A rare bird spotting in Topeka is bringing Kansas bird-watchers out of the woodwork.
Carol Morgan, of the Topeka Audubon Society, reported that a Lewis's woodpecker has been seen daily since March 1 at Kaw River State Park, bringing in birders from as far as Kansas City, Horton and Wichita. The bird was originally spotted by Dallas Alexander.
She said the Lewis's woodpecker is about 10 inches in length, about the same size as a red-headed woodpecker, and has an oily green back with a red face, pink belly and silver-gray collar. Its typical range extends from Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming west to the Pacific coast, she said, and it is a fairly rare sight in Kansas.
A 2004 report on the species prepared for USDA Forest Service says the Lewis's woodpecker is considered a transient species in Kansas throughout the year and during the winter in Nebraska and Wyoming. According to the Audubon Society's website, the bird was discovered during the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 and was named for the expedition's co-leader, Meriwether Lewis.
Morgan said this was her third time seeing the bird in person.
"I have seen it once before in Kansas (at Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No. 2 in 2016) and once before in Colorado," Morgan said.
Photographer Scott Wilson was one of the local bird-watchers to get a glimpse of the bird, and he was able to take some candid photographs of the colorful Picidae. Wilson belongs to the Topeka Audubon's mailing group and received an email with info about the sighting.
"A couple of birders were at the location and assisted me in spotting the Lewis," Wilson said. "It was flying with two to three red-headed woodpeckers.
"All of them were catching flies like a flycatcher. To my amazement, the Lewis is not a pecker of wood but more of a flycatcher. Evidently, the red-headed peckers like flying bugs, too."
In 2018, the capital city was also host to another rare bird — a swallow-tailed kite — that brought in birdwatchers from across the state, as well.
"Similar to the swallow-tailed visit, people from all over are coming to witness," Wilson said.
Wilson said it was the first time he had seen the bird in person.
"I think this is the first sighting for anyone in Shawnee County," Wilson said. "A few years ago one was spotted in a nearby community. Ashamed to say my first red-headed, too.
"I spoke to one birder from KC who has been here all week and was waiting for friends and family to come see it today."