This past Saturday morning dawned cold, cloudy, and misty, but it didn’t deter participants in the annual Peeps and Pastries event from making the trek to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors traveled from Wichita, Hutchinson, and Pratt. One mother and her young son even traveled from a location near the Nebraska line north of Kirwin Reservoir.
Quivira NWR “reigns supreme among Kansas birding destinations,” according to The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots. That was definitely the case on Saturday morning as a plethora of birds were present. Barry Jones, Visitor Services Specialist at Quivira, has been birding since he was 12 years old and readily identified a variety of species for the participants in one of two Chevy Suburbans.
Northern Shovelers, American Coots, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers were out in abundance on the trek, as well as birds typically seen around the Pratt area like Red-Winged Blackbirds, Robins, Great-tailed Grackles and Mourning Doves.
The group left from the Environmental Education Classroom and headed north to the Big Salt Marsh, passing many playas and larger wetlands along the way. Besides the aforementioned birds, other species observed with binoculars included American Kestrel, Eared Grebe, Blue Jay, Yellowlegs, Shrike, Black-necked stilt, numerous varieties of Sparrows, and many Wilson’s Phalaropes, which spin around in circles to stir up insects for feeding. Also, interestingly, Wilson’s Phalaropes are one of a few bird species in which the female is more colorful than the male. The group also saw a Swainson’s Hawk, which allowed a vehicle approach within a few feet, delighting photographers. Another highlight was the willet. Although drab and gray on the ground, the willet’s wing pattern is stunning and spectacular in flight. Another high point was the appearance of three American Avocets, another beautiful bird.
Quivira is definitely wet right now, and this fact has attracted a multitude of species to the refuge. Even the flats north of the Big Salt Marsh are filled with water. The Visitors Center has recorded over 3” of rain thus far in April, besides the water flowing in from Rattlesnake Creek. If you plan to make a trip to Quivira, now is a good time to go, particularly in the morning.