Birds of Quivira – Snowy Plover

One has to love a plover.  These birds are often the only obvious sign of life in some pretty rough places.  Adorable little fluff balls, Snowy Plovers can be found on salt flats and beaches on the pacific and gulf coasts as well as deep into the Caribbean.  There are also populations that nest inland, such as the ones we encountered in central Kansas.  I was quite fortunate to find these birds on salt flats in Kansas as well as Puerto Rico within a month apart… 🙂

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

Steve and I encountered somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 active nests during our early May visit to Quivira.  Unfortunately, no chicks decided to hatch while we were there.  It was difficult to leave without seeing the little chicks.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

Most populations of Snowy Plover are doing well, relative to other Plover species.  This inland nesting population is the only population that does any real migrating, coastal populations typically stick to one area of coast.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

The little guy above is hiking through some of the salt tolerant vegetation that dominate these salt flat habitats.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover

Steve and I were tickled by the ability of these birds to live and work in constant 30-40 mph winds.  Facing into the wind, the bird on its nest pictured above documents just that.  We noted that when the parents left the nest, the eggs were placed such that they did not budge in the wind, although I am sure they lose heat quickly in such circumstances.  Another one of my favorites… 😉

Thanks for your visit.


The Kingdom of Quivira – Found!

Snowy Plover on Eggs
Snowy Plover on Eggs

In that half-forgotten era,
With the avarice of old,
Seeking cities he was told
Had been paved with yellow gold,

In the kingdom of Quivira-

Came the restless Coronado
To the open Kansas plain,
With his knights from sunny Spain;
In an effort that, though vain,

Thrilled with boldness and bravado.

In the year 1540 a band of Spaniards led by ultra-badass Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set out to find the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola” within the kingdom known as “Quivira”.  You can probably guess why.  The region was supposedly overflowing with rich mines of gold and silver, and New Spain was bound and determined to get some of that.  Coronado’s righteous expedition, into what is now central Kansas, yielded no riches to return to the crown and was thus considered a failure.

Fast forward 475 years when a two-man expedition, this time based in the french port of Saint Louis, set out for the Kingdom of Quivera.  This expedition would in fact find riches that Coronado wouldn’t have noticed unless they were hanging from his fire spit.  Way back in early May (where in the world is time going?), Steve and I packed up the N.E.V. and headed west to Quivira NWR to observe one of the natural wonders of the great plains.

Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew

League by league, in aimless marching,
Knowing scarcely where or why,
Crossed they uplands drear and dry,
That an unprotected sky

Had for centuries been parching.

But their expectations, eager,
Found, instead of fruitful lands,
Shallow streams and shifting sands,
Where the buffalo in bands
Roamed o’er deserts dry and meager.

This section of south-central Kansas (near the town of Great Bend) is a crossroads of different habitat type and is a critical staging area for migrating birds throughout the central flyway.  Parts tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie, sand prairie, salt marsh, salt flats and fresh water wetlands – this region is used by birds of the east and the west.  More than 340 species of bird have been documented within the NWR and it has been estimated that up to 90% of all shorebirds that use the Central Flyway (and up to 45% of all NA shorebirds) on their way to arctic nesting grounds will stop here and in nearby Cheyenne Bottoms Reserve to have a fill-up.

Blue Grosebeak
Blue Grosbeak

Back to the scenes more trite, yet tragic,
Marched the knights with armor’d steeds;
Not for them the quiet deeds;
Not for them to sow the seeds

From which empires grow like magic.

For centuries the Europeans looked upon the prairie – particularly the short-grass regions of the great plans – as worthless desert.  Although the livestock – cows and green-colored deere the Europeans introduced nearly extinguished these grassland habitats, these few low and wet patches were mostly spared and are now offered some, if imperfect protection.

American Avocet and Wilson's Phalarope
American Avocet and Wilson’s Phalarope

Thus Quivira was forsaken;
And the world forgot the place
Through the lapse of time and space.
Then the blue-eyed Saxon race

Came and bade the desert waken.

 — Eugene Ware —

It has been a crazy spring, with this trip, a short sail along the Jacks Fork and a puddle jump to the enchanted isle of Puerto Rico (another former Spanish colony).  I will be sharing much more about the birds and ecosystems of the Kingdom of Quivira as well as the rest of these locals over the coming weeks and months.

Thanks so much for paying a visit and keeping in touch.


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