Birders: Dedicated hobbyists flock to county's diverse habitats
Birders have peeped at least 300 species of birds in Marion County — from bald eagles and whooping cranes to great blue herons and snowy owls.
Birding is a growing hobby that doesn’t require expensive equipment — though binoculars and guidebooks are helpful — or special skills.
The county attracts birders from all over Kansas.
Kevin Groeneweg visits from Wichita regularly. He’s been a birder for about 30 years.
“The best place is the reservoir, and that’s probably pretty obvious — especially fall and winter and into the spring when you get a lot of the waterfowl,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of good birds from the reservoir.”
One positive of a drought plaguing the county is that shorebirds are easier to spot in mud flats, he said.
“There are an amazing number of shorebirds,” Groeneweg said.
The reservoir’s dam and campgrounds are good places to spot birds, he said.
In the summer, several breeding species make Marion County their home. Sometimes, they can be difficult to spot — because they’re taking care of their young.
Marion County Park and Lake also is a good place to find birds, Groeneweg said. Bald eagles nest not too far from its dam.
“There are always a lot of ducks on the lake, mostly mallards,” he said.
Tallgrass prairie areas provide good birding opportunities as well.
Prairie chickens have been spotted at Marion Municipal Airport, which is on the way to the county lake.
“I think it’s a good area,” Groeneweg said of the county. “It’s got a lot of habitat. The reservoir is a huge plus because that adds so many species that you can get.”
Tom Ewert, also a Wichita resident, has been a birder “forever,” he said.
“My first memories with birds are in fifth grade when my family moved to the western panhandle of Oklahoma,” he said. “I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along.”
He has relatives in Hillsboro, so he can kill two birds with one stone — so to speak — during visits.
“I like going around the reservoir,” he said. “I start at one of the campgrounds, maybe even at the dam overlook, and go to Hillsboro Cove, French Creek Cove, Durham Cove, and Cottonwood Point.
“Earlier this spring, when there was a lot of mud, you could see shorebirds, sandpipers, plovers, and white pelicans. There’s a lot of those out there.”
The most unusual birds he’s seen in Marion County were whooping cranes in 2014 down by Aulne. They were making their annual migration from Texas to Canada.
“People from all over the state went there to see that,” he said.
Cornell University Lab of Ornithology estimated at the time that there were only 600 of the cranes left in the wild.
A few years ago, a royal tern was spotted at the swimming beach at the reservoir. The woman who spotted it said “I can’t believe it,” Ewert said.
“It comes from the Texas Gulf Coast,” he said. “Word spread on the Internet, and by afternoon, 30 to 40 people showed up.”
Ewert also enjoys walking around the county lake.
“Right now, summertime, you’ll see robins, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and Carolina wrens. That’s a good place to walk,” he said. “When the county lake starts to freeze over, you can drive around or stay in some of those lookouts and see ducks and geese and count how many species there are. I’ve seen Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese.”
A friend sometimes teases him about birding, asking whether he gets bored seeing the same birds over and over, Ewert said.
“Don’t you get tired of playing the same songs every time?” Ewert said in retort. “It’s a fun hobby.”
Bob Hoopes, who lives at Eastshore at the reservoir, has been birding for about 25 years.
“My folks kind of observed birds,” he said. “They fed birds.”
Hoopes keeps small notebooks where he jots down species he’s seen and on what day. He walks and bikes frequently and tries to pay attention to what might be flying above.
“I keep my notebooks in a box that probably are just going to be recycled someday,” he said. He sees white pelicans a lot and also has spotted a great snowy owl.
On Friday, while walking around Marion Cove at the reservoir, he saw a red-winged blackbird, female Baltimore oriole, and grackles.
Hoopes also pays attention to plants, butterflies, and wildlife.
Marion resident Lloyd Davies calls himself an amateur birder.
“Every so often, you get some rarities: the brown pelican and the surf scoter that were seen along the reservoir dam in different years, both ocean birds,” he said. “One bird that is coming into the area is the pileated woodpecker, a Woody Woodpecker-looking bird the size of a crow. I hadn’t seen one in 19 years since leaving Kansas City until about 2016, and now I’ve seen them along Mud Creek and out in the Cottonwood wildlife trail.”
Marion’s Central Park is a good place to spot birds on a lunch break or short walk, Davies said.
“The platform at the park over the creek is great especially during spring warbler migration,” he said. “If you stand on it the first week of May and look down-creek, you’ll see many of what look like little flying yellow canaries in and out of the trees: yellow warblers.
“Another good spot is the north tree line at the ball diamonds. One more I go to is walk down to the Cottonwood at the tree dump or go back up on the rock piles to look at the sewer ponds by the tree dump.”
Davies is self-deprecating about the hobby.
“I’m not that great a birder — not like some of these guys,” he said. “My holy grail yet is a painted bunting, and they’re not that uncommon.
“I’m just winging it.”
Last modified June 29, 2023