I was in Kansas City, Missouri, last week for training at Hallmark’s corporate offices. As you might imagine, I took my binoculars with me in anticipation of having some free time to squeeze in a little bird watching.
Our hotel was in the downtown district — a very urban environment, which typically does not lend itself to a diversity of bird species. However, there were several delightful surprises. One of my better sightings was a peregrine falcon! It was carrying prey in its talons as it circled over the city landscape. Urban areas with a large pigeon population are a great habitat for peregrines!
A real surprise in the downtown district was a yellow-crowned night heron. This is a species normally found in a wetland habitat — not in a city center. While there were fountains and water features as part of the urban landscape, I would not have anticipated seeing this species in the downtown area.
In some ways, when you are in one environment one day and in a completely different environment the next, you have to have switch gears mentally on what you might expect to see. Going from Prescott to Kansas City in a matter of a few hours required me to reset my “bird-brain.”
I arrived at my destination, and all of sudden I was hearing and seeing things I hadn’t seen or heard for months or even years. For example, the first time I went birding I saw chimney swifts, which was one of those unanticipated birding moments.
Another example was hearing and seeing common grackles. They are closely related to the great-tailed grackles we have in the Prescott area, but they are sufficiently different that I had to shift gears and put on a new “hat” and realize, “I’m not in Arizona anymore.” I was hearing and seeing “new birds” from what I normally see each day in Prescott.
Of course, there are some bird species that are fairly universal throughout the United States. You are almost guaranteed to see many of these species no matter where you are. For example, while in Kansas City I saw Canada geese, great blue heron, turkey vulture, killdeer, mourning dove, American robin, barn swallow, starling, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, house finch and house sparrows.
In fact, it is almost strange how one can see many of the same bird species everywhere one goes — but that is what makes it so special when you see something new, something different that you weren’t anticipating.
Using eBird, I researched some possible birding locations based on what other birders had posted online. Having access to data submitted by other birders — especially local birders — is so helpful, as they know where to go and what they can expect to see.
One morning, I went birding along the banks of the Missouri River — an impressive sight and a great place to see a variety of eastern bird species. I saw both Baltimore and orchard orioles and a lot of indigo buntings. Each of these species is a very colorful, beautiful bird. I saw other “eastern” birds as well, including gray catbird, blue jay, eastern kingbird, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker and eastern phoebe.
Once I got into my “Missouri” birding groove, I started thinking in terms of birds that I should expect to see in that part of the country. Thus, I put time and effort to finding bobolink, dickcissel and scissor-tailed flycatcher. Unfortunately the area was just too urban, and I failed to see all of these “target” species. It sure is fun to bird in a different part of the country.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at email@example.com.