Thursday, April 30, 2009

Students Say it Best

I wanted to share the excitement of birding and nature with my elementary class. They were asked to make observations of birds for a few weeks. They would have to document the description of the bird - even if they didn't know what it was, write where they saw it and what it was doing. After several days I asked them to write a reflection about their experiences. They came to me excitedly and reported often about their discoveries. I was thrilled to share the joys they experienced. I hope you enjoy the words of my students.

They shared their discoveries about bird behaviors and their amazing lives. Who would have thought a young girl would see with her heart, observe the fierce drama of a falcon capturing a dove, or experience the intense feelings of seeing a hawk fallout as the birds were captured between severe spring storms. I wish I were as lucky as they in seeing these wonderful events that only nature can provide. I hope they may continue to see with their hearts and look at the small and simple things that can enrich their lives. The following are the words of my students.

"I own a cockatiel. Cockatiels natural habitat is the outback areas of inland Australia. You can purchase cockatiels in a pet store. They range in price from $20 to $100. Cockatiels are grey bodies, white winged, yellow headed with orange cheeks. The bird was singing the lovely song, pretty girl and he sings to us and he is a funny bird to have. He can whistle thank you when you give him food." ~ Peyton

"One morning I was talking to my grandma on the phone. Then I saw a little plump bird that was brown. It was a House Sparrow. Then I saw a Grackle chasing another bird. He was black with greenish shiny feathers. I was so excited when I saw a Robin jumping on the tramp." ~ Liz

"One day I was eating breakfast when I asked my dad if I can go to work with him. He said 'sure', I went with him to his bosses’ ranch. He was talking to his boss when I got bored and started seeking through the old tall trees. All of a sudden I saw a gray turtle dove sway out of a tree gleaming in the sun. Then I saw a big falcon come out of the same tree, swoop down in midair and caught the gray dove for lunch." ~ Marissa

"One day I was walking around at the lovely brick Karval School. I saw a beautiful black-spotted, yellow beaked Starling, Sitting on these two tall, shiny, blue lights that we walk through. It was calling another bird over and I loved the sound of it. Every time it made a sound it would move its head. It was a little bit shiny on its little wings. I think this Starling was very interesting to watch it had different ways to move and talk." ~ Kaylee

"One day in Don and Janet's back yard I spotted a red, black, brown, and gray male House Finch. Also, I saw a dark and light brown female House Finch. They were eating away. They were also making a huge mess, cracking the sunflower seeds open and throwing them all over on the sidewalk. They were very picky eaters. The male was on the right side and the female on the left. They were bobbing their heads left and right as they were chomping on delicious seeds. As they chomped away a big black bird with greenish, shiny tint on its head came up and just scared it off. He flapped his wings in their faces and they fluttered off." ~ Janna

"One day I went to my grandmas’ house and flying around their house were big beautiful hawks. The hawks were coming by the dozens. I couldn’t believe it. They were very obnoxious. They hovered over the house for over an hour. We couldn’t find out why the silly hawks were there. They glided around and around forever. From a distance they looked like a tornado! It was scary but fun at the same time. It was awesome!" ~ Taryn

"One day I saw two beautiful gray, black, and red Robins. One was plump and rounded and small. The other was small, skinny and rounded. Their skin was shiny. It was a cold rainy day after the rain stopped. It was a beautiful day. The Robins were calling to each other. The male was showing off and the female strutted over to the male. She sounded like she was singing-'Row, Row, Row Your Boat.' It was a beautiful tone. They dashed off to the West." ~ Maggie

"Last Friday about 50 hawks were hovering over my house. When they were chattering it was obnoxious. They would perch in the tree and call each other. They stayed there for about five minutes. All the hawks were brown with a hint of white. It was very interesting. After they were done at my house they went and visited my neighbors. They were all perched in their trees. You could barely see their tree. It was amazing." ~ Jaci

"Once I was in La Junta when I looked out the window and saw a beautiful Long-Billed Curlew. It was a big bird about three feet tall. It was black and a beautiful brown. We stopped for about 25 minutes and had all the big cars’ windows rolled down. The noise was very, very obnoxious. It was a big long billed bird. It was close to White Woman Creek. It didn’t move a muscle so we thought it was dead and then it moved its big old head. That is when I saw it truly in my heart." ~ Mackenzie

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nearly 70 Species?-Karval Mountain Plover Festival

This is my incomplete list of birds seen of Friday and Saturday of the Plover Festival. I know many additional birds were seen on Sunday. I will change this post when I get the updated lists tomorrow at the Karval Community Alliance meeting. It was quite a good representation for the area. The wind and cooler temperatures tolerable because the birds came out into view.

Ruddy Duck
Western Grebe
White-Faced Ibis
Northern Harrier
Swainson's Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Mountain Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove
Mourning Dove
Great-Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl
Northern Flicker
Say's Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Horned Lark
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Rock Wren
House Wren
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-Rumped Warbler-Myrtle's,and Audubon's races
Green-Tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow
Dark-Eyed Junco
Red-Winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-Headed Cowbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

A Bit of Old Fashioned Community News

This year's Plover Festival was marked by great fun, great food, wonderful guests, and cooperative birds. The weather was not the 80 degrees that we had all week, but good enough to see birds and enjoy our time.

Our first evening we took a trip to find Mountain Plovers and Burrowing Owls. We were not disappointed in our search. We found our target on the first tour. This was a new life bird for one of our guests. What a thrill this is. We also spent some time trying to find the Swift Fox that is usually hard to find.

We had a sandwiches and a treat of homemade ice cream provided by the Willing Workers while we talked and exchanged stories. Our first star gazing event was not to be. The overcast skies would not disperse and only a handful of stars were seen before bedtime. This was a disappointment after starry nights for several days.

A very early start came for the Karval Alliance members. By 5:00 am we were cooking breakfast for all - a hearty meal before venturing out into the cold morning air. This time we found more Plovers, and the Swift Fox. We wound our way through country roads calling out, "Stop!" Our attentive bus driver was up to the challenge.

We spent the morning at the Weinegar-Davis Ranch. Russell Davis, a gracious host, took us through his productive cow-calf operation. The cattle were certain our bus was a large load of feed and we had quite a following. At one point, it seemed they were all lined up for the port-a-potty. The cool morning slowed the activity of the birds for awhile, but as the chill left, the birds came out. A very knowledgeable crowd was pleasantly instructed in the ecology of the short grass prairie - a meaningful discussion about how to balance ranching and wildlife.

We returned for lunch provided by the Friendship Circle. We then went to Hugo State Wildlife Area and Kinny Lake area to see if we could add to our list of birds. Many Burrowing Owls were seen and a few more Mountain Plovers as well. We encountered new species at the lake and could see side by side views of the Myrtle's and Audubon's Warblers. Western Grebe, American Coot, Spotted Sandpiper, Song and White-Crowned Sparrows, and Northern Harriers were seen.

We had a chuck wagon supper from the Sophomore class. Roast Beef and baked potatoes restored energy in this staging area for birders and community members. The first photo contest winners were announced. Much of the beauty of the area was captured and displayed. Entertainment followed as local students performed along with teachers. Fun, food, and festivities concluded the day with energy and a sense of accomplishment.

Sunday morning brought many of the same crowd out for one last chance to add to the weekend's sightings. Breakfast was again a hearty one put on by the Karval Lions Club. No one should have left hungry after another excellent meal. Time was then spent on a bus crawling through fields - a visit to Karval Lake and the old Peyton Ranch with mixed grass habitat with Dan Merewether leading the way. The weather improved as the day wore on. Lunch was served by the Karval FFA. Bellies full and sun in the sky made for sleepy, happy birders returning home after a great weekend in the short grass prairie surrounding Karval. A great Big thanks goes out to all the community groups and experts who made this another successful Plover Festival.

Harrier Maneuvers

We walked from the parking area to the end of Kinny Lake. We saw Yellow-Rumped Warblers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a Western Grebe, and American Coots. We watched a male Northern Harrier fly close to a cattail area with some small morsel in its talons. It was very intent on showing the gift to a potential mate. He continued to pass over the area. We never saw her, but he was trying to get her attention for several minutes. He finally flew over the rise and out of sight.

As I turned to scan to my left. Wow! did you see that? I turned to see one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. (He must have heard birders were coming). A male Northern Harrier was putting on a show. The beautiful black wingtips and gray body so vivid against the sky. He was a striking athletic specimen. He would rise high in the air flying nearly vertically and then do a half turn and go over backwards- I would say a somersault. He repeated this over and over. Up, up, up, then a rapid half twist and fall, fall fall, upside down and swoop close to the earth. It was so graceful and controlled. I just stood there watching. I had my camera and never even thought of catching this on film. No video clip could have captured the moment, nor the feeling of awe. We saw this unusual display many times as he laced the sky. Every few minutes he worked his way across the horizon. For 30 minutes this image was burned into my memory. I can still picture it in my mind and it sends chills up my spine. A small thing perhaps, but not to me, for I may never see this scene again.

Birding Humor

How can you find so much fun in a yellow school bus? Out to look for birds we bundle up for the morning chill. The windows begin to fog and viewing becomes a challenge. Off goes the heater and the bus clears but not the mind. Early morning humor is light-hearted banter and sometimes unintentional.

Quotable quotes include descriptions of where the Burrowing Owl is standing in the field. "It's near the prairie dog mound."..."Which prairie dog mound?"
"That's a prickly pear."
"It's on the sandy patch to the left, but it's behind stuff. You can't see it now."
"Now, he's at about 11:30 from that cow pie."... "There are only about 300 cow pies!"
"It's on that light mound out there, in front of the lone brown horse."..."Which horse?"..."Look for the owl and you'll know which horse."
"To the left of the windmill, in front of that pine tree. Way out there."..."I can't see it in the binoculars."..."Oh, there it is, it just flew off."

Later in the day at the lake it is time for snacks in the bus. "Do you have any chocolate?"..."I'll take a granola bar, cause there aren't any donuts."

"Look at that! What is that?"..."It's a bush."..."No, there was a bird there before."

"I'll give you a dollar to eat this." (It was a dead bullfrog tadpole.)
"I'll give you a dollar to move the bus out into the field." (Bus driver was at the restroom.)

A fun day for birds and a lot of one dollar bets. Many puns and much laughter for all. A great bunch of folks to spend a day with. Quick wits, vivid descriptions, vague directions, patient bus drivers, and fabulous birds.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Last Minute Updates

Turkey VultureTurkey Vulture
This morning was a great day to walk. I took extra time to get to school. Every few feet something new would come out and beg me to identify it. I can't say that I knew all of them at first. I had time to photograph some of them and could tell by the picture what they were. I saw my first Turkey Vultures in the area. They were very photogenic. The first Myrtle's Warblers of the season were in the trees near the school. I got to see a mixed flock of Chipping Sparrows and a few Brewer's Sparrows. It was fun to add a few more species to the possible list for the Plover Festival that starts today. All totaled I have seen just in town and my walk 27 species today. I will see what I can add after the tours tonight. Hope to see you there.

What am I?Now for a birding quiz. What is the bird in this photo? I will look forward to your knowledgeable answers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Birds Active-Weather Beautiful

This mornings' walk yielded a few new birds to the spring arrival list. Chipping Sparrows were seen in many trees and fence rows. The electronic sounds of this years first Northern Mockingbird were heard long before I saw it. I stood and watched for several minutes. It was fun to hear all of the songs imitated. I expect to hear many more in the coming weeks. One lonely Lark Sparrow was also seen in the trees adjacent to an abandoned house. On the way home I saw the angular wings and flight pattern of a Mountain Plover pass in front of me. I had my camera and took a few photos. They are quite distant, but still good for my first permanent record of them. In the fields near my home I heard a first Savannah Sparrow as well. The plover festival is nearly upon us. I am excited for the school week to end a to get into the field. I hope to see some of you here in Karval.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mountain Plover Flying High

I spent the evening working in the garden and found it a relaxing pastime. Especially when off in the distance the Mountain Plover kept me entertained with an arial show. The loud raucous call always preceded the flight high into the air. Silhouetted against the setting sun the plover climbed. Checking the wind it careened toward the ground. It appeared to be more of a falcon's stoop than a plover winging across the sky. Over and over it repeated this scene. If birds can experience the joy of flight, then this certainly was joy. I marked my progress in the garden by the call that came about every five minutes. First I saw it display to the West, then it continued to the South, for almost two hours I enjoyed this spectacle. I have heard of the Plover's flight display during mating season. They call it the "falling leaf "display. I'm not certain that I saw this, but will continue to watch in anticipation. As the sun set the bird called less, and ceased to display. The intermittent show was something to remember always.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Untouched Earth After Heavy Rain

After heavy rain the dirt roads become soft and rutted. Then the work begins for the county road crews. After a thorough grading the smooth road is invited my footprints. I love to be the first to step on the fresh, clean surface. I noticed that I am not the only one to step in the soft wet smoothness. I followed the tracks of a coyote for nearly a mile. I passed many tracks of cottontail rabbits hopping along. I got to see the tail imprints and long hind legs of kangaroo rats. Cats crossed in several places and birds delicate imprints followed them. Later, there were dozens of antelope tracks moving from prairie to field. A quarter mile down- I saw hoof prints of them returning to the prairie. One can never take for granted the smooth road after the storm. It is a highway to more than vehicles. You never know who had come before.

April's Birding

As some of you are planning to come to the Plover Festival. I thought I would compile a list of what species I have seen so far this month. It has been filled with blizzard conditions, rain, heavy winds, and finally some sunny weather. So here is the list seen in my walks and time at Karval Lake. I have not traveled extensively in my birding and have heard others report species I have not seen yet. I hope that we see them all and more at the festival. It sounds like a great time. I am a new comer to the area and am excited to get my feet wet-so to speak. The birds are listed in the order seen. The last on the list were from this week. (47)

Rough-legged Hawk
Prairie Falcon
Canada Goose
Redhead Duck
American Wigeon
Double-crested Cormorant
Horned Lark
Mountain Bluebird
Western Meadowlark
Great Horned Owl
Eurasian Collared Dove
Mourning Dove
American Robin
Common Grackle- first of the season
House Finch
European Starling
House Sparrow
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Crow-first of the season
Red-winged Blackbird
Say's Phoebe
Northern Flicker-first of the season
Rock Dove
American Kestrel
Mountain Plover-first seen, others heard but not identified until now by call.
Burrowing Owl-first of the season, heard male calling in predawn
Vesper Sparrow-first of the season
Brewer's Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Golden Eagle
American Avocet
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ruddy Duck
American Coot
Green-winged Teal
Northern Harrier
Loggerhead Shrike
Rock Wren
White Crowned Sparrow
Swainson's Hawk-first of the season
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hometown Hospitatiy

Today was a wonderful day of birding. I was able to identify 29 species of birds, because I was able to take a private tour after school of a friends' ranch . Visiting ponds and range land we saw the regulars- Horned Larks, Western Meadowlarks, and Mourning Doves. But to our surprise we saw a large bird land. We stopped the truck and soon we saw a Golden Eagle rise into the air. Then another flew up, behind the hill a third was seen and finally a forth took to the air. I have never seen four Golden Eagles in the air together. We drove around the hill to flush them again. The immature birds were gliding low in the afternoon winds. What a priceless gift that was. I wish you could have been there.
As we visited several scattered ponds we saw many species of waterfowl- Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, Teal, American Avocet, and Killdeer.
What a spectacular day to talk of the homesteads here and the people who made their early homes in this vast prairie. We talked of the importance of water and the types of plants growing in each area on the ranch. A working knowledge of the interactions between nature and ranch life is everywhere present. I am the novice here. I wondered how to find my way back across the ranch to the gate. I conclude that I really need to spend more time in this countryside.
In just a few minutes before school and a tour after. I find myself immersed in a place that is becoming part of me. Beauty, peace, and friendship exist in Karval. I find joy in my common everyday experiences, home on range, where the deer and the antelope really do play.

Morning Concert

My early morning walks continue to unveil new sights and sounds. In the predawn hours when one expects silence. I am awed by the intense volume of birds singing vespers. A huge chorus of Horned Larks create an excitement for others birds to join in. Soon the Burrowing Owls hoot, hoot away with them. Next, I hear the throaty sounds of the Mountain Plover with their own sincopated rhythm. In counterpoint the Say's Phoebe sings the descant. The warblings of Robins and cooing of doves tie the morning symphony together in a wonderous morning concert. The closer to sunrise it gets the quieter everything becomes. A new set of birds awaken and sing a new song. The common songs of town birds, House Sparrows, House finches, Starlings, Grackles, Collared Doves, and yet, the resonating songs hang in the air from the previous concert. Maybe late comers singing familiar songs as they go about their day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Prairie Poetry

Reflections on Sunrise

Tongues of flaming fire
poured over tiers of smoky clouds-
each wave spread across
the ripples of the sky.

Morning had broken and
spread as wine on the vaulted ceiling.
Calmly, slowly, it spread its many fingers
to the far reaches of the horizon.

Nothing seemed beyond its reach,
yet, as wave gave way to wave,
the cloven march brightened,
then faded into after thought.

My heart warmed by the touch of God’s outreached hands.
I felt His arms of safety surround me like a red flannel blanket.
He let me free-only the afterglow remained, ever painted in my heart.

Plover Lover
October 24, 2008

While watching the rain soak and nourish everything. I reflected back on the changes that so quickly come and go across the prairie. I have experienced some incredible scenes in our wild, wide open spaces. The running antelope in full out expression. The swirling snow blocking out the sun. The wind cutting into soil and polishing each object too set in its' ways to move. The sun, a ball of fire sitting on the prairie grass. The hoot of the owls, and call of cranes, the rising songs of meadowlarks, the constant lilt of horned larks, and plantive cry of phoebes. Towering clouds as black as night charge through, followed by sails of white in the great blue sky. The heavy rains- pouring waterfalls onto the dry thirsty earth. Choosing one place and laughing at another. Landscapes as brown as paper sacs, wrinkled and torn. Green as far as eye can see, pushing up after rain. Multicolored swatches of blooming wildflowers springing up as far as the prairie itself. In this harsh defiant land even the beauty defies the imagination. Spend some time and find out what a day can bring. It penetrates people- as down to earth as the living things bold enough to live here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Karval birds as changeable as the weather

A true sign of spring; rain, snow, wind, and blow. A favorite time of year for me. A time looked forward to- baby animals, buds on the trees, new flowers, and warmer weather. By this time most of the calves are born and surviving the changeable weather the best way they can. Lambs are seen in roadside pastures enjoying a free meal. Soon there will be hungry mouths to feed as the birds pair off and nest. I can’t wait to search for nests and young.

As ranching duties increase, so does the final round of activities at school. Spring is best described as busy. The birds seem to have received the message. Rafts of ducks on every large and small pond- flocks of birds in the fields and trees all in some stage of doing what must be done. Some are moving north for the nesting season. Mountain Bluebirds in large flocks come through and in a few weeks leave for the summer. The Buffleheads, Redheads, Scaups, Widgeons, and geese will move to larger sources of water- so the great diversity will soon end. We are their staging area and I am happy about that. Others are coming for the summer Mountain Plovers, Common Grackles, House Finches, and Blackbirds will begin nesting. As for the owls- they are on nests with young and always on the verge of being blown out of the tree.

Still anticipated is the coming of the small songbirds- Warblers, Flycatchers, Kingbirds, to mention a few. Karval might seem remote and desolate, but the birds know where we are. So I’m glad to see what the short grass prairie has to show.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Morning commute

As I walk the two and a half miles from home to school. I look, listen, and record the birds seen. It has been a healthy choice for me. I am in better shape and have marked the arrival of each new spring bird. It has been a blustery spring and the walking cold, but filled with the song of birds. As I walk past fields and farm houses. I hear the changing songs match the habitat.

The songs change as the sun comes up. The Horned Larks tinkling away in the darkness accompanied by the occasional rattle of Western Meadowlarks. As I proceed the Meadowlarks start into full song just before the sun rises. In the distant grove surrounding an abandoned farm house is heard the Say's Phoebe's nasal call and the mellow song of Mourning Doves. As I approach town the song of the Eurasian Collared Doves drift in. The busy chatter of the House Finches is welcomed along with the erratic and noisy calls of Common Grackles, House Sparrows, and the occasional Killdeer.

As I retrace my steps home in the afternoon. I see many of the same birds. Yet a surprise is always around the corner. One afternoon I heard a strange new song and looked into the field and saw a Mountain Plover take off and land a short way off. It was the first of the season and the first time I have ever heard the song. Another Mountain Plover was seen and heard in the field near my house when replacing shingles that had blown off in the last huge wind storm.

A peaceful, calming time to reflect, unwind and enjoy the birds along my selected path. It's worth waking up before the suns first light to capture the perfect chorus and spectacular light stretching its wings.

Bird list for this week of walking:
Horned lark
Western Meadowlark
Great Horned Owl
Say's Phoebe
Mountain Plover
Mourning Dove
American Robin
American Crow
Red-winged Blackbird
Eurasian Collared Dove
Northern Flicker
Rock Dove
European Starling
House Sparrow
Common Grackle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Kestrel

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Birding in the Wind

This morning, the wind was blowing at 40 mph and the only birds I could see outside my front window were horned larks and flying tumbleweeds. What was the point of going out in weather like that? However, the birder in me won out. After all, who knew what might show up at the lake during migration? So, I hopped in the car and drove the 5 miles to Karval Lake.

My blustery trip was well-rewarded with 22 birds seen on the journey. Species in the water included American Coot, American Widgeon, Redhead, Bufflehead, Mallard, Green-wing Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Yellowlegs. Red-winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, and even a White-crowned Sparrow blew in for brief appearances. The Great-horned Owl, nesting along the road just east of town, huddled in her swaying nest, faithfully protecting her young.

I thought the Mountain Bluebirds had headed north last week, but they popped up again. Maybe the north wind blew them back from Wyoming!

It's great to see these birds coming in time for the Karval Mountain Plover Festival on April 24-26.

Spring firsts for this week:

  • Common Grackles were seen in town.
  • Burrowing Owls were heard calling in the fields.
  • Sharp-shin Hawks were spotted in town.