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.
We’re back in Kansas today – just for the day – so we can catch some early spring visitors before we return to Africa with Albatrossity next week. Then it’s back to the Alps with BigJimSlade!
It seems like it’s either feast or famine with On the Road. Toward the end of last year, after I let you know we were running low on posts, you guys sent in 45 posts in December alone, and 15 more in January. That’s at least 3 months worth of OTR posts, and just recently we made it through all the December submissions. We are now we’re into the January submissions, which is great!
We have posts in the queue for this week and next, so this would be a great time to submit your photos.
As winter comes to a close and spring teasingly peeks around the corner, I thought it would be good to take a break from the Africa posts and showcase some our local critters. We’ll get back to Ngorongoro Crater next week, but for this week, we’re back in Kansas, Toto.
I live near a large US Army base, Fort Riley, that periodically rattles our windows with artillery training and helicopter flyovers. But it is also home to a herd of about 200 Elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis), a large subspecies of the critter that is known as the Red Deer in Europe (where the critters we call “moose” are called “elk”). This herd is not fenced, and so the animals can roam freely off the base. I found this group of 19-20 near our local airport, about ½ mile off base. Nowadays we tend to think of Elk as creatures of the Mountain West, but historically they were on the prairies in large numbers. The mountains are a refugia for this species; they’d be happy to be prairie residents again! Click here for larger image.
I’ve posted pictures of Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) before, because this large special sparrow can’t usually be found outside of Flyover Country. But I really liked this shot, because almost all of the earth tones of the bird are mirrored in its perch, a busted and moldy corn stalk. Excellent choice of a perch, in my opinion! Click here for larger image.
Another local specialty bird is the Greater Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), although historically this bird was found along the East Coast as well. Nowadays you have to come here to see them, and they are not easy to see, especially in winter. But I stumbled across a flock of 20-25 birds and managed to get a shot of some of them as they flew off. They actually fly pretty fast, so I was happy that I was able to capture that. Click here for larger image.
It’s been a good winter for seeing Merlins (Falco columbarius) here, but it probably was not good for this Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis). Click here for larger image.
Another winter denizen that can be hard to photograph is the Brown Creeper (Certhia americana); they tend to say on the shady side of the tree trunks and away from photographers. But this one was frozen in place by the passage of our local Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), and seemed to understand that the photographer was probably less predatory than the hawk. Given their excellent camouflage, I don’t imagine that they are often on the menu for an accipiter. Click here for larger image.
Flocks of geese are getting more numerous here as the days lengthen, and this particular flock had at least four different species. Those would be Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens), and Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii). All four are in this picture, although some are out of focus, so you can practice your goose ID skills over your morning coffee. Click here for larger image.
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorynchos) are also starting to move through, on their way to the glacial pothole lakes of the Northern Prairies. “There are pelicans in Kansas???” is still a very common question that I get every spring and fall! Click here for larger image.
Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) continue to increase in numbers around here, and my prospects for getting a decent flight shot of this species were enhanced by that. They have a lot going for them, aesthetics-wise. Click here for larger image.
Northern Harriers (Circus hudsonius) are a challenge to photograph since they are always moving, and if they see you, they make it a point to move AWAY from you. The pale gray adult males seem to be especially camera-shy. But they are a striking creature, with a piercing yellow eye, and are definitely worth pursuing with a camera, even if your prospects for success are never good! Click here for larger image.
Finally, here’s a shot of the species that I spend most of my time with in winter here, the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). And this is an especially stunning representative, an adult Krider’s Hawk (B. j. kriderii) Every once in a while you come across a hawk who is curious enough to come back for a second look, and I’m really glad that this one decided to do that! Click here for larger image.