Yesterday (Sunday), I escorted Konchog Norbu of Maryland to the Tallgrass Prairie, in search of two potential lifers for him: Smith's Longspur and Gr. Prairie-Chicken. As we approached the Prairie, we flushed a flock of sparrows off the road and as the birds perched in the trees next to the road, Konchog got the best look at Harris's Sparrows he'd ever seen and he was delighted.
When we found a likely-looking "longspur" short grassy field, I stopped the car and we got out to walk. A pair of longspurs flew over our heads just then and Konchog took off after 'em, hoping they'd land where he could get a good look at 'em. The next time I saw him, he was waaayyyy the hell over in a distant field lookin' at something, so far away that I needed my binocs to make sure it was him and not somebody else out there. I dislike long hikes so I stayed near the car, got out my scope, and turned the "just Mallards" we'd noticed at a glance in a nearby small lake into Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, and Green-winged Teals, both of the latter yearbirds for me so I was pleased. Every now and then I'd look over at the field where I'd last seen Konchog, mostly to see if he was still there (he was).... man, that boy can really travel!! (a luxury for the young, I guess) At one glance, I noticed he'd flushed a large flock of small birds into the air, that circled around for a bit and then set down again. A couple of them broke off from the flock and headed my direction, and while they never landed, I did hear their tinkling flight calls quite clearly as they flew over me. When they were out of sight, I got back in the car and turned on my CD player to listen to all 4 longspur recordings, and was still listening when Konchog walked up and announced, "I think I got them!" He got out his field guides and said, "yep, that's the one: Smith's Longspur!!" I pushed the buttons on the CD player and got to Smith's Longspur and, listening to their flight calls, confirmed that "THAT" is what I'd heard from the two little birds who flew over me. So he got his lifer and I another yearbird.
Now for the chickens.
We headed for the Bison Loop, where I'd heard we might have some success finding the prairie-chickens, given that we already knew we were too late in the morning to hear them booming. When we came across a herd of bison, Konchog got out to take their pictures, y'know, something the kids back home in Maryland don't see everyday. We got nice looks at two Rough-legged Hawks (yearbird! and later watched the both of them flying together) and more No. Harriers than you can shake a stick at! I'd almost subtitle this day at the Tallgrass "Harriers-R-Us"---if anyone needs Harrier for a lifebird, yesterday at the Tallgrass would've been the day to find 'em.
Well, continuing on, we stopped at another field, this one with long grasses where chickens might be hiding and the entire hill slopping down to a small pool of water; as dry as it is, it seemed likely that any birds we were looking for might be congregated near water, so again, we got out of the car for a hike. The small of my back doesn't tolerate very long walks, and when I began thinking that Konchog might hike all the way back to Tulsa, I said, "you go on ahead; I'm going back to the car." And bigod, if he didn't take off in another direction, heading downhill to circle around the water. When he got back to the car, he'd brought back some chicken belly feathers that he'd found on the "other side of the water," but no chickens. Not for lack of trying, I might add.
So we continued around the Loop, stopping at another small pond surrounded by tall grasses, this area also containing some small bushes where small birds (or chickens?) might flush to if they were so inclined. I sat on the bank of the pond, watching 8-10 Amer. Tree Sparrows (yearbird!) scarfing up seeds from the sandy bank and Amer. Goldfinches in a small tree while Konchog marched off up the hill and the whole way around the pond. Again, no chickens. But I enjoyed sitting down and just watching the birds; it was a little breezy but the sun was warm and the air absolutely clear and perfect.
Anyway, we didn't find the chickens but Konchog got his longspurs and I got a number of yearbirds, so we returned to Tulsa, both of us happy with our results.
Konchog posted a very amusing version of the trip and photographs he took at his own website: http://danzanravjaa.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/01/what_are_you.html. Enjoy!!
Longspurs and NO chickens
by Cyndie Browning
|(c) copyright by C.Browning 2006|