On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
On the Road: Week of May 24 (5 am)
Albatrossity – Spring 2021 in Flyover Country #4
UncleEbeneezer – SE Asia Valentines (Part 5): War Remnants Museum
🐾BillinGlendaleCA – UCLA
Steve from Mendocino – The Caribbean 4 of 4 – Virgin Islands
way2blue – My Home Town, California
🌺 And now, back to Albatrossity!
Week 4 is birds, flowers, and even a surprise snowstorm in April!
Many of our birds do not migrate, but they do change appearances during the spring season. One of the more obvious of those is this American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), which has mostly changed out of its dingy winter outfit, but still has a few places to fill in with new colorful feathers.
Many of our summer resident hawks have returned from points south, and this is one of those. A very pale and elegant Red-tailed Hawk of the borealis/eastern subspecies (Buteo jamaicensis borealis), which was occupying a fence post that hosted dark northern redtails all winter long. Welcome back!
Another welcome migrant, but one that is just passing through this part of Flyover Country, is the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). This one is either stretching out some kinks in its legs, or showing off its fine footwear. Coincidentally, the specific epithet is derived from two Latin words that roughly translate to “feet at the buttocks”, describing the very rearward placement of the feet in all grebe species.
Gulls are also moving through Flyover Country in April and May. Large flocks of Franklin’s Gulls often contain one or two oddballs, such as this delicate first-year Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia). This species was in the genus Larus until recently, but was placed in this genus based on DNA phylogenetic evidence. Interestingly the name comes from two Greek words, “khroizo” (to color), and “kephale” (head). Adult Bonaparte’s Gulls do have dark-colored heads, as do several other members of this genus. But the genus also includes 2 New Zealand birds, the Red-billed Gull (C. novaehollandiae) and the Black-billed Gull (C. bulleri), which both have plain white heads. Taxonomic revisions don’t always make complete sense…
The return of the Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) is a welcome sign of spring in Flyover Country. Historically a bird of the southeast US, they have slowly been expanding their range northward and westward. This golden singer of the swamp lights up the forest, even on a rainy day.
Another tiny migrant that will be with us all summer is the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana). These diminutive birds pack a lot of colors into their plumage, and the white eye arcs are the perfect accent to all of those.
The warblers shown above are relatively short-distance migrants, wintering in Mexico and Central America. This Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) is much more of an international traveler, since it winters across the equator in the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay. And the summer range doesn’t stop in Kansas, it extends across the Dakotas into the prairie provinces of Canada, westward into Southeastern Alaska, and eastward into Ontario and Quebec. The genus name commemorates William Bartram, one of the earliest naturalists to describe plants and animals from North America.
Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor), one of several North American birds named after another early naturalist, Alexander Wilson (a student of Bartram), is also a trans-equatorial migrant. It winters on high salt lakes in the Andes, and summers across much of the western US and southern Canada. This is a female, who is more colorful than the males. This species also has a dizzying feeding display, in which the birds twirl madly in the water and pick off insects which come to the surface in the vortex.
In late April we had a surprise snowstorm, which dumped 3-5″ of wet snow on our leafy and flowery trees. It melted by mid-afternoon, which means that it snowed twice; once when it fell from the sky and once when it fell from the tree branches in big clumps.
But the cool spring had one beneficial effect; the redbuds, which are normally abundant and colorful here for about a week, continued to display their vibrant colors for 2-3 weeks. This is a streamside on the Konza Prairie, and it looked like this for multiple weeks!