For the birds

As the season transcends from summer through fall and winter, an abundance in sight and sound is available at Marion Reservoir for anyone who loves wild birds, and a growing excitement for bird hunters.

Thousands of migrating sea gulls and hundreds of American White Pelicans can be seen on any day from the dam area to the islands at Durham Cove.

And if you’re fortunate, said Marvin Peterson, conservation officer for Kansas Wildlife and Parks, you may see one of the real rarities, such as a Brown Pelican.

Or, if you want to see something common here most of the year, but still interesting, the tall frog-swallowing Great Blue Herons are common in the adult gray-blue form or the alternative white form, Peterson said.

Although Petersen appreciates all the wildlife, the focus of his job has to be game species, and along with the non-game birds, the ducks are beginning to arrive.

“The teal are here now, green wing and blue wing,” he said, “and the red heads should be arriving.

“Later, the pintails and migrant geese will come. The Canada geese will be abundant, and, although we’re not directly in their flyway, we’ll probably get some snow geese, including blues and Ross geese.

“The mallard ducks will be the last of the water fowl to come, and it usually takes a big cold wave or arctic front to push them down this far south. Last winter was so warm we didn’t see many mallards here.

“This is just a really good time for birders to be out to see a variety of things,” Petersen said. “You see a lot of people driving by looking, especially at things like the pelicans, the way they soar. If you really want to do it right, it’s simple to pick up a good bird field guide to identify them and their habits.”

For instance, he said, the cormorants will be coming through soon, and you may easily see one sitting on a half-submerged log with its wings hanging half out to dry after diving for fish.

Peterson said if your luck runs far greater than brown pelicans, you may even see a Whooping Crane, but the flyway for those really rare birds runs closer to Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend.

He said if you really want the chance to see one you should call Kansas Wildlife & Parks at Cheyenne Bottoms for water conditions, considering the dry year.

Another sight to watch for at the reservoir this winter, Peterson said, is the bald eagle migrants, especially in January and February, with February being the peak month.

You may see them soaring, or perched in a tree, or even sitting on the ice, he said.

Fishermen may rest assured that birds like the ring-billed gulls or herring gulls common here, or the pelicans or eagles, that all eat fish don’t really take fish from humans.

Peterson said, “They just leave more room for fish to grow.”

There is also an abundance of song birds and upland game birds for people to see now around the reservoir, especially pheasants and quail and prairie chicken to the east or northwest in native grasslands.

Peterson credited the good population of Canada geese at the reservoir in part to a restoration program that was done with them beginning more than 10 years ago when the old goose refuge at the north end was opened to hunting and a new refuge established at French Creek Cove in a more open grassy area favorable to geese.

Nesting structures were put up, and for a while problem geese from Wichita were put in “call pens” there. They were wing clipped, allowed to raise young while the feathers regrew, and released, he said. The young returned to establish a population.

Peterson said Canada goose hunting season will be Nov. 4 to Feb. 4 with a three-bird daily bag limit. Snow geese season will be Oct. 21 to Feb. 4 with a high daily bag limit of 20 birds, including blues and Ross, because of an overpopulation in the northern breeding grounds.

“They’re eating themselves out of house and home up there,” Peterson said.

Duck season runs Oct. 21 to 29, and then reopens Nov. 4 to Jan. 7 with a six-bird daily limit that a hunter needs regulation guides for to see what combinations of varieties are allowed, he said.

Prairie Chicken season and a special season on pheasants and quail for youth 16 and under when accompanied by an adult 21 or over start Nov. 4 with the general pheasant and quail season Nov. 11 to Jan. 31.

Peterson said both Marion Reservoir and adjacent Marion County land are great habitats for an abundance of wild species.

For instance, watch herds of cattle to see white cattle egrets following along. The white cattle egret is another species on the increase, he said.

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