Red Hills Reflection: Summer 2013 Field Trip

Sighting Summary

Mammals:  Cave Myotis, Prairie Dogs, White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer (as we left), horses next to our campsite (the kids enjoyed petting) and cattle.  Lots of cattle.  Herps:  Common Kingsnake, Coachwhip, Prairie Rattler, Bullsnake (thanks for scouting it, Bailey!), Baby Snapping Turtle, Ornate Box Turtle, Horned Lizard, 5-Lined Race Runner.  Birds:  Mississippi Kites, Nighthawks, Chuck Will’s Widow, Cowbird egg in a Phoebe nest, flock of Cave Swallows under a bridge, Burrowing Owl, Great Horned Owl.  Invertebrates:  Crayfish, “Thing Nightmares are Made of Centipede” (I made that name up, but look at a picture of that thing!).


Friday Evening Highlights

  • Harry and Charlotte McDonald identified the sweet sounds of the Chuck Will’s Widow (bird).  Click here to listen:
  • A young couple from the Merrill Ranch came down to start a campfire and bring us s’mores.  What hospitality!
  • We welcomed some new members to the KABT trip:  Marylee Ramsay from Goddard and Kelly Kluthe from Wyandotte (who did I forget?).
  • Kelly Kluthe followed Brad Williamson’s advice on where to put her tent.  Following Brad’s advice would prove to be a grave mistake.
  • Wow, that was one tenacious bird – the Chuck Will’s Widow kept up his call until the wee hours of the night.  Seriously, wasn’t he tired, too?  You’d better listen again to get the full effect:


  • Stan Roth kept us on schedule with a historical overview of the area with insight from Ken Brunson and Dee & Phyllis Scherich.
  • First stop:  Big Gyp Cave where we scaled poison ivy to get to a breath-taking site.  This is where we found the baby common snapping turtle, Phoebe nest containing a Cowbird egg and our first indication of bats in the area: the bat mummy (modest exaggeration).  Stan showed us the primitive cave drawings which were the first (only?) cave drawings made with pigment found in Kansas.
  • Phyllis helped us identify wildflowers over a picnic lunch while Alexis Powell proved to have more determination than a coachwhip while posing it for a photo.
  • Second stop:   This cave held a gargantuan mountain of petrified bat guano (not an exaggeration).  We had to crawl over it to get into the depths of the cave.  I wasn’t sure if the “dirt” on my hands was soil or guano and just tried not to pick the fuzz off my teeth from forgetting to brush that morning.  Drew Ising ran a babysitting service for a while my cave-ophobic (speluncaphobic) daughter went darting out of the cave (thanks, Drew!).
  • Next cave:  It was decidedly the “Secret Garden of Poison Ivy” cave that was the most memorable for most of us on this trip.  The majority of the children on the trip crawled within the bowels of the cave (along with a few daring adults) while several of us sat just within the narrow mouth of the cave (less than 4 foot ceiling).  We felt a brush of air, then another and thought “no, that couldn’t have been a bat…?”  Then a few more wafts of wind and trained our flashlights to the cavity where we last saw our children.  Lasting several minutes, a few dozen bats flew past us to the outside, while others flew back in.  We heard exuberance from the depths of the cave and suddenly we were inundated with hundreds of bats flying past to either get in or out.  This lasted another 10-15 minutes.  As the kids finally began exiting the cave, they said it was the most amazing thing they had ever experienced.  I agree (although feeling a little guilty about the disruption our environmentally friendly group caused the bats).  Someone identified these as Cave Myotis.  Kylee Sharp got a great shot of a bat mid-flight among the trees.  Check out the KABT FB page for a link to Flickr…
  • Riding on that high, we explored the area to find a picturesque meandering stream at the foot of a Red Hill cliff.  We harassed the most chilling centipede that looked like it came from a horror movie. Scott Sharp found a timid Prairie Rattlesnake.
  • Heading to the next site, we spotted Cave Swallows and stopped on a bridge to watch them.  Bailey Busch showed she has eyes of an eagle when she spotted a bullsnake in a grassy area under the bridge.
  • At this stage in the trip, it is important to note that some members of our party must have some sort of sixth sense (great cell coverage) about weather because they were mysteriously absent from the trip from hence forward under the premise of previous engagements (Brad Williamson, Randy Dix, Noah Busch, Drew Isling and Harry & Charlotte McDonald) while the rest of us enjoyed the view of a distance thunderstorm across the hills (foreshadowing??).
  • Our last stop of the day was at a prairie dog town where we saw prairie dog frivolity.  The kids enjoyed a scavenger hunt of bones.  It would only be science parents to identify the bones and let the kids keep them instead of saying “gross, put that down before you get worms!”
  • With that beautiful distant thunderstorm getting closer (and Julie Schwarting’s mammoth tent not staked down), we decided to go back to camp.  Yep, it was raining pretty good by the time we got back.  Kelly Kluthe’s tent proved to be in the lowest spot of the entire camp area, maybe in the entire ranch.  It looked like it sat in the middle of a pond just a little bigger than the tent – moat if you will.  I wonder if Kelly will ever listen to Brad’s advice again?
  • We waited out the waves of rain in our vehicles…three rounds of rain.  And then it stopped.  The Chuck Will’s Widow sang with joy (again: while we figured out how to cook our “campfire” meals with wet wood.  Yeah for camp stoves and potluck dinners!  The children of the group played in the “chocolate milk lake” while the adults cooked.  Scott made a clothesline for the Schwartings sleeping bags.
  • After everyone squeegeed and ate, we enjoyed a campfire (found some dry wood!) with more s’mores, some campfire pies, steaming soggy socks on the edge of the fire, a tent chess tournament and the musical styling’s of Paul Schwarting and Scott Sharp on the guitars (with harmony from the coyotes in the distance).  …and the danged Chuck Will’s Widow.  As folks turned in for the night, I heard someone wish upon a star…for a BB gun to shoot that blasted bird.  Amen, sista.  Click the link to the sound again, but push play over and over if you think we were too harsh:


  • Feeling pretty pooped (and still pruney), most of the group packed up camp while the kids held a Regatta of boats made from bark, twigs and leaves.  The race was down the crick (creek for you big city folks) with a photo finish.  Perfect end to the fun weekend while the damned bird sang his good-byes.



3 thoughts on “Red Hills Reflection: Summer 2013 Field Trip”

  1. Great post Kelley! I have two thoughts: 1) I’m feeling even worse that I was not able to attend. : ( 2) I’m feeling even better that you were able to attend since I was beginning to wonder who was going to compose such a post for the blog site. : )

  2. Great report. Great trip. Really great trip–one of the best ever. Thanks especially to Dee and Phyllis Scherich for hosting our group. Thanks to Stan for organizing, sharing a landscape so very precious and for being himself. And thanks to Ken and LeeAnn Brunson for serving as additional hosts to the area.

    Oh, and I’ve got to say that Randy and I discussed Kelly’s tent and tent location most of the way back. I was a bit worried but figured that the storm would end up as a bonding experience like previous storms on KABT trips have. I actually think Randy’s tent site was in a deeper depression. 😉 Of course, Kelly would realize that any advice from me is suspect having endured Research Methods. She learned a long time ago that my response to any question would have been. “Sounds like an experiment”. Sounds like she had a great learning experience for her “experiment”.

    BTW, I spent dusk, last night on the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin watching thousands upon thousands of Mexican Free Tail bats take flight.

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