Southern Great Plains: Summer 2017

1 Jun—31 Jul

Joseph A. Grzybowski, Oklahoma

W. Ross Silcock, Nebraska

Recommended citation: Grzybowski, J. A. and Silcock, W. R. 2020. Summer 2017: Southern Great Plains. <> North American Birds.

The mid-continental plains have a varied climate that, at times, exhibit extreme fluctuations. This season, the region demonstrated some recovery from a recent drought, and some wetland birds reentered the Plains—in particular Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, rails, and Common Gallinules. Perhaps owing to more extensive habitat, several shorebird vagrants lingered on as well. Unique in this region is a series of hybrid zones between eastern and western congeners, especially in Nebraska and northern Kansas. Also of note this season was the scarcity of mega-vagrants.


Cheyenne Bottoms (Cheyenne Bottoms W.M.A., Barton, KS); Hackberry Flat (Hackberry Flat W.M.A., Tillman, OK); McConaughy (L. McConaughy, Keith, NE); Quivira (Quivira N.W.R., Stafford, KS); Rainwater Basin: a series of playas in south-central and southeastern NE; Red Slough (Red Slough W.M.A., McCurtain, OK).

Contributors (sub-regional compilers in boldface)

NEBRASKA:  Justin Agan, Laura Baake (LBa), Laurel Badura, Tom Bailey, Grant Beauprez, Jean Beck, Elliott Bedows, Matt Beisel (MBs), Mark Brogie, Amanda Ciurej, Colin Croft, Kathy DeLara, Mike Doyen, Jeff Drahota, Keith Dyche (KDy), Curtis Dykstra, Larry Einemann, William Flack, Jake Friebohle, Michele Fuhrer-Hurt (MFH), Alan Grenon, Matt Hansen, Robin Harding, David Heidt, Tully Hochhausler, Daniel Horton (DHo), Bill F. Huser, Esa Jarvi, Jan Johnson, Joel. G. Jorgensen, Ethan Kistler, Clem N. Klaphake, Augie Kramer, Nick Lund, Sam Manning (SMa), Wayne Mollhoff, Steve Morris, Jonathan Nikkila, Jean Olson (JOl), Loren & Babs Padelford (L&BP), Don & Jan Paseka (D&JP), Brian Peterson, Lanny Randolph, Justin Rink, Gary Roberts, Paul Roisen, Matthew Sabatine, Phyllis Salyards, Dave Sandahl (DSa), Ruben Siegfried (RSg), W. Ross Silcock, Dave Stage, Ruth Stearns (RSt), John Sullivan, John Vanderpoel, Glenn Walbek (GWa), Tali Whittemore, Michael Willison, Greg Wright, Rick Wright, Douglas Yochum

Contributors (cont.)

Penny Zahurones.  KANSAS:  Henry Armknecht, Mark Brogie, Andrew Burnett, Jeff Calhoun, Kathy Carroll, Tom Gannon, Charles Hall, Dave Klema, Jonathan Vande Kopple (JVK), Dan Larson, Dan LaShelle (DLS), Jonathan Lautenbach, Tony Leukering, Ethan Maynard, Jo-Ann Moore (JAM), Chuck Otte, Jaye Otte, Rob Penner, Mike Rader, Brett Sandercock (BSa), Tom & Sara Shane (T&SS), Max Thompson.  OKLAHOMA:  Justin Agan, David Arbour, John Ault (JAu), John Besser (JBe), Bill Carrell, Bill Diffin, Herb Elliott, Bob Ellis, Jenny Elton, Joseph A. Grzybowski, Ford Hendershot, Glen Hensley, Seinna Leach, Tony Leukering, Charles Lyon, Brian Marra, Kurt Meisenzahl, Daron Patterson (DPa), Zach Poland, Lewis Pond, Tim & Elizabeth Pratt (T&EP), Justin Roach (JRo), Jeremy Ross (JRs), Rosemary Seidler, Brian Stufflebeam, Doug Wood.

Whistling-Ducks through Rails

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks invaded the northern areas of the region: in Kansas, 6 reports involved some 30 birds (fide CO), and breeding was confirmed in Barton 15 Jun (RP); in Nebraska, 14 birds were spread across 3 reports (fide WRS). The only Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were the 1-2 continuing from spring at Hackberry Flat through 18 Jun (JAG, BD).  A Ross’s Goose lingered in Lancaster, NE 6—14 Jun with Snow Geese (LE), and a Greater White-fronted Goose was in Hall, NE 1 Jun (RW). The southernmost Trumpeter Swans known to breed regionally are in Buffalo, NE; 2 cygnets were seen with adults 26 Jun (WF). Cinnamon Teal are typically just migrants in the Oklahoma Panhandle. However, this season, up to 17 were present during the period at various ponds in Texas and Cimarron, including 3 hybrid Cinnamon X Blue-winged Teal on 26 Jul (TL). Several waterfowl species lingered at Hackberry Flat this summer, supported by the improved wetland conditions. From 12—28 Jun, these included 1-4 Gadwall, 1-5 American Wigeon, and a Green-winged Teal (fide JAG). Another Green-winged Teal was at Red Slough 12—13 Jun (DA). A Canvasback was at Hackberry Flat 1 & 14 Jun (HE, JAG), and single Ring-necked Ducks were in Pawnee, OK 19 Jun—14 Jul (JA) and Butler, NE 4 Jul (CD). 6 Lesser Scaup lingered at Hackberry Flat 14 Jun (JAG), another was observed in Oklahoma, OK throughout the period (m.ob.), and one was in Lancaster, NE 14 Jun—28 Jul (LE, m.ob.). 2 Common Goldeneye, unexpected in summer, were in Osage, KS 4 Jun; one bird lingered until 2 Jul (CH). A Hooded Merganser in Texas, OK 12 Jun (TL) was also notable. A female Red-breasted Merganser at Quivira 1—4 Jun (TG) and another individual in Pawnee, OK 6 Jun (JA) were both very late.

Western Grebes are sporadic breeders in Kansas. 4 birds—one on a nest platform—were at Kearny 24 Jun (JC); 1-2 were at a playa in Ford, KS 14 Jun & 2 Jul (JC). There were 3 reports of 1-2 Clark’s Grebes at McConaughy 3—15 Jun (EB, JV, GB); breeding occurs at this location. Another Clark’s was in Harlan, NE 12 Jun (JS). An Inca Dove in Ellsworth 17 Jun (MR) was surprisingly far north, and a White-winged Dove in Franklin, KS 11 Jun (KC) was notably east. 2 Black-billed Cuckoos in Osage, OK 1 Jul (CL, RS) were a noteworthy find, for this species is declining. Chuck-will’s-widow is increasingly detected along Nebraska’s southern border; the westernmost to date was one in Harlan 4 Jul (BFH). Eastern Whip-poor-will reports westward along the Niobrara River Valley in northern Nebraska are also increasing. 1-2 were in Cherry 11 & 30 Jun (MBs, TH). Westerly Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were in Hall, NE 2 Jul (SM) and Russell, KS 14 Jun (2 birds; DK). Nebraska’s 4th record of Black-chinned Hummingbird was in Washington—easterly—for a month, and was last seen 8 Jul (JB). 3 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in Scotts Bluff, NE 6—28 Jul (CC, NL) were the only regional reports. A Rufous Hummingbird in Tulsa, OK 30 Jul (SL) was easterly. Black Rail summers regularly in central Kansas; a report from Ford 5 Jul (JC) was unexpected, and west of the typical range. 1-5 King Rails were at Hackberry Flat throughout the period (HE, m.ob.), a good showing of this usually rare species. Common Gallinule occurrence fluctuates with wet and dry cycles. This year, a pair were noted at a nest in Clay, NE 5 Jul (LB), another was nest-building in Neosho, KS 18 Jun (AB), and others were reported in Douglas, KS during the period (DL) and Hackberry Flat 10 Jun—1 Jul (up to 4 birds; fide JAG). In this region, Purple Gallinule is expected only at Red Slough. There, its numbers are increasing; 34 were noted 4 Jun (DA, FH). Sandhill Cranes were at known breeding locations in Nebraska (fide WRS), but one at Cheyenne Bottoms 7 Jul (MR) was unexpected for the site.

Plovers through Phalaropes

6 American Golden-Plovers in Clay, NE 1 Jun were late. (JGJ).  Piping Plovers were in Boyd and Holt, NE during Jun (GR, PZ). 2 Long-billed Curlews in Ford, KS 29 Jun (DLS, T&SS), and 6-7 at Hackberry Flat 24—28 Jun (BE, BD) were early fall migrants; so were 1-2 Marbled Godwits 24—26 Jun at Hackberry Flat (BE), in Cimarron (DW) and in Texas, OK (TL). A Marbled Godwit was in Cuming, NE 2—3 Jun (MB, DS) was easterly. Other unexpected summer shorebirds included: 4 Stilt Sandpipers in Sumner, KS 23 Jun (MT) and 2 at Hackberry Flat 24 Jun & 1 Jul (BE, T&EP); 2 Baird’s in Texas, OK 2 Jul (TL) and singles in Dodge, NE 20 Jun (JGJ) and Saunders, NE 23 Jun (LE); a continuing Least in Neosho, KS on 4 Jul (AB); Pectorals in Lancaster, NE 21 Jun (LE) and Saunders, NE 23 Jun (LE); 1-2 Semipalmated Sandpipers at 2 sites in Lancaster, NE 16—30 Jun (MBs, LE), another in Saunders, NE 2 Jul (JGJ), and 6 in Texas, OK 30 Jun (TL); a Short-billed Dowitcher at Quivira 19 Jun (MR); and a Long-billed Dowitcher in Cimarron, OK 22 Jun (TL). 225 Baird’s Sandpipers in Texas, OK 26 Jul (TL) was an excellent southbound tally, and so was the 650 Pectoral Sandpipers in Saunders, NE 23 Jul (LE). 3 White-rumped Sandpipers were still at Quivira 4 Jul (BSa, JL). A Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Clay, NE 7 Jun (JGJ) was late, and 10 in Johnston, OK 25 Jul (JRo) were early. 2 Pectoral Sandpipers in Sumner, KS 12 Jun (MT) were also late, along with a Long-billed Dowitcher in Harper, OK 1 Jun (DPa). 5 Lesser Yellowlegs in Texas, OK 22 Jun (TL) were likely early migrants, as were 11 in Ford, KS 29 Jun (DLS, T&SS), and 3 in Sumner, KS 23 Jun (MT). Early southbound Willets were in Neosho, KS 18 Jun (AB), Lancaster, NE 26 Jun (EJ), and Woodward, OK 24 Jun (6 birds; DPa). Greater Yellowlegs were first noted in Sarpy, NE 16 Jun (SMa), and 1-2 were in Texas, OK 18—21 Jun (TL). The 79 Wilson’s Phalaropes in Texas, OK 26 Jun (TL) was a good count—typically, just a few summer there—and 2 at Hackberry Flat 24 Jun (BE) were easterly. A Red-necked Phalarope lingered through 1 Jun in Garden, NE (BP).

Gulls through Falcons

A juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull, unusual in July, was in Lancaster, NE 30 Jul (GR). An adult Laughing Gull wandered to Harlan, NE 1-2 Jun (PR, KDy, LE). A first-winter Herring Gull was in Cimarron, OK 24 Jun (DW). A Lesser Black-backed Gull at McConaughy 3—14 Jun (MW, GB) was an unusual summer find. A Caspian Tern, unexpected in summer in Oklahoma, was in Oklahoma 13 Jun (JE). An early Common Tern was in Edwards, KS 26 Jul (HA, JC, JVK).  Summering Common Loons are becoming regular in the region: they were present at 4 locations in Kansas 24 Jun—4 Jul (fide CO), at 3 locations in Nebraska 1 Jun—29 Jul (8 birds; fide WRS), and in Cleveland, OK 3 Jun (BD). Wandering Wood Storks appeared a bit early at Red Slough; 3-6 were there 2—19 Jun (DA, m.ob.), and one in Comanche, OK 26—30 Jun (JAu, KM, ZP) was westerly. A Brown Booby—Nebraska’s second, and an apparent female—was an exceptional find in Harlan, NE, where it was present 29 May—25 Jun (JD, m.ob.). Neotropic Cormorant is rare in the northern region; one was in Harvey, KS 16 Jun (EM) and another was in Lancaster, NE 22—30 Jul (MW, m.ob.). An American Bittern was at Red Slough, an outpost location, 25 Jul (DA); another at Hackberry Flat 24 Jun (BE) was a rare summer find. There were no reports this season of Little Blue Heron in NE (fide WRS), and numbers of this species seem down in other areas (fide JAG). A Reddish Egret continuing from spring at Quivira remained through the period (fide CO). A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was westerly in Alfalfa, OK 5 Jun (GH), and one in Nemaha, NE 14 Jun (L&BP) was vagrant. Large numbers of White Ibis were at Red Slough, where they are regular in summer; 900 were counted 6 Jun, and 235 were tallied on 4 Jun (DA, FH, CL). A single White Ibis wandered west to Comanche, OK 30 Jun (ZP). Only 1 Roseate Spoonbill, an immature, was reported at Red Slough this summer; it was present from 4—19 Jun (DA, FH).

2 Black Vultures in Blaine, OK 6 Jun (JAG, JRs) were westerly. Ospreys are becoming more regular as breeders and summer visitors. One was at a tower in Washington, NE 21 Jun (AC); others fledged young at 3 established nest sites in Scotts Bluff, NE (KD). Ospreys were also reported in Douglas and Sarpy, NE 1 & 6 Jul (JR, AG), and 4-5 were in 3 Oklahoma counties from Oklahoma eastward through the period (BC, BD, LP, JBe). Mississippi Kites nested at 5 previously known locations in southwestern Nebraska (fide WRS). 2 westerly Broad-winged Hawks were in Geary, KS 17 Jun (fide CO). Easterly Burrowing Owls in Nebraska were reported from Kearney, Phelps, and Holt (fide WRS). Barred Owl continues to expand westward up Nebraska’s riparian corridors and reports came from Greeley 13 Jun (JF) and Sherman 6 Jun (JF). A Long-eared Owl in Jefferson, NE 24 Jun (MH) was a first county record.  Wayne Mollhoff’s untiring efforts for Northern Saw-whet Owl (48 nest boxes over an 1800-mile loop) revealed nests in Scotts Bluff and Thomas, NE (GW). A Peregrine Falcon was in Morton, KS 11 Jul (TL), with another in Alfalfa, OK 28 Jun (ZP).  An immature Prairie Falcon in Brown, NE 6 & 9 Jun (DHo, CNK) was easterly.

Wood-Pewees to Dickcissel

Both Western and Eastern Wood-Pewees were heard at Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown, NE 6—9 Jun (CNK, DHo, JN). Eastern Wood-Pewees in Cherry, NE 3 Jun (2; DSa) and 14 Jul (MD), and in Thomas, NE 3 Jun (2; DHo) were westerly. 2 mid-summer reports of Alder Flycatcher in Kansas, where breeding is uncertain, came from Leavenworth 2 Jul (JAM) and Geary 4 Jul (JO, CO). 3 Willow Flycatchers in Cloud, KS 14 Jul (JC) were westerly. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher breeds to south-central Nebraska in Jefferson, and was noted 30 Jun—7 Jul (MFH, WM); a nest with nonviable eggs in Red Willow 28 Jun (WM) was westerly. At the northerly Blaine, OK, outpost, up to 9 Black-capped Vireos were noted from 6—27 Jun (JAG, JRs). Yellow-throated Vireos in Madison, NE 18 Jul (DH) and Cherry, NE 5 Jun (DSa) were westerly. Also westerly was a Red-eyed Vireo in Dundy, NE 12 Jun (EK). Westerly Purple Martins were in Garden, NE 8 Jun (LBa) and Perkins, NE 6 Jul (WF). Cave Swallows appear in mid-summer at Red Slough; sightings occurred on 4 & 19 Jun and 4 Jul (DA, FH). Cave Swallow observations in Sumner, KS this summer signal breeding: a sub-adult was present 3 Jul, and an adult with two “young” was observed on 23 Jul (MT). A Red-breasted Nuthatch pair in Lancaster, NE attended a residential feeder through 14 Jun (RSt), and perhaps bred. Carolina Wrens north and east of the expected NE range were in Knox 4 Jul (MB), Buffalo 1 Jun (TW) and Adams 27 Jul (PS). A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was in Cherry, NE 2 Jun (DSa), an area where western and eastern populations overlap. A late Hermit Thrush not identified to subspecies, though described as “brownish gray,” was in Thomas, NE 3 Jun (DHo). A Red Crossbill in Dodge, NE 28 Jun (D&JP) was easterly and unexpected. Lesser Goldfinch continued in Scotts Bluff, NE (EB, JOl, TB), where it is an established summer resident.

A Spotted Towhee in Oklahoma, OK 17 Jun (BM) was an extralimital summer record. Spotted Towhees in Jewell, KS 13 Jul (JC) and Smith, KS 31 Jul (several birds; HA, DL) were easterly. Towhees showing Eastern characteristics—likely, intergrades—were seen west to Lincoln, NE (fide WRS). A Field Sparrow in Sheridan, NE 22 Jun (JA) was unusual. A Henslow’s Sparrow survey at Spring Creek Prairie, Lancaster, NE 20 Jun yielded a modest 15 birds (RSt). Unusual summer records of Zonotrichia sparrows included a White-crowned in Johnson, KS 5 Jul (MB) and a White-throated at Red Slough 19 Jun (DA). A Yellow-breasted Chat, rare in the Oklahoma Panhandle during summer, was in Texas 15 Jul (TL). Additional chats in Dixon, NE 14 Jun (DHo) and Harlan, NE 1—2 Jun (JGJ, PR) were easterly. The only documented Nebraska Panhandle reports of Baltimore Oriole were 3 from Deuel 12 Jun—17 Jul (WF, AK) and another from Oshkosh, Garden 2 Jul (MS). An Ovenbird in Webster 21 Jun (GWa) was southwest of its typical Nebraska summer range. A Tennessee Warbler in Douglas, NE 24 Jun (JR), a Nashville Warbler in Sioux, NE 4 Jun (EB), American Redstarts in Scotts Bluff, NE 15 Jun (RSg) and Cleveland, OK 3 Jun (BD), and a Wilson’s Warbler in Dixon, NE 8 Jun (JJ), were all late.  A male Hooded Warbler in Sarpy, NE 19 Jul (L&BP) and a Wilson’s Warbler in Dixon, NE 20 Jul (JJ) were notable. Northwesterly Summer Tanagers were in Cedar, NE 26 Jun—2 Jul (DS, MB) and in Cherry, NE 20 Jul (DY). A late Scarlet Tanager was in Buffalo, NE 13 Jun (LR, RH). A Northern Cardinal in Box Butte, NE 19 Jun (WF) was outside established populations. Both Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks were reported within the central Nebraska hybrid zone (fide WRS), but no hybrids were noted. Dickcissels were numerous in the Nebraska Panhandle, where yearly fluctuations can be significant (fide WRS).

Report processed by Alison Világ, 1 Nov 2020

Photos–Southern Great Plains: Summer 2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.