Birds and Buckeyes (seven photos)

I present the American Buckeye. This tree has odorous flowers, poisonous fruit and wood too weak for carpentry. It’s also absolutely one of my favorite trees. Allow me to explain.

IMG_4225American Buckeye trees use every excuse possible to bud, with several false starts late each winter. It’s as if our backyard Buckeye drew this American Robin from its winter shelter by budding this February.

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American Robin on budding branches

As mentioned earlier, the flowers and even broken branches have a faint odorous scent. This led some pioneers (and I imagine University of Michigan fans) to call it the “fetid buckeye.”

Despite the scent, I think the flowers attract Baltimore Orioles. And I love seeing Baltimore Orioles in the yard, enough to declare the Buckeye one of my favorite trees. A few other birds seem to enjoy the Buckeye in spring as well.

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Baltimore Oriole among the Buckeye flowers
Buckeye Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Buckeye Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

The heat of summer wilts the flowers, which produce fruit better know as “buckeye nuts.” The deep brown color of the nuts is thought to have inspired the name “buckeye.” The nuts really are poisonous for humans. However, the nuts are used to create ornaments and necklaces.

Preserving the Little Salt Marsh (Seven Photos)

Muse with me for a moment.

In the early 1800s, Easterners in America were told stories about the “Great American Desert” west of the Mississippi River.  What are today Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska were described as forsaken, desolate areas unfit for cultivation or civilization.

I’m wondering if the images conjured in the minds of Easterners fit these photographs of the Little Salt Marsh at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

 

My earlier posts about Quivira (landscapes and birds) gives the opposite impression of this unique area of central Kansas. It turns out the Little Salt Marsh was “under repair.” This meant draining much of the marsh, hence the drought-like landscapes. As seen below, there were interesting “drought resistant” plants.

I would like to return to Quivira when the Little Salt Marsh is again filled with (salt) water.

Exploring Quivira (11 Photos)

In the heart of Kansas, more than 600 miles from Gulf of Mexico, there are sand dunes and salt marshes.

Sand dunes and salt marshes.

These unique geologic formations are at the convergence of the eastern tallgrass and western short-grass prairies. Today there are few human inhabitants in the area, just a handful of scattered farms. Since the salt marshes are along the Central Flyway, what you do find are birds. Depending on the time of year, tens of thousands of birds.

In 1955 more than 22,000 acres became Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The region was already known as “Quivira”at the arrival of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541, although the word’s meaning is lost to time.

The salt marshes are formed as water percolates up through subterranean salt deposits. Quivira has two primary marshes with other smaller ponds.

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Canada Geese and assorted ducks at Big Salt Marsh
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Big Salt Marsh
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Arm of the Big Salt Marsh

Wind blown grasses and reeds created interesting patterns. To no avail, I spent a good hour searching online for sources to identify endemic Kansas salt marsh plants.

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Narrow-leaf Cattail

The fauna between the ponds and marshes had its own pleasant yet muted colors and tones.

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I’ll post the initial photographs of birds at Quivira later this week.