Wichita Audubon hosts monthly walks designed for beginning birders

Wichita Eagle

At 18 months old, Oliver Hammond may be the youngest bird watcher in Wichita.

Saturday morning his mother, Jessica, brought him to Chisholm Creek Park so they could both learn more about nature.

“He’s just so naturally into birds I figure I’d better be learning all I could,” said Jessica Hammond. “I went out and got some binoculars and I think things like this will be a great way for us to learn more.”

She was talking about the guided bird walks Wichita Audubon Society members have lead at Chisholm Creek Park since the fall of 2015. Held the second Saturday of each month, the tours are through the 282-acre park in north Wichita. Kevin Groeneweg said beginners are especially welcome.

“It’s a pretty easy walk of about a mile to a mile-and-a-half and it’s easy to find,” said Groeneweg, a Audubon Society member. “We want to have them local so they’ll appeal to the local birder who maybe only has a few hours in a morning.”

The walking paths are paved and flat, which helps those with mobility issues, especially during bad weather. The second-Saturday schedule is also easy for the public to remember.

Tom Ewert, another club member who often helps on the walks, said attendance varies, largely according to weather conditions.

“When it’s been really cold we’ve maybe only had four or five, and they’re (members),” said Ewert. “On some of the nicer mornings we’ve had a pretty good crowd, maybe 20 or more.”

About 15 people gathered for Saturday’s walk. Half were members of Wichita Audubon.

Groeneweg led the group north from the park’s parking lot, stopping first at the edge of one of the area’s ponds.

“One nice thing is the diversity in habitats we can find here,” said Groeneweg. “There’s substantial prairie and some nice riparian cover down along the creek. It can be a really good place for birding.”

As they came out of a patch of woodlands Groeneweg pointed out a drake gadwall on a small pond. It was the first duck of it’s kind Jessica Hammond had seen. Groeneweg and others told her how to quickly distinguish gadwalls from other ducks.

When they stepped into open prairie, several on the trek got their first look at a cedar waxwing in an isolated tree, then a fox sparrow and several white-throated sparrows in nearby brush. A little further down the paved path Groeneweg heard, then showed the group, a hermit thrush. Highly secretive, the tiny bird was also a first for several of the guests.

The walk lasted nearly 90 minutes. Groeneweg had tallied 28 species seen. That’s on the low side for most of his birding trips, but he added this can be a slow time for birding.

“This can be a pretty good place when migrations get going,” he said. “It’s a really good spot to find warblers in the fall. It’s a just good place to take people.” Ewert checked online and said at least 212 species of birds have been documented in Chisholm Creek Park.

Strapped to his mother’s chest, and limited to his bare eyes, young Oliver Hammond didn’t see as many as others on the hike. He saw, and pronounced, seeing crows chasing a red-tailed hawk. He was especially focused on a pair of mallard ducks in Chisholm Creek. He didn’t get to see the several species of sparrows or the tiny thrush in the thick cover.

“We’ve tried getting him to (use binoculars),” said his mother, “he knows what they are, but he puts them on top of his head. He’ll get it figured out.”

When he does, he’ll have a great place to put them to use on Saturday mornings.