By Jenna Quentin

Newton Kansan

Sometimes we don't pay attention to what is flying right over our heads. Harvey County's current bird checklist features a whopping 320 species. These checklists name every bird ever recorded in an area, even if they were only seen once.

Harvey County has so many kinds, because of the county's “a good mix” of terrains said local birdwatcher Gregg Friesen.

“West Park woodlands are hard to beat for birdwatching,” Friesen said.

He noted there are a fair amount of water birds at East Park, though they prefer ponds without a lot of traffic — which can be hard to access. With the Flint Hills starting in the east and the sand hills to the west, the county attracts many different birds.

Friesen also attributes the variety of species to the high number of ardent birdwatchers in the county for many years. In the past, the Ruth sisters in Halstead kept meticulous bird records. Friesen said they would even canoe the Arkansas River to bird watch.

It was the Ruth sisters who found a canyon wren on an elevator near Halstead — the sighting is the furthest east recorded and has been long debated. The county checklist now includes the canyon wren, marked with a rare bird symbol.

Some of the birds on Harvey County's list are not residents, but visitors. At the beginning of April, Parks Director Kim Rowley reported a flock of white pelicans at East Lake.

“The number of birds migrating through the county is rough to access,”  Friesen said.

Not many birds are stable in where they live all year long, except some woodpeckers, a few Great Blue Herons, a few owl species, and Pigeons and House Sparrows. Songbirds move through from mid-April to late May with the peak time around the first two weeks of May.

“Hawks leave the state in in March and April and, while some Red-tailed Hawks may stay, others move in and Swainson's Hawks arrive from South America,” Friesen said. “Mississippi Kites arrive around the first of May.”

In July, nesting shorebirds from the northern tundra start to return through the central US. By late November most of migration is over.

The migration patterns of birds are rather complex. Some birds migrate from south to north and back, others migrate from the mountains down to the plains.

Many birds are nighttime migrants.

“Lights often disorient them and there is a push to use outdoor lighting that is aimed down and not spread without concern in many directions to avoid this problems,” Friesen said.

An Audubon Society member, Friesen said they take an annual trip to West Park watching for the American Woodcock. They went few weeks ago, but didn't have any luck tracking down these shy birds. Friesen thought it was too windy that evening.

“You really have to just stand in a wet woodland and listen for a “peent” sound as they fly up...and the mating display is amazing,” Friesen said. 

They are rarely seen, though in the 1980s, Friesen said a nest, hidden against the ground, was found. Woodcocks are best found in the western part of the county.

“Mostly I enjoy the changing seasons and the flow of birds that each season brings,” said Friesen. “A woodland walk with many singing birds makes for a wonderful walk.