Kansas - The Middle Of It All

Spring Migration and Prairie-Chickens

April 21-24, 2023

American Serengeti Series

Lesser Prairie-Chickens

Much has been written over the years about Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. These wetlands fall square in the middle of the Central Flyway and are two of the most important stopover sites for migrating shorebirds in the world. Up to 250,000 waterfowl and nearly half of all North American shorebirds migrating east of the Rockies stop in the area to rest and refuel during migration. Of the 460+ bird species known to Kansas, more than 310 species have been observed at Quivira and more than 340 at the Bottoms. Flocks of Sandhill Cranes pass through in the spring and fall, with an occasional group of Whooping Cranes. Where there are waterfowl and shorebirds, there will be birds of prey.

In addition to birding at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira, we’ll visit two different prairie-chicken leks – one morning at a private ranch with resident Greater Prairie-Chickens and a second morning in the heart of Kansas’ Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. The raucous displays of prairie-chickens include stomping, booming, whooping, and sparring. With exposed tail coverts and colorful balloon-like air sacs flashing, few performances in the bird world are more memorable than the dawn dance of prairie-chickens.

We’ll spend four days exploring Kansas’ birding and wildlife hotspots. We have strategically selected areas away from crowds so that we have the time and space to truly enjoy these wildlife spectacles in true Reefs to Rockies style. We’ll travel along scenic and historic byways in a custom American safari van with a conversion pop-top and spacious seating. This is not the traditional passenger van you may have traveled in on past trips. This one-of-a-kind vehicle has been specially designed by two wildlife biologists to allow for optimal viewing. It makes a perfect ‘blind’ and there’s ample room for everyone to view at the same time.

Join Reefs to Rockies Co-founder Sheridan Samano for an unforgettable spring migration trip to The Middle Of It All.

Conservation Impact: The Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT), founded in 1998, creates and protects a network of shortgrass prairie preserves, ensuring a future for native flora and fauna. A donation to SPLT to aid in their land acquisition efforts will be made on behalf of all participants.

Day 1 (Fri, April 21): Denver to Phillipsburg, KS ~ Morning departure from Denver. As we work our way east to Phillipsburg, we’ll stop at Nicodemus National Historic Site and in the Maxwell area to search for migrating waterfowl. Late afternoon arrival to Phillipsburg. We’ll have time to check in at our hotel before our Welcome Dinner in town.

Accommodations: Econo Lodge

Meals: Lunch and Dinner 

Estimated drive time today: Denver to Phillipsburg – 5 hrs

Day 2 (Sat, April 22): Phillipsburg/ Kirwin/ Cheyenne Bottoms/ Great Bend ~ Today begins early with a visit to a nearby ranch that’s home to Greater Prairie-Chickens. Before sunrise, males start arriving to this historic lek, a place where multiple males gather during mating season and engage in competitive displays. Our private blinds are close to the action so we can observe the interactions between the alpha male and his challengers. Our morning continues with birding at Kirwin hotspots before heading south to Cheyenne Bottoms, a 41,000-acre wetland complex in central Kansas and one of the top staging areas – places migrating birds stop to feed and rest – for shorebirds and waterfowl in the United States. Evening arrival to Great Bend.

Accommodations: Holiday Inn Express and Suites

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch 

Estimated drive times today: Phillipsburg to Kirwin – 30 mins; Kirwin to Cheyenne Bottoms – 2 hrs; Cheyenne Bottoms to Great Bend – 30 mins 

Day 3 (Sun, April 23): Great Bend/ Quivira/ Scott City or Oakley ~ We’ll spend much of the day birding at Quivira, an area of more than 22,000 acres including two vast salt marshes, prairie, woodlots and sand dunes. There’s plenty of time to explore the auto loops, as well as trails on foot. This afternoon, we’ll continue to either Scott City or Oakley arriving in time for our Farewell Dinner in town at a local restaurant. Our overnight city this evening will be decided once we know which ranch and Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek we’re visiting tomorrow morning. We’ll have that information a couple of weeks before the trip starts.

Accommodations: Sleep Inn & Suites – Oakley or El-Quartelejo Inn & Suites – Scott City

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner 

Estimated drive times today: Great Bend to Quivira – 1 hr; Quivira to Oakley or Scott City – 3 hrs

Day 4 (Mon, April 24): Lesser Prairie-Chicken Lek/ Little Jerusalem Badlands/ Denver ~ Because of the stewardship of the land in Western Kansas, the habitat in Logan, Gove, and Scott Counties, provides some of the finest places in the world to view Lesser Prairie-Chickens in their natural environment. Our day begins with a visit to a local ranch for a blind session at a lek. Our trip is timed to correspond to peak numbers of male and female prairie-chickens at the lek.

Before leaving Kansas, we’ll enjoy a nature walk and birding at the recently opened Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The 332-acre park encompasses 220 acres of badlands – fragile, but ruggedly spectacular geologic formations with 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs of eroded Niobrara Chalk, a layer of rock deposited about 85 million years ago. We’ll make our way back to Denver for an early evening return.

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated drive times today: Oakley or Scott City Springs to Little Jerusalem – 30 mins; Little Jerusalem to Denver – 4 hrs

DETAILS 

Price: $1775* per person based upon two people sharing double occupancy accommodations. Add $185* if you prefer a private, single occupancy room.

Inclusions: accommodations in a standard room, meals as listed (3 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 2 dinners), private transportation from Denver in a custom American safari van, expedition leader, daily birding and wildlife viewing with spotting scope available, and activities as listed. A donation to Southern Plains Land Trust to aid in their land acquisition efforts will be made on behalf of all participants.

Exclusions: transportation to/from the meeting point in east Denver, travel insurance, 1 dinner, and items of a personal nature.

*Price is based on payment by check. Credit card fees, if applicable will be assessed at time of payment based on card used.

Group Size: 5-7 participants + expedition leader (Sheridan Samano from Reefs to Rockies). 

Level of Difficulty – Easy to Moderate. April weather in Kansas can be cold and windy and that’s what makes this trip skew to a moderate designation. It’s not the physical demands of the bird walks, but instead the possibility of cold temperatures and wind. Bird walks will typically be less than 1 mile in length with a duration of 30 minutes to an hour over mostly flat ground. Blind sessions last approximately 2-3 hours each.

Photo credit for image of Sheridan Samano at Grand Tetons National Park ~ Robert Martinez.