I was driving around the Bottoms bemoaning the fact that the migration is about done for most of the shore birds. After getting out of the vehicle and walking around for a while, I got enough mosquito bites to force me back into the vehicle and head for the prairie areas around the marsh. It was a good decision!
Pheasants are out on the roads and in the fields. We are going to have another great year for quail — I have seen lots of them close to the roads. Killdeer have babies on the ground or already flying. King birds (Eastern and Western) are on most high lines and fences. Brown Thrashers are racing around. Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles are busy cha
sing bugs and eating grape jelly from the feeders. Woodpeckers are more visible than I recall from past years. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are catching bugs as fast as they can- their acrobatics are sure fun to watch. Butcher birds (are you familiar with them? They have another name that is unusual) are sticking insects on the barbed wire fences for future meals.
The star of the show for this week appeared just yesterday. I routinely check prairie dog towns this time of year for the appearance of the Burrowing Owls. I found the first one for me yesterday just south of the Bottoms. These little owls live in prairie dog holes and raise their young (3-12 eggs in a clatch) in those dens. Some of them migrate and stop off in Kansas. Their habitat and general existence is threatened by the removal of prairie dogs which do knock holes in pastures. The Black-footed Ferret is also threatened by the elimination of prairie dogs and there is a fabulous program in western Kansas supported by some very special land owners that protect the dog towns and deserve our recognition and thanks. KWEC has participated in that program and I am grateful for their efforts. These leggy little owls are about the size of prairie dogs. They will move from den to den or to another part of the dog town if disturbed. They never go far. They have beautiful yellow eyes and appear to have eye brows. David Seibel and I spent a week in Florida a couple of years ago and found a large colony of several families of Burrowing Owls in a town that had the burrows marked and the area designated as owl habitat. They were very comfortable with people being as close as 10-15 yards and let their babies sit at the opening of the burrows which made for spectacular photography. Our owls here aren’t that comfortable with human contact, so be polite if you do go out and find some—they are nervous enough living with prairie dogs and snakes and such. Their habitat is shrinking and there has been some discussion of putting them on the endangered lists, but I don’t see that it has happened yet. They are one of the subtle inhabitants of our great grass lands and prairies. Look carefully when you get close to a dog town and don’t be surprised to see a pair of big yellow eyes looking back at you with suspicious curiosity from the edge of a hole!
Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.