Sunday, June 14, 2015

From One Refuge To Another

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 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--

Leaving Bosque P1020430

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:

NM to IL

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).

Hwy 60 NM P1020438

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!

Central NM Salt Dunes P1020446

Storm over Salt Flats NM P1020442

Not much traffic along Highway 60, other than a steady stream of freight trains.

Train in NM P1020462

I will so miss these big, dramatic, New Mexico skies!

Hwy 60 NM Storm P1020466

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!

Pratt KS P1020478

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:

To Quivira P1020487

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.

To Quivira P1020489

Finally, after a few more miles, I made it!

Quivira Sign P1020496

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 Visitor Center P1030108

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.

Quivira Pano P1020517

White Pelicans in Flight P1020563

The refuge was interesting none the less.  A collection of salt marshes and ponds, with a few old farm homesteads in between.  No doubt this is tornado country.  Look at those “stripped bare” trees!

Quivira Old Farm P1020587

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--

American Avocet P1020834

A Black-necked Stilt with a few Short-billed Dowitchers--

Black-necked Stilt and Short-billed Dowitchers P1020825

Not a shorebird, but a cute little Eared Grebe--

Eared Grebe P1020869

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!

Kildeer P1020503Kildeer P1020501

The next pair I saw were enjoying a little “afternoon delight” and it wasn’t even noon yet!

Kildeer Mating P1020685Kildeer Mating P1020694

The Lesser Yellowlegs were much better behaved--

Lesser Yellowlegs P1020729

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:

Ruddy Duck P1030042Ruddy Duck Pair P1030059

There were some White-Faced Ibis there too--

White-faced Ibis P1020838White-faced Ibis flushing P1030028

It was also very exciting to see some “new to me” bird species, such as these Short-billed Dowitchers--

Short-billed Dowitcher P1020830

A Semipalmated Sandpiper--

Semipalmated Sandpiper P1030098

A Snowy Plover--

Snowy Plover P1030086

A gorgeous Wilson’s Phalarope in breeding plumage--

Wilson's Phalarope P1020797Wilson's Phalarope P1020805Wilson's Phalarope P1030091

And finally, I saw both male and female yellow-headed blackbirds for the first time.  The males have the brighter yellow heads--

Yellow-headed Blackbird Female P1020750Yellow-headed Blackbird Female P1020758Yellow-headed Blackbird P1030005

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!


  1. These are fantastic bird photos, Lynn. I know you went through the naturalist training, but your knowledge of birds is definitely more than that. Have you had further studies? Just curious.

    1. Thanks Barbara. No further studies-- just on-the-job training at Bosque with a few really exceptional naturalists and rangers there. I also bought and used a Sibley's Guide to Birds book on a daily basis to identify all the birds I was seeing. In the field, I still often don't know what a particular bird is, so I take photos of it and then look it up later in the Sibley's book to identify it. Once you've done that, you often remember that species the next time you're in the field, so it does become easier. But, I'd still consider myself a beginning birder!

  2. We love the Bosque. We have been 3 or 4 times usually in Nov when the Sand Hill Cranes are visiting. Awesome place


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