Monday, December 31, 2018

Over Christmas, I received Mike Blairs' book, A Kansas Year, and it has inspired me to conduct my own Kansas year in 2019. I plan to do my best to take my camera out every day and photograph my time in the outdoors of Kansas.

There is so much to see and experience in Kansas, especially when it comes to wildlife. Living in the Flint Hills area of Kansas creates even more opportunities. It's not as flat here as most people believe.

With this new year hopefully comes more consistent blogging experience and even more wildlife photography. To end 2018 on a good note, here are some of my best wildlife photos of the year.

The back side of a winter Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
along the Republican River.

Sunrise over Lake Superior during our spring trip to Wisconsin.
Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) perched in a branch right above me. 
Although very blurry, this is definitely the best action shot I captured of the
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) that was visiting my feeder.
Fledgling Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) found near my house.

Beautiful male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) to help welcome in the
spring migration.
Adult Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) performing a distraction display as I
approached the very well hidden nest.

My first Killdeer (Charadius vociferus) nest, so well hidden among the rocks.

Sunrise over a Kansas wetland over the summer.

Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) in some great morning light.
Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) perched on a power-line.

Foggy sunflowers at Fancy Creek State Park.

Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) watching me carefully as I try to catch
some photos.

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) taking advantage of what was
left of a late summer water hole.
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) searching for food
in the top of a dead tree.

Grey Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on a Dotted Gayfeather (Liatris punctata).

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) through a patch of sunflowers.

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) resting on some

Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) over Tuttle Creek Reservoir.

Northern Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus) at Fancy Creek State Park.

Male White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) that has clearly been
fighting. Signs include missing right antler and a small chunk out of his
right ear.
One of the Bison (Bison bison) on Konza Prairie.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Winter is an interesting time of year for me as a naturalist. I want to get out most days to observe nature and learn how animals make it through these cold months before their food resources are replenished in the spring, but often find myself confined to the house because of the cold. I enjoy the cold and the snow, but for some reason have a hard time convincing myself that I can sit for hours watching wildlife in it. Though this does give me the opportunity to get to know the wildlife much closer to me.

On the days that I find myself stuck in the house, I challenge myself to at least try and observe some species from the window. Whether a Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus eating from the suet feeder, or an Eastern Cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus munching on dropped sunflower seeds from my trough feeder, it's nice to know that my wild neighbors are doing alright in the cold.

Winter brings about many opportunities for me to gain more experience as well. With the break between semesters, I am afforded the chance to advance my skills as a bird enthusiast. The break kicks off with the Manhattan, Kansas Christmas Bird Count, where I get to test my winter bird identification skills and learn new ways to identify birds that I didn't formerly know thanks to working with more experienced birders. Last year I was given a crash course in sparrow identification and afterwards these little brown birds became a bit of an obsession for me.

I then get to work on my mist-net and banding skills through Dr. Alice Boyle's project on Konza Prairie. Getting to handle the birds that you see every day can really help you to understand them more. Last winter was my first time helping with this project and although I only went out a few times, I felt like I gained a ton of new knowledge and appreciation for the species that we caught. The first bird that I was able to hold was a Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus, one of my favorite bird species.

These beautiful little birds try to be very aggressive throughout the entire capture/banding process. They peck and attempt to bite your fingers while you are holding them, but they are so small that they can't do any real damage and their attempts almost tickle if anything. I then got the opportunity to band a female Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis. Luckily for me, this female was fairly calm.

Cardinals, although very beautiful birds, can be very mean when you are attempting to take them out of nets and band them. They have been known to even break skin on some people when bitten. The sweet female that I was allowed to band was very nice and calm throughout the banding process and only tried to bite me while I was releasing her. She grabbed the skin between my forefinger and thumb, but once she realized that she was free let go and flew away. Just a parting gift I guess.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this winter and all of the opportunities that it brings. Whether they be something productive and outside, such as bird banding on Konza, or having the opportunity to gain a new perspective of my wild neighbors from the comfort of my warm home. There is always a way to appreciate the natural world around us even in what is considered to be one of the most depressing times of the year. Wildlife observing can really help to pull you out of the winter funk and be enlightening at the same time.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

My time in Iowa has been great. I definitely needed this time away from my routine. While here, I have been conducting an experiment with White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus. I've noticed that the deer in Kansas, when spooked, make a huffing noise before and while they run away. I believe that this behavior is to alert other deer in the area and attempt to scare/let the nearby predator know that it has been spotted. Growing up as a deer hunter in Iowa, I had never noticed this behavior in the white-tails around here.

For my experiment, I basically just walked around my hometown of Eddyville looking for deer and trying to displace them while listening for the huffing noise. I want to know if the behavior occurs across all White-tailed Deer, or if I had just never noticed it before in the deer of this area. My hypothesis is that it occurs more frequently in the deer of Kansas and other less wooded areas because they are more open and the alert can be heard by more deer than in the places that are more wooded.I need to collect a lot more observation data, but so far I have only observed the huffing behavior in one deer in Iowa.

Conducting this experiment has been a great opportunity to observe other wildlife and practice my photography on something other than birds. I've tried squirrels before, but never could catch Kansas deer just right. On my first day out observing deer in Iowa, I had five walk out onto a harvested corn field. I took this opportunity, while I was hidden in a fence-line, to snap a few pictures of these beautiful animals. I then tried to displace them, first by moving and making my presence known. This was unsuccessful and the deer just kept picking up loose corn. I then tried imitating the huffing noise that I've heard from the deer of Kansas, but this somehow drew the does closer to me rather than displacing them.

Thinking that I was never going to get these deer to run, I began heading towards the large timber stand further to the north. This finally got the deer moving, but no huffing was heard. It was the closest that I had ever been to deer that knew I was there and I was able to get a couple of decent pictures.

I hope to return later in the winter and hopefully a few times in different seasons to collect more observations, but this first attempt was much more successful than I ever expected it to be.

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My attempt at squirrel photography. Fox Squirrel Sciurus niger.

Adult doe with a yearling doe.

One of the young does before being displaced.

Young buck with one antler missing and the other highly damaged.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

I have come to my spot among the cedar trees, Juniperus virginiana, once again. This time there is snow on the ground. Not much, just enough to lightly cover the ground.

As I sit here looking across the silent lake, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Regulus satrapa, behind and above me, I can't help but notice the ever-presence of man. In the distance I can see vehicles as they cross the bridge. I see the roads that lead to boat ramps and campgrounds. I hear light traffic and gunshots from the local shooting range.

It's no wonder that it's so hard to have experiences with wildlife in this park. If I were a wild animal I wouldn't want to make my presence known here either. Although I have grown to love this state of Kansas, I still long for much wilder lands.

The prairie is beautiful and very much alive in the spring and summer, but nothing can beat the solitude of a fall in the woods. Iowa may be more densely populated, but there is so much open space where you ca truly feel as if you are the only person around for miles.

On that note, tomorrow I leave for Iowa. I will be spending Thanksgiving with my family and some quality time among the trees. I may not be able to post much during this time, but will try my best to post when I can.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

I took about half an hour this evening to try and do some birding. Not much was happening, there were some Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus flitting about in the trees, a small group of Canada Geese Branta canadensis flying in their well organized V above me and some Mallards Anas platyrhynchos off in the distance. A curious little Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis flew around like a little mouse, looking as though it was searching for something. This little bird was so interested in finding what it was looking for that in was only a few feet away from my feet and didn't seem to notice. It was just putting out a few little chipping calls at first, but then began to find little perches, just higher than the rest of the driftwood along the ground, and started belting its little song.

This complicated set of notes had me quite mesmerized as this little Winter Wren continued to sing right near my feet. Hoping not to disturb the beautiful little artist, I stood as still as I could and just listened for a while. I had never heard the song of a Winter Wren before this, having only seen them briefly before the spring migration earlier this year. Eventually, as it began to darken, the wren stopped singing and began using short chipping calls again before zooming off into the underbrush to be heard but not seen, likely the preference of most small songbirds.

On my way back home, I noticed a male White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus in the pasture along the road. I stopped and pulled over to look at the majestic being and noticed that he had a girlfriend with him, hiding behind a small tree. The bucks have donned their ornamental headgear for the fall breeding season and his seems to have done the job. For a young four point, his antlers were pretty big, hopefully indicating that he will be of good size in the years to come. I sat and watched them for a little while and they seemed to be watching me until the male started to run off. I then left, not wanting to disturb the happenings between the two deer.

Fall brings on a nice little change to this part of the world and it's nice to have places where you are able to observe them. From the falling of the leaves to the migration of birds to their wintering grounds, nature seems to have its cycle down year after year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


While writing for my blog Birding Big Life, I have come to find that it can be very difficult to write solely on birds and birding. It is also very difficult to gather the interest of people not currently interested in birds with such a narrow subject and nothing else to draw them in. So with this blog I plan to widen my audience to all nature lovers and to get people interested in the conservation of our natural world.

I myself have become more interested in a broader view of the natural world as I take more major specific classes in my pursuit of a wildlife conservation degree. Currently taking mammalogy and taxonomy of flowering plants, an appreciation has arisen in me for aspects of nature that were previously overlooked. Although I have always seen a need for other aspects in an ecosystem that help support each other, I never took the time to get to know these other parts of the system as in depth as the birds that I previously focused on.

Birding Big Life will still remain an active blog and there may be some overlap in topics/content between the two blogs, but I am hoping to expand the audience and increase my own understanding of the full ecosystem that determines the wellness and survival of species that are being threatened by declining populations. Inspiration for my writings comes from authors such as Aldo Leopold and John Muir, along with other nature writers.

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Dry Republican River wetland area.
Fancy Creek State Park at sunrise.