The Marsh Chicken

This post/photo is dedicated to Paul Bauer, master birder, bird photographer, and steward – a responsible agent in the development and management of Heron Pond and other features of Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary.  Thank you, Paul, for leaving something worthwhile.

The Sora, or as I like to call them the Marsh Chicken is a small but quite abundant rail.  They definitely are one of the easier to view rails to be found during migration, but I found out how common they can be during a magical morning spent recently at my usual haunt at RMBS.  Arriving just before dawn I wandered the slow hike to a nice spot to watch the marsh of Heron Pond while waiting for the ol’ Sumatra brew to kick in.  I had the entire place to myself for most of the next two hours, standing still and counting the birds.  Besides being reminiscent of a chicken, I think Pete Dunn’s description of their bill as “candy-corn-shaped” to be quite fitting and a good field mark for identification.  These guys are often vocal and at certain times of the year their whinny-type calls and grunts can be heard all day long.  Being a rail these guys are definitely timid and spend a good amount of time hidden within the vegetation.  However, I have found these guys to be much more willing to spend time on the open mud in search of food, making a run back to the greenery at the first sign of trouble.  My total count for this particular morning was 62 birds!  Looking around the pond it seems that you would not be able to run through the vegetation without kicking one of these guys with every step.  Standing relatively still allowed me to catch this guy in a photo probably no more than 15 feet from where I stood.

“Sora”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/320 sec
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As Noisy as a Mouse

More often heard than seen, this quite secretive wren rarely is found more than a few feet off the ground.  Like a mouse, these guys spend a great deal of time low in the tall grasses and sedge of wet meadows/prairies.  In July and August taking a walk in this type of habitat within their range will certainly guarantee you will hear their consistent staccato vocalizations as they work to define their small territories and keep rival males at bay.  Trying to lay the glass on these birds is much more difficult.  These guys rarely will respond to pishing, and if driven out of their particular patch of grass they will simply skirt above the grasses for a second or two before dropping back into the bush, yielding partial, unsatisfying glimpses at best.  To get this shot, I admit, I used a vocalization playback.  I played just a few bars and waited.  This guy was not happy with that!  He raced out of his hiding whole and began singing forcefully in attempt to send the potential usurper out of his territory.  I was happy with the few quick bursts of the shutter I was able to get and that was that.  He may have been a bit stressed, but I bet the burst of testosterone he received from successfully defending his kingdom more than made up for it.

“Sedge Wren”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/1250 sec

Ancient Seas, Megagrazers and Naked Apes

The story this landscape could tell.  The limestone, cherts and flints found in these hills were laid down by shallow seas which covered much of North America during the Permian Period.  Winds and waters then sculpted this landscape. The Flint Hills were not much affected by glacial activity.  Easy to erode shales and limestone were the primary building block of the shallow soils now found on these hills, while limestone and flint now remain.  Much of this soil washed down the hills and collected in lower areas like in the Kansas River valley seen here below.  The first grazers to feast on the prairie grasses and forbs of these hills were the Mastodon and Mammoth, followed later by the bison.  Crops like maize and squash were first grown in this river valley by the Kansa Indians and now this fertile land is used to grow modern mono-cultures.  This was my first visit to Konza, and I’m not sure why the tall grass of the tall-grass prairie was not very present in the spots that I found myself.  This could be because of the drought, it could be because of livestock grazing system, or maybe I was in areas dominated by the “short-grass” species, found more typically in the western plains.

“Dawn on the Kansas River Valley″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens @ 33mm, ISO 160,  f/16, manual blend of two exposures

Kid ‘n Play

This image is from a series I took early this summer at Colombia Bottom Conservation Area.  These two dancing birds were among a large group of Great Egrets competing for standing room only space in a shrinking pool that was loaded with fish.  These moves reminded me of the dancing and rhyming styles of that old hip hop dynamic duo of my youth, Kid ‘n Play.  If I ever get around to processing all the keepers from this series, you will definitely not want to miss the shot I took of the bird I was able to get to wear a “Kid wig”.  😉

Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody… We Just Dancin’ Ya’ll!

“Kid ‘n Play”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/400 sec