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Archive for Friday, May 28, 1999

BIRD COUNTERS HAVE FIELD DAY

May 28, 1999

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Four bird watchers identified a state-record 206 bird species during a one-day tour of Kansas.

It was the kind of dream hunt ornithologists can only experience by skipping sleep.

During a 24-hour journey, a team that included two Kansas University researchers tracked down 206 species of birds residing in Kansas.

"It was record for a single calendar date in Kansas. We had a good morning," Townsend Peterson, curator of ornithology at the KU Museum of Natural History, said Thursday.

The total was among the highest recorded in the United States -- certainly in the top 10. Higher counts have been reported only in coastal states such as California, Texas and New Jersey, where the occurrence of shorebirds magnifies species diversity.

Peterson was joined on the May 13 excursion by Mark Robbins, the museum's collection manager for birds; Sebastian Patti of Chicago; and Chris Hobbs of Bonner Springs.

They parlayed the sightseeing trip, called the Bird-a-thon, into a fund-raising event for the museum's ornithology division. It's all part of a 29-year-old tradition of Big Days, bird-watching competitions governed by the American Birding Assn.

The association requires that each member of a Big Day team remain within hearing of all other members throughout the search and that all members observe at least 95 percent of the species.

"We've been doing this four years," Peterson said. "It is exhausting. It is, without a doubt, quite fun."

In the first year, the group observed 205 species to break the previous state record of 200. They identified 204 the second year and 200 the third year. Their modern state record of 206 is apparently safe until next year's trip.

"The idea is to start at midnight," Peterson said. "We start around Lawrence. We have species staked out that we can find easily at night. Some birds sing at night."

Around Lawrence, they found two birds whose populations had declined because of loss of native prairie -- the greater prairie chicken and Henslow's sparrow.

After dawn, the team recorded 26 kinds of warblers in the Missouri River bottoms near Leavenworth. The team traveled west to Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, where they saw most of the water birds recorded that day.

By the end of the day, the team had covered 525 miles.

"The idea is you have to get as much diversity geographically as possible. Kansas is uniquely suited to doing this," Peterson said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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