TOPEKA — With a goal of counting as many species of birds as possible in one day on lands and waters protected by The Nature Conservancy, Kansas did not disappoint.
In early May, The Nature Conservancy held an organization-wide “Birding Challenge,” following the success of previous years’ bird survey efforts in Virginia. Kansas Avian Programs Manager Robert Penner was one of the first to accept the challenge, organizing both skilled and novice birders on 12 locations across the state. Challenge rules required all birds must be counted within a single 24-hour period, and Penner selected May 13, as a nod to International Migratory Bird Day.
Despite comparatively small land area and habitats less diverse than other participating states, such as Texas and New York, Kansas placed in the top three of each category of the challenge: 1) most species at a single protected property, 2) highest total number of bird species observed, and 3) highest percentage of species known to the state. Out of 22 participating states, Kansas took top honors in the final category, documenting 205 different species, or 56 percent of the 366 bird species known to be found in Kansas in the month of May. In total, there are of 476 different birds that call Kansas home at some point in the year, not counting extinct species like the Passenger Pigeon.
“This event was meant to be a fun opportunity to work together and recognize the importance of our conservation work in Kansas and see how we stack up against other states,” said Penner. “I knew we had a shot at winning by percentage of birds, but I was pleasantly surprised when Cheyenne Bottoms came in second place for a single location after we observed 126 different species that morning. It just goes to show how important our central Kansas wetlands are to the global migrating bird population.
Following strict contest rules, such as only counting “official” full species accepted by the American Ornithologists Checklist and disallowing use of recorded bird calls to attract birds, 46 Nature Conservancy staff and volunteers spent a fun Saturday morning at places the Conservancy has a role in protecting. Many of the locations, such as Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Cheyenne Bottoms, Dingus Natural Area and Smoky Valley Ranch, have year-round public access for birdwatchers, hikers and casual observers.
State Director Rob Manes said it’s important for Kansans to appreciate the natural resources in their home state.
“The conservation we effect on the ground in Kansas has impacts across the globe. Cheyenne Bottoms is one of the top migrating shorebird areas in the United States. And our grasslands like the Flint Hills are important stops for many birds, including the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover, as they travel to their winter homes in Argentina and Uruguay,” Manes said.
Penner expects to participate in the challenge again in 2018, noting that it was “a great way to get birders of all abilities engaged in conservation at home.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. In Kansas, TNC has protected 732,917 acres of the state’s most ecologically important lands and waters. To learn more, visit www.nature.org/kansas.