on calm mornings to sing a bizarre song that resembles a hiccup. Here’s a link to a video of this guy singing.
Bell’s Vireos are also quite obvious vocalists if you are in the right habitat, dogwood or other shrubs in grasslands. Like their forest counterpart, the Red-eyed Vireo, these guys sing loud and continuously even in the heat of a summer mid-day.
Orchard Orioles are a bit unusual in that the first-year males look very different from males in older age classes. So here is an older Orchard Oriole male, with that brick-red body and black head. He is an excellent songster as well; video here.
This is a first-year male Orchard Oriole, hatched last summer. Not brick-red at all, but yellow. No black head, but a very dark black throat patch. And song-wise he is indistinguishable from an older male, so presumably he will attract a female looking for a younger guy.