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Is Sedgwick 'America's Birdiest County'?

In the fall Cheyenne Bottoms attracts hunters from all across America. In the spring it draws birders like Sterling Blanchard, right, and Mark Davis. Both are from Atlanta.
In the fall Cheyenne Bottoms attracts hunters from all across America. In the spring it draws birders like Sterling Blanchard, right, and Mark Davis. Both are from Atlanta. The Wichita Eagle

This weekend is shaping up to be a great weekend for birding.

It is the height of spring migration — with warblers and vireos, avocets and Wilson's phalaropes, bitterns and red-winged blackbirds all congregating in America's heartland.

The weather, always an uncertainty in Kansas, promises warm temperatures and winds from the south today and cooler temperatures on Friday with winds from the north — all conditions that can cause migrating birds to linger in one spot.

"This time of year, it is an opportunity to see the unusually rare stuff," said Jeff Calhoun, a Wichita Audubon Society board member. "There is a little bit of everything in town right now."

Several events are going on to celebrate the peak weekend of migration.

This Saturday is International Migratory Bird Day, with special events held at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center/Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.

There is also the annual Oak Park Warber Walk in Wichita.

"This weekend marks a huge migration of all birds," said Paul Griffin, who will be leading the Warbler Walk. "Wichita is one of the best warbler spots in the whole country, but particularly in the Midwest."

Last week, Griffin spotted 400 warblers in Oak Park. But warblers tend to arrive and depart in waves and by Wednesday, he spotted only four.

He expects the next wave of warblers to arrive by Friday. He should know, he's videotaped more than 33 species of warblers in Oak Park since 1992.

"They are hard to find and when you find them, you feel real good about finding them because they are so hard to find," he said.

The birds range from the absolutely gorgeous, Griffin said, to the "pretty plain."

The Warbler Walk begins at 8 a.m. Saturday on the north side of Oak Park by the big pond.

Some birding groups will be counting the numbers of bird species they find this weekend.

Calhoun is participating in the America's Birdiest County contest. He will be posting sightings at abcsedgwick.blogspot.com and on the Wichita Audubon Facebook page.

Last year, Bexar County, Texas, came in first place among inland counties in the central United States. Sedgwick County was second, with birders spotting 193 species during the three-day event that begins Friday.

Calhoun is encouraging local birders to send e-mails posting their species updates to him at jecalhoun@wichita.edu or to Nathan Ofsthun, vice president of the Wichita Audubon Society, at nxofsthun@wichita.edu

"This is not for any scientific study," Calhoun said. "It is for pure entertainment purposes. We just ask people to go out, watch their bird feeders and keep a list of all the bird species seen within the borders of Sedgwick County between Friday and Sunday and then send us their lists."

People interested in traveling outside Sedgwick County can travel the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway on Saturday, starting at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

The event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and includes demonstrations, games and activities at Quivira and Kansas Wetlands Education Center/Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. It is free and open to the public.

Keeping count of the different bird species gives wildlife specialists a chance to not only chart the progress of migration but note which species may be in peril.

"It takes a snapshot in whatever stages the migration is in," said Mike Rader, wildlife education coordinator for Kansas Wildlife and Parks. "You can be a casual bird-watcher, you don't have to be a hard-core birder to participate."

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