Kenn Kaufman dropped out of Wichita South High after one year to hitchhike and birdwatch his way across North America. His book about those adventures, Kingbird Highway, still a popular birding novel, helped propel Kaufman, now 60, to become one of the world’s most respected nature writers.
Saturday and next Sunday he’s coming back to repay the local birding group that helped him along that tract during his childhood in Wichita.
Kaufman, also author of 12 highly-respected field guides on a variety of kinds of wildlife, and hundreds of magazine articles, will be the star attraction as the Wichita Audubon Society celebrates its 60th anniversary.
“They were all so very patient with me, and gave me rides to all those great birding spots,” said Kaufman. “I figure I still owe them.”
His repayment will include a two-hour indoor/outdoor seminar on advanced bird identification beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday, followed by a nature-related lecture, with snacks, that evening at the Cargill Learning Center at the Sedgwick County Zoo. At 7 a.m. Sunday, Kaufman will lead a birding trip at Chisholm Creek Park.
“I’ll be glad to stay out as along as anybody wants to go birding there,” he said. “There’s some good birding and diversity there around the Great Plains Nature Center.”
Carol Cumberland, Wichita Audubon Society, said there is a one-time, $10 charge that covers all three events. That money largely goes to pay for the rental of the Cargill Learning Center. Information will be available for those who would like to join the group, which holds regular educational meetings, field trips and owns the 240-acre Chaplin Nature Center near Arkansas City. It’s open to the public at no charge.
Now living in Ohio, Kaufman still has ties to Wichita. Ten years ago he was back to help the club celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. On a return speaking event in 1997, the Wichita school system gave him an honorary high school diploma. Kaufman also has three brothers living in the Wichita area, and is hoping to spend time with some of those members who helped him nearly 50 years ago.
“There are a lot of expert bird people in Kansas, there really are,” Kaufman said. “When I was like 11 years old, on some of my first field trips, I got to ride along with Dan Kilby (a charter member of the Wichita group) and learn stuff from him. It’s so neat that he’s still out there birding. It’s always so good to see people like him when I’m back.”
For information on the events call Cumberland at 316-685-4867.