November 21, 2010

Kansas' holiday getaway

Think you may be looking for a way to burn a few thousand calories after Thanksgiving dinner?

Think you may be looking for a way to burn a few thousand calories after Thanksgiving dinner?

Or maybe you just need to get out of the house and away from Uncle Foster's stories you've heard dozens of times before?

Here are outings recommended by the staff at the Great Plains Nature Center.

Eagle watching in Wichita — Bald eagles along the Arkansas River are one of the top winter wildlife draws in Wichita. One was seen last week and more should be on their way.

"If that cold front comes through next week, we're liable to get a real infusion of eagles," said Bob Gress, Great Plains Nature Center director. "They usually arrive with the first real push of cold weather."

He recommends the Arkansas River from Kellogg south to Herman Hill Park.

"Anywhere there are big cottonwoods is a good place to look," Gress said.

The area around the Twin Lakes area at 21st and Amidon also holds promise since two eagles built a nest their last spring.

Waterfowl watching — No need to head to distant wetlands to enjoy watching a variety of duck species.

Waters in the Wichita city limits have about as much diversity as any place in the state, Gress said.

Grab a field guide, binoculars and check any assortment of local ponds, lakes and sand pits.

Finding 10 species of ducks is a realistic goal.

A deer time at Pawnee Prairie — The 600-plus acre park at 2625 S. Tyler has a lot to offer. It's one of the best examples of prairie around with tall stands of native grasses.

The park also contains many miles of hiking trails.

"We don't even try to measure how many miles anymore," said Jim Mason, nature center naturalist. "It's a lot and more seem to pop up."

Trails of cement and asphalt mean you can walk no matter how wet the weather.

But the real adventure, according to Connie Leger, nature center naturalist, is to follow the narrow, winding trails made by the park's whitetail deer.

As well as tracks of all sizes, you should be able to see where bucks have rubbed antlers on trees.

Check below over-hanging branches for scraped-out areas of bare dirt where bucks and does leave their scent as calling cards for one another.

Spend a little quiet time and you'll probably see and hear several species of migrating songbirds.

Plenty to do at the Q — A trip to the Quivira National Wildlife refuge, about 90 minutes northwest of Wichita, makes about every Kansas wildlife watching list.

And for good reason.

This is prime time to view the area that sometimes holds 1 million or more ducks, geese and sandhill cranes.

It also has one of the highest deer densities in Kansas.

Drive slowly and look carefully. It's not a drive-through zoo, so animals won't necessarily be standing in the open.

With the breeding season ongoing, deer will be on the move.

Binoculars are a must, as is spending time on the Wildlife Drive as the sun is setting and thousands of birds are flying.

Look for eagles and peregrine falcons hazing flocks.

Lately, whooping cranes have been seen near the road on the Wildlife Drive and just north of the Little Salt Marsh.

Go to www.fws.gov/quivira to check road conditions.

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