Photos courtesy of Rodney Wright

Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Rodney Wright of Gardner has become known in the community as the go to guy when you need info on birds. He’s been an avid bird watcher (birder) for about 25 years and over that time has acquired a lot of knowledge on birds. He shares his photos regularly on social media and has gained a reputation as ‘the bird man’ in doing so.
He got the bug for birding initially after buying a telescope for astronomy.
One night while waiting for it to get dark, he saw a Blue Jay hundreds of yards away and focused in on it. He remembers admiring the detailed up-close look of the bird and recognizes that as the point that his interest began to switch from astronomy to birding.
In the first years, Wright was mostly a “backyard bird watcher” and did his bird watching with only binoculars and a spotting scope. He had no way to take photos but really didn’t think much about it – at the time, he was content just watching.
But his interest continued to grow, and he began spending more and more time birding.
Then, about three years ago, an anonymous person gave him a Canon digital camera with a long zoom lens, and he began developing his photography skills.
“That just opened up a whole other world for me. Instead of just seeing birds with my binoculars and scope, I could take pictures of them to look at later and share with people,” said Wright.
When he did start sharing his photos on Facebook, he was a little surprised at how much positive feedback he got, and how many other people are interested in birds.
“From that, I’ve met people from other states and all over the world that also have the same interest that I do,” he says.
Wright has met hundreds of new people in the last few years
He is now a member of several bird watching groups who share, compare and document their birding adventures. He is a board member with the Kansas Ornithological Society (KOS) and field trip chair for Burroughs Audubon Society.
On local social media, his name will invariably come up anytime someone posts a bird question, and Wright always seems happy to respond.
He likes seeing people take an interest and says getting outdoors and doing something is good because it helps people get their minds off all the negativity in the world.
He recently upgraded to an even better camera and has captured many publication-worthy bird photos since then.
“On Nov. 27 this year, I found a Harris’s hawk. It’s a raptor of the deep southwest, and it was the first one spotted in Kansas in 17 years,” he says. That bird was observed in fields east of I-35 near 175th Street and was only in the area for a month or so.
Another noteworthy sighting, in another location near Gardner, was when Wright discovered a pair of eagles nesting. He reported it to the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) and continued reporting what he observed regularly.
Through his scope, Wright saw the male was banded and got the identification numbers from the band. With the ID, USFW confirmed that this particular bird was born in 2012 at Clinton Lake, southwest of Lawrence.
According to Wright, Bald Eagles normally don’t start incubating eggs until mid to late January but this pair of eagles are ahead of schedule, breaking the observed record by 47 days.
Wright doesn’t know how many eggs are in the nest but says he can tell when the eggs hatch because the sitting posture of the bird changes after they’ve hatched.
He continues to monitor the nest closely.
When the eaglets are about six weeks old, USFW plans to come to the site and band them. They’ll have to get up about 50 feet high in a treetop to get to them in their nest. Wright isn’t sure how they’ll do that exactly but says he’ll be there when that happens.
Wright uses an app that keeps track of all his bird sightings. He has documented 464 species of birds, 333 of those in Kansas. The others are from birding trips to Missouri, Texas, Arizona and Colorado.
So far, he’s documented over half the bird species native to the USA. He’s going to have to travel more to see birds that don’t make it to Kansas. He’s planning a weekend trip to Minnesota sometime in the near future and he is excited about what he might see.
“There’s Great Grey Owls, the Northern Hawk Owl – there’s 7 or 8 species I could see and add to my list if I was to drive up there,” he says.
Birding has become a serious hobby for Wright. He is out in the field almost every weekend, regardless of the weather. He’d probably be out more, but he has to balance his time with work, Cub Scout meetings, family time, and things like that.
Wright has lived in Gardner for ten years with his wife Laura, and their two children – daughter Sunny, 9, and son Talon, 7.