My recent visit to Manhattan Kansas and the Platte River, Nebraska, was the first time I've ever set foot into either state, so this is my complete bird list for that region. Life list birds are noted with red font.
Eastern Kansas/Nebraska Bird List
Snow goose, white and blue phases
Blue-winged teal (plentiful)
Redhead (only one pair, but they were very close to the road)
Greater prairie-chicken dancing on several lek sites in Kansas
Wild turkey, many individuals including three males that were actively courting females
Common loon, all in their spectacular breeding plumage
American white pelican
Great blue heron
Turkey vulture, LOTS!
Sandhill crane (greater and lesser)
Franklin's gull, all in spectacular breeding plumage
Eurasian collared dove
Northern flicker, both the yellow-shafted and red-shafted subspecies, as well as several "orange-shafted" hybrids
Northern rough-winged swallow
American tree sparrow
Dark-eyed junco, "slate-colored" subspecies
86 species total seen in six days, with eight additions to my life list. I was accompanied by Dave Rintoul, Elizabeth Dodd, or Chuck Otte, so thanks to all of them for showing me a great time and for helping me add some birds to my life list, despite my broken arm.
And now, because I was morbidly fascinated by all the carnage along the roadways, I also kept a roadkill list. Unfortunately, some species on the roadkill list were only seen as two-dimensional representations of their three-dimensional selves.
Eastern Kansas/Nebraska Roadkill List
Striped skunk (also seen alive)
White-tailed deer (also seen alive)
Opossum (only seen dead)
Red-tailed hawk (saw at least three dead birds)
Barred owl (saw only one)
Great-horned owl (only saw one dead, none alive)
Yellow-headed blackbird (saw one)
Badger (only seen dead)
Raccoon (saw several dead ones only)
Jack rabbit (saw several dead ones only)
Cottontail rabbit (saw this animal alive, too)
I have difficulty distinguishing Western from Eastern Meadowlarks. Care to discuss how you and your companions did it on your recent trip? I remember a field trip to the Katy prairie 30 miles WNW of Houston in which several birders gathered to debate whether a Meadowlark in a nearby tree was one or the other. The field guide I was using was not all that helpful.
there are very subtle plumage differences between these species as well as differences in preferred habitat. the western meadowlarks are found in farmland and are generally more tolerant of disturbed landscapes, while the easterns prefer prairie and open relatively undisturbed areas.
but the best way to distinguish these species, especially in the spring, is by their song; westerns have a lovely clear but bubbling song while easterns' song is a clear, sharp whistle; see-you see-yeeeer!
Just for clarification, when GS noted that "there are very subtle plumage differences between these species as well as differences in preferred habitat. the western meadowlarks are found in farmland and are generally more tolerant of disturbed landscapes, while the easterns prefer prairie and open relatively undisturbed areas", that is in reference to the habitat preferences of these two species where they overlap here in eastern Kansas. I'm not sure that is a reliable guide elsewhere in the overlap zone, but it works around here pretty well.
In regions where only one of the meadowlark species is generally found (e.g. western meadowlarks are the only regular meadowlarks in western Kansas), they will spread out and fill all available habitat. In other words, you wll find western meadowlarks in pastures as well as in plowed fields out in western KS.
Fortunately, since she was here in the early spring, GS was able to hear the songs of both of these birds; voice is definitely the best way to pin down an ID for these birds. You need a real good look (or a picture) before you would venture to ID a silent meadowlark most of the time. Easterns tend to be darker overall, but the yellow on the breast does not extend into the face; their "mustache" (malar stripe) is generally pure white. Westerns tend to be paler overall, and the yellow extends into the face; their "mustache" is primarily yellow.
An interesting photo essay on all of the plumage characters used in identification of an out-of-range western meadowlark in Kentucky may give you more information than you wanted, but it is instructive!
Well, that's a long list. Will you post your beer list tomorrow?
It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. As a Platte River ex-pat in central Kentucky, the song of the Western Meadowlark is one of the things I miss most. Ours look the same, to my pedestrian eye, but they sure fall down in the song department. I thought I read a few years ago that the Eastern is actually several different birds(4?), based on DNA studies. I don't know where I heard that, or if they are different sub-species or what, but they look identical.
Glad you got a chance to see the cranes, purty dang neat, huh? welcome home, rb