4 May, 2019

One Week, Two Big Days

This week has been an amazing week in birding here in Kansas, especially for students taking ornithology at Kansas State University. On Tuesday we had the big day competition for our class. Saturday was also the global big day. Two big days in one week, crazy!

For those who don’t know, a big day is a day in birding when you attempt to meet a certain goal. Usually the goal is to see as many species as possible, but it’s your big day and you can make it whatever you want.

I would like to preface by warning that this is a very long post, but there are some great pictures at the end to reward all who make it (or just skip to the end).


Our class was told to separate into groups of three or four people, come up with a plan of places to go birding, and attempt to see the most species. My group was made up of three other very strong birders and we had an alternative goal, to beat the group that consisted of the graduate TA’s and the professor.

We planned on meeting at four o’clock and heading to our first place to attempt to see/hear (mostly hear) owls and nightjars. Unfortunately for us there was rain in the forecast. This meant nothing was out vocalizing for us. The first area being a dud, we decided to head to the second stop in our plan and wait for the sun to come up and the birds to start singing.

We ended up walking down a trail where Barred Owls (Strix varia) have frequently been reported. The owls were making their presence known, but soon the rain started once again. It didn’t look like it was going to turn out to be a good day for birding at all. We went to the end of the trail, got soaked, and headed back to the car.

While wet and cold, we took a coffee break while the sun began to rise. Just as the dawn was beginning to break and the rain had subsided, we started down another trail that led into a wooded area. Soon, the air erupted with song!

We finished the trail and headed for the last few areas on our schedule. At one of our areas we got amazing views of a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea). This little bird is such a bright shade of yellow that it almost appears orange when the sun strikes it. The bird that we were viewing posed on the information boards at the park and then flew to a low branch right above our vehicle. I rolled down my window to try and take some photos of the bird while it was being so cooperative.

As I stuck my head out, the warbler dove down at the passenger window and then over to my open window. I thought it was going to come right into the car. It then perched in a tree behind us and began scolding us, I think out of embarrassment.


What a day! I was aiming for 100 species on my Global Big Day and although this didn’t happen, I did see some great birds and take some amazing photos.

I started the day nice and early, 3:45 to be exact with a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) outside my house. Then I headed for McDowell Creek Road to try and hear a few nightjars. This was such a beautiful success. I heard Chuck-will’s-widows (Antrostomus carolinensis), Eastern Whip-poor-wills (Antrostomus vociferus), and Common Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii). I spent some time outside of the car with the car turned off and the lights off as well just enjoying the beautiful sounds of these birds in the pitch dark. After spending sometime enjoying the moment I decided to go to Rocky Ford where I was hoping to get a Barred Owl (Strix varia).

I had forgotten how foggy it was until I arrived at Rocky Ford. I figured that the owl would sing anyway. Instead of the Barred Owl that I was hoping for I heard more Great Horned Owls early on. Once the sun began to rise things really came alive. Some of my highlights at this location include Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri), an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), and the Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius). The fog didn’t seem like it was ever going to lift so I changed up my plan a little bit and headed for the K-State cattle ponds.

Here I was hoping to acquire most of my shorebird diversity, but it was a total bust and I only got a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) and a couple of Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors). I decided to head for my final Manhattan location, the River Pond, since I wasn’t seeing hardly anything here.

Thinking that this big day was going to come to an early end, I walked down a little path at the River Pond that leads to a nice little wetland area. Along this trail I finally heard a Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra). Once I got to the wetland area I found a Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) and heard an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). On my way back to the car I saw my first of the year Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). After my friend Tristin Chandler and his fiance joined me, we saw and heard a few more birds, Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons), and Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), but things had really slowed down.

Ready to wrap up the day, I headed home where I took a much needed nap and processed the photos that I had taken that morning. I then made a yard checklist and gained a couple more species on my day, but not much. My highlight was getting to watch the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) adults fly back and forth feeding their young in a nest just outside of my house. To finish, I headed to Fancy Creek State Park where I finally got some Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) and a surprise American Coot (Fulica americana).

I didn’t reach my goal of 100 species, only finding 79 for the day, but there were enough birds that I should have found that I didn’t that would have brought me to at least 100 species. This lets me know that my goal wasn’t out of reach and gives me something to shoot for next year.


Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) perched after a morning rain
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) [left] and Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) [right]
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) along a very foggy river
Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) giving some good looks (and a lot of attitude)
Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) being solitary
I finally captured a good Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) photo
Probably the most often misidentified bird, a female Red-winged Blackbird
(Agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) putting on a show
Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) enforcing the no wake policy
The most beautiful waterfowl species native to North America, the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

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