I had just over a week between my last work day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (at the end of April), and the start of my medical appointments in Chicago. After carefully checking Weather.com to ensure no Springtime tornados would be ripping through Kansas for a few days, I decided to take a direct but leisurely drive back to Illinois from New Mexico, and stop in Kansas and Missouri to visit a few National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) along the way.
The clouds started gathering as I stopped for one last photo at the Bosque entrance sign--
Thunderstorms were predicted for New Mexico and the Texas panhandle for my first 2 days of driving, but after that, the coast looked clear. My route would take me to 4 different NWRs as well as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve:
I decided to take Highway 60 over to Tucumcari rather than do the Interstates through Albuquerque. A much prettier drive (even if the storm clouds were building).
As I came through the final set of mountains before beginning the long, gradual descent into the Great Plains, I really enjoyed stumbling upon these salt flats and sand dunes. New Mexico is really a stunning place!
Not much traffic along Highway 60, other than a steady stream of freight trains.
I will so miss these big, dramatic, New Mexico skies!
After a couple uneventful rainy days and nights through northeastern NM and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, I awoke at the Pratt, Kansas Wal-Mart to a perfect, sunny Spring day. Love these little Kansas towns with their brick streets!
My first destination would be Quivira NWR—literally out in the middle of nowhere in the dead center of Kansas about 30 minutes west of Hutchinson.
The paved county roads soon turn to gravel farm roads:
The overnight rains made a few of these roads a bit dicey—especially for a motorhome towing a car! You have to REALLY want to visit Quivira to get to it.
Finally, after a few more miles, I made it!
There was a nice, big, empty gravel parking lot at the Visitor Center where I could unhitch the Tracker to go explore the refuge.
Quivira is a stopping point for large flocks of waterfowl and cranes in the early Spring and late Fall. Of particular significance, the endangered Whooping Cranes stop here on their migration to and from the Texas gulf coast. It was too late in the Spring to see these large flocks, and as I photographed the empty main marsh pool, only seeing a small flock of white pelicans flying over, I feared there’d not me much of anything to see at this refuge at the end of April.
As I reached the salt marshes on the northern part of the refuge, the birding got a million times better. Quivira is a magnet for migratory shorebirds. I saw more shorebirds here (and saw them closer-up) in 2 hours than I did at Bosque in 2 months!
This American Avocet was just hanging out on the roadway and didn’t seem bothered at all by my car or camera lens--
A Black-necked Stilt with a few Short-billed Dowitchers--
Not a shorebird, but a cute little Eared Grebe--
The Kildeers were up to all sorts of mischief. The first one I saw posed nicely but then turned around and seemed to “moon” me!
The next pair I saw were enjoying a little “afternoon delight” and it wasn’t even noon yet!
The Lesser Yellowlegs were much better behaved--
There were still some waterfowl at the refuge. In addition to the eared grebes, I saw blue-winged teals, northern shovelers, coots, and these Ruddy Ducks:
There were some White-Faced Ibis there too--
It was also very exciting to see some “new to me” bird species, such as these Short-billed Dowitchers--
A Semipalmated Sandpiper--
A Snowy Plover--
A gorgeous Wilson’s Phalarope in breeding plumage--
And finally, I saw both male and female yellow-headed blackbirds for the first time. The males have the brighter yellow heads--
All in all, a great day of birding at this hidden gem of a refuge! Quivira may be hard to get to, but it’s well worth the effort!