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.
The end of October is usually a good week for migration in Kansas, and this year was no exception. My trip to Quivira NWR on Oct 30 let me arrive at dawn to see two Whooping Cranes amidst a gazillion ducks and geese, as well as about 30,000 Sandhill Cranes. Which was very timely because I had agreed to do a video presentation for the Celebration of Cranes for Audubon of Kansas, and I needed some images and video!
If you want to see that presentation, it is on YouTube , a video of Whooping Cranes at Dawn is here, and a video of Sandhill Cranes by the thousands is here.
Another treat that morning was a sighting of several groups of Tundra Swans in the early morning light.
As the sun got higher and temperatures started getting warmer, the cranes moved out of the marsh into nearby fields to find breakfast. This trio of Sandhill cranes, likely a family group, was among them.
Cranes are not the only birds moving through Kansas in the fall. There were large flocks of gulls, mostly Franklin’s Gulls and a few Ring-billed Gulls like this one.
And birds are not the only critters that use that refuge. This white-tailed doe shows us the origin of the phrase “high-tailing it outta here”.
American White Pelicans are abundant migrants spring and fall in Kansas, and look pretty good when highlighted against a deep blue Kansas sky. They are on their way to the Gulf Coast, but quite a few now overwinter on the larger reservoirs in Oklahoma and Texas.
Later in the morning, as I was starting to think about heading home, I found a flock of 8 Whooping Cranes several miles from where I found the first two at dawn. They were a loooong ways off, but any endangered species is always worth spending time with, even at an appropriate social distance.
Before heading back, I stopped to admire this young Red-tailed Hawk. You can tell it is a youngster because of that yellow iris, and also because only the young ones are dumb enough to let a human get this close to them.
A couple of days later I found this American Kestrel sweeping over the windy prairie south of Manhattan KS. This bird is not only the smallest hawk in North America, it is also one of the prettiest!
And finally, an old friend returns. For the eighth winter in a row this dark-morph Harlan’s Hawk, christened Harley by my kids, is hanging out on the KSU Agronomy Department’s North Farm about a mile from my house. He spent the summer in Alaska or the Yukon, but is now back and will be a fixture until next March. Welcome back, old friend!
Albatrossity, your photographs always capture such fleeting beauty and fuel my mood for a hopeful morning. Thank you so much.
Wow! Just beautiful and all of the pictures are great.
Thank you! The videos are a delight, I laughed at the Whopping Cranes in the first one-it looks like they are lifting their wings like everyone else so they won’t be noticed. Just hiding out among friends. I will save the presentation for this afternoon, it will give me something to look forward to. I so appreciate your generosity with your talent.
@Laura Too: Thanks! Yes, the Whooping Cranes have lots of interesting behaviors, but I had not seen that one before. Folks tell me that they were just stretching their wings, which might be a bit creaky after spending the night in the marsh. And they did take off just a minute or so after that video ends. But I like your explanation better!
Mike S (Now with a Democratic Congressperson!)
Thanks, Great pics as always. I’ll watch the presentation later today also.
I just love your pictures. Thanks so much.
What a great way to start the day, both pictures and the shorter videos (the longer video will wait until later). Some of it just made me chuckle at the feeling of a re-gathering of friends after a long journey, and all the attendant social nuances. Beautiful, beautiful pictures, as usual.
Glad that Harley is back!
@Wag: Me too! He was about three weeks later than usual, and I was getting a bit concerned. Most of the other dark northern hawks that I saw here over the last winters were late too, so it must have been mild, with lots of raptor snacks, in the prairie provinces and in the Dakotas this year.
All but one of the dozen or so dark northern hawks that were here last winter have returned this year, and there are also a few new birds on the block. Hope some of them stick around, but most of them are still heading south.
Marvelous photos and I learned where “Hightailing” comes from.
So wonderful as always, Albatrossity. That shot of the pelicans flying is my favorite — I find it hard enough to get good pictures of birds when they’re sitting still; the way you manage to capture them in flight is a marvel to me.
I do wish we had seen a Whooping crane when we still lived in CO but it didn’t happen. Thanks for the excellent, as always, photos!
Our first encounter with Sandhill cranes was when we were visiting family in rural Michigan; their cry is so dinosaur! Then we saw one in with the local birds at a feeder, it hopped up, bopped the feeder to knock out plenty of seed and got busy eating what fell out, with a crowd of smaller birds around it
Your pictures make for an inspiring, nature-loving mood for the beginning of days. Thank you.
Also, several friends have taken up birding since Covid came knocking. Do you have a specific site to view your pictures (possibly purchase)?
@susanna: Thanks; I’m glad people enjoy them as much as I enjoy sharing them!
Yeah, birding became more popular this last spring, and lots of folks have picked up the hobby. It’s unfortunate that lots of local birding groups have had to cancel field trips, because that is an excellent way to learn about birds, birding spots, and to meet new friends. But hopefully we can get back to doing that sometime next year. Perhaps by spring!
I do have a site with some of my pictures, including many that I have shared here on Balloon Juice. Just click on my name at the top of this comment; it is a link that takes you to that site.
And I also have calendars for 2021, one of which features Landscapes and another that features the Birds of Flyover Country.
J R in WV
As always, a great photo set of nature’s beauty. I like the Pelicans too, but my favorite is the Sandhill cranes in flight. They remind me of something from Area 51, a top secret test flight AFB in the Nevada desert. Huge flocks of Sandhill cranes winter over in the Sulfur Springs Valley, below the mountains our tiny ranch sets in…
It’s a near desert, that used to have a large shallow lake in the north end of the valley, before a small earthquake caused the springs to shut down. But evidently there’s plenty for them to eat, still, and they take full advantage of the huge center-pivot irrigation farms, standing there waiting for the spray of the rotating boom to reach them for a good shower.
I have pictures of them, but way high up in the huge crowds they flock into for the trip north in early spring. These guys are much closer, almost intimately close. Wonderful work.
And to see Whooping Cranes in the wild. Almost like finding one of the giant Ivory-billed Woodpeckers of Arkansas. Nearly gone, but saved for now. The Cranes, not the woodpeckers, alas.
@J R in WV: Yes, those cranes that winter near Willcox AZ are pretty interesting. They are the Lesser Sandhill Crane subspecies, and so they are the ones that nest very far north, and even well across the International Date Line into NE Siberia. But in the spring they migrate northeast to the Platte River in Nebraska, where they mingle with many other cranes before heading to Siberia. It seems that it would be a much shorter migration if they just headed northwest from the Sulfur Springs Valley, but there must not be any good staging/feeding spots along that route.
In the fall they head directly back to AZ from Siberia and Alaska, so at least they don’t make that long detour twice a year!
The first set of pictures happened on my birthday! Love all dem birds.
As usual, these are great!
Fine set – thanks for posting!