Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: Franklin’s gulls

Waves of Autumn Migrants

Monarch butterflies have come and gone, on their journey through Kansas and on to Mexico. It’s been perhaps two weeks since I’ve seen a live one. The lepidopterists say that any stragglers at this point would be unlikely to make it.

They’ve been replaced by Franklin’s gulls, making their semi-annual flyover. They don’t come down, so I never get a picture. But I love to see them every fall, on their way down from the Canadian plains. I wave to them as they pass, and call out, “Have a good winter in Texas! See you next spring!” I saw hundreds at a time this week, but only a couple dozen today. I think their migration has peaked.

They’ll be followed, maybe next week, by the turkey vultures. Turkey vultures like to warm themselves and stretch their wings in the sun of a morning, but days are getting shorter, and the mornings are getting chillier. One of these sunny days, soon, they will rise up, fly south, and keep going.

Whenever I search for information about vulture migration, I find some sites about the west coast, and some, such as this one, from the east. But if anyone in Kansas is watching turkey vultures, s/he is keeping her observations to herself. I watch for them, take pictures if I can, and will report to you, dear readers, when I see them leaving.

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Autumn Settling In

The weather has suddenly cooled. Today was lovely, sunny and mild, but the nights are chilly, and I’ve had to put another quilt on the bed.

Gulls have been making their semi-annual appearance. It’s been over a week since I saw the first, a group of perhaps a couple dozen; today I saw but one couple. They may be the last stragglers.

Turkey vultures are restless. I can feel that they will leave soon.

I saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher yesterday. I was surprised that it was still here. But, the scissor-tail’s migration is a fraction of the vultures’ so maybe they’re not in a hurry to leave.

I looked in the cabinet today and was surprised how many beans I have there. It’s almost as if I’ve unconsciously stored up for winter. Perhaps it’s possible after all for humans to follow the subtle promptings of the seasons, if we allow ourselves, and if we immerse ourselves in the sensory ocean of the natural world.

Why not dive in and see how it changes you?

Spotted in the Flint Hills in the Last Week

This year for the fourth time I spent mid-May commuting to White Memorial Camp, north of Council Grove. It’s a bit of a drive, but mostly on National Scenic Byway, KS 177. The remainder is gravel, through pastures to the end of a little peninsula surrounded by Council Grove lake. I go there for a job, which is to massage the attendees of Kelley Hunt and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s wonderful Brave Voice songwriting workshop and retreat. It’s a beautiful group whom I love to work with. The bonus is that this remote drive has incredible diversity of wildlife, particularly birds. So every year I am equally excited to do this job as to get there and back. Here’s a list of the many species I saw, most without even getting out of the car.

Butterfly milkweed, not yet blooming.
Wild blue indigo, in luscious bloom.
Cobaea beardtongue, plentiful this year.
Daisy fleabane, blooming rather early, I believe.
Lots of Arkansas rose.

several scissor-tailed flycatchers
one turkey
dozens of turkey vultures
one nighthawk
lots of killdeer
brown-headed cowbirds
meadowlarks
Franklins gulls
barn swallows
kingbirds
one indigo bunting, which thoughtfully landed in a tree in easy view. I actually stopped the car for this one.
redwing blackbirds
upland sandpipers

rat snake
yellow-bellied racer
five-lined skink
The last two reptiles were here at the motel, but I love them so much I didn’t want to leave them off the list.

Since I was a child I’ve wanted to see a zebra swallowtail butterfly, but never did, until this week.

And mustn’t forget — this one doesn’t belong on my list because I didn’t personally see it, but several of the musicians saw a mountain lion, and got pictures. Don’t tell Fish and Wildlife, they still don’t want to admit that mountain lions are in Kansas.

Quick hello to gulls passing through; nod to scissor-tailed flycatcher, here for the summer

Saw the gulls today, circling low over a pasture.

Also saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus, only present in a few parts of North America, only in the warm seasons. Here’s some basic info on this striking summer denizen of the prairie. Video footage of scissor-tails in flight is hard to find, but there’s some here, if you can tolerate the folksy narrative.

On the symbolic significance of the scissor-tailed flycatcher, my usual source, Ted Andrews, is, as far as I can find, silent. Perhaps he hasn’t met one. Shaman Mark Diercker suggests the scissor-tail might teach graceful evasion. I suspect also exquisite skill in capturing prey in flight. Have you seen scissor-tails? Have you studied them? Have they spoken to you of their journeys over Mexico to the great Central American isthmus; have they brought you a message?

Gull Migration

There are gulls who fly through here every spring and fall. I don’t know what kind of gull they are; I rarely see them land, and I never get a good enough look at them to identify them more specifically. Gress and Jantzen say that seventeen species of gulls have been spotted in Kansas; four are commonly seen on their migration: Franklin’s, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, and Herring. Some winter at reservoirs in the region, but we don’t have any reservoirs here. Otherwise, they must live someplace very far away, perhaps the Great Lakes or farther in summer; the Gulf of Mexico or farther in winter. They are exotic to the prairie, just passing through on their way to wherever they are going. When I find out who they are, I’ll tell you, dear readers, and until then I’ll simply note their presence, for the few days they are here, every spring and fall.

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