Sunday, May 18, 2014

Barber County Bouquets

     Nearly 60 folks enjoyed a very pleasant day May 10 in the Red Hills of Barber County for the long-standing annual Barber County Wildflower Tour.  Sponsored by the Barber County Conservation District with help from long-time volunteers including Harold Cline and Courtney Pilkington, participants were first entertained by presentations about wildflowers in the region.  Then the group traveled to the Z-Bar Ranch in southwestern  Barber County to enjoy an up-close visit with the bison on the ranch.  Keith and Eva Yearout, ranch managers, told the group all about their bison herd and the interesting behavior and management needs of the prairie beasts.  After a fine lunch at the Eagle Township Park in the south part of the county, the group headed to Sam Beier's ranch where leaders took three different groups around a course marked with flags to identify wildflowers and a few grasses as well.  In spite of the on-going drought, about 40 plants were able to be marked with most of them in bloom.  Some of the plants are depicted in the images below.  I had the privilege of assisting Harold Cline and Carl Jarboe as group leaders for the tour.  Phyllis Scherich, co-author of the Red Hills Wildflower Pocket Guide was on hand to assist as well.  Special thanks to Cheryl Davis for a lot of background preparations and coordination!  All-in-all, it was a gorgeous day to be out in the Red Hills!

First stop--enjoying and learning about Bison on the Ted Turner Zbar Ranch

Keith Yearout tells of some of the special Bison biology on the Zbar.

I get to share some information about a wildflower with the young and the older.
Lambert's Crazyweed  
Penstamens were blooming.

Purple Ground Cherry

Scarlet-globe Mallow

Plains Hymenoxis

False (Wild) Dandelion
This wildflower guide is available through the Great Plains Nature Center, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Barber, Kiowa and Clark counties as well as additional offices in the region.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mischief on the Lek

     Over the years, I've had opportunity to observe a number of wildlife interactions while watching prairie chickens.  Included is a selection of some of the very interesting behaviors witnessed between prairie chickens and other critters.  I wish my video of a Peregrine Falcon swooping on some Greater Prairie Chickens was better as I would have shown it.  I've also witnessed a Prairie Falcon doing the same thing on a Lesser Prairie Chicken lek.  And then there are those numerous Northern Harrier fly by's and dives which usually disperse the birds briefly but not always.  In all these cases, the chickens are only temporarily dissuaded from their dancing and displaying.  So, here's a sampling of not-so-serious booming ground battles.
Friend Tom Hutton sent this picture of an American Crow which visited while he and his wife were watching the Lessers at a lek on which I've had a portable blind from the Ks. Dept. of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism set up each spring for many years.  Tom said this crow was trying to imitate some of the male chicken's behavior by bobbing its head and squatting.  Silly crows!

One of the funniest encounters I've witnessed is these two calves chasing some chickens.  They couldn't hold back their curiosity.  The chickens stayed put mostly, acting a bit disgusted at the silly youngsters!

Coyotes at the lek are always interesting.  Most of the time, they will walk through a lek fully realizing that they can't catch these birds.  And the birds know it as well.  Many times, some of the chickens don't even bother to flush; they just hunker down and wait till the coyote(s) leave.  At about 17 seconds, you'll see that one chicken does flush as one coyote gets just a little too close.

Sometimes a pheasant will come by.  While this footage shows one in the back of the lek trying to figure things out, I've heard of accounts where the rooster pheasant tries to interact and "fight" with a male chicken.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hiking in the Hills

     In a collaboration with Backwoods of Wichita (see contact information at the bottom), The Nature Conservancy in Kansas sponsored a prairie walk in the beautiful Red Hills this past Saturday.  Hikers enjoyed a glorious spring day with the wildflowers, lizards, vultures and other wildlife that added to the walk.  The end point was the famous Natural Bridge south of Sun City.  This expanse of gypsum, collapsed in 1962, once spanned the Stewart's Creek canyon.  Even without the iconic archway, the site is quite unique and picturesque.  Rick Bodenhamer of Backwoods, organized the outing while yours truly led the adventure.  Thanks to the generosity of the landowners who gave permission to enjoy their property for the day.

     This prairie walk was one of several events planned this year as part of the Red Hills Initiative to help commemorate the 25th anniversary of TNC in Kansas.

Hikers cross a small stream on the way to Natural Bridge.

Blue Wildindigo was just one of the couple dozen wildflowers seen.
Jordon inspects a "horny toad" caught on the trip.
A Texas Horned Lizard is a fascinating member of the Red Hills fauna.

Christine exits a small arch/cave on the way.

The hiking group enjoyed a snack at Natural Bridge on a beautiful day.
1900 N Rock Rd Ste 108, Wichita · (316) 267-0350