Counting Birds in Kansas

Yesterday, I made the 11 hour drive back to Metro Denver from Columbia, Missouri.  Since I had my oldest grandson along for the ride, I suggested we count the number of bird species that we encountered along Interstate 70 in Kansas.  Knowing that the Kansas segment of our trip covers 422 miles, I expected to see 30 species or so; much to my surprise (and frustration), we observed only 14.

Contrary to popular perception, the Kansas section of I-70 actually crosses an interesting variety of landscape and habitat, including the eastern woodlands and river valleys, the Flint Hill grasslands, the Smoky Hills region and the Western High Plains; nevertheless, our bird sightings did not match that diversity.  As one might expect, European starlings, rock pigeons and mourning doves were most abundant and a fair number of red-tailed hawks patrolled the eastern half of the State.  The highlight of our count was provided by four Mississippi kites, one pair near Junction City and the other near Abilene.

While the highway birding was far less than spectacular, in part due to our speed and the mid summer conditions, it did keep my grandson entertained and made that six-hour segment seem shorter.  Perhaps we'll get to try again during the spring or autumn migration; then, the ranch ponds will hold more than cattle.