My wife Suzanne and I just got back from a fantastic birding trip to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms in South Central Kansas. There was all manner of waterfowl: wood ducks, redheads, buffleheads, scaup, a zillion shovelers, and several hundred ruddy ducks rafted in a huge mass on Big Salt Marsh along with the usual suspects. We didn’t see a cinnamon teal but the blue and green-winged were great fun to watch as they cavorted doing their spring thing. We also saw lots of pheasants and heard bobwhite quail which I enjoyed.
In addition to the multitude of waterfowl, we observed American Avocets, Black Necked Stilts, Snowy Plovers, Marbled Godwits, Sandhill Cranes, Least, Baird’s and Semipalmated Sand Pipers, Franklins Gulls, Ring-Billed Gulls, Bonaparte Gulls, Says Phoebe, and an assortment of sparrows including Vesper, Harris’s, Swamp, and Song. We recorded over 75 different species including 12 Whooping Cranes that used the Quivira area during our 4-day trip. Two arrived sometime Saturday night at the south pool but flew off as soon as the sun came up early Sunday morning. Sunday night 10 arrived in the north pool but took off a little before dawn Monday morning with Berry Jones of the USFWS the only person lucky enough to see them. Of course, we were at the north pool sunrise Sunday and the south pool sunrise Monday so wrong place both times but still very exciting knowing they had come through. Amazingly those 12 Whooping Cranes represent about 3 to 4% of the world’s entire wild population of 300-400 Whoopers.
Most of the bird watching, including sightings of the 12 elusive Whoopers, was at Quivira because the area has an underground spring system that supplies water. Cheyenne Bottoms had no water! Only within the last month had the aquifers recharged sufficiently for the Quivira marshes to have water. Prior to the last month, they were bone dry. This area is going on its second year of no measurable rain. Cheyenne Bottoms is a huge natural depression of the ground, roughly 60 square miles of bare dirt at the moment, with minimal vegetation such as tumbleweeds. 45%+ of all of the migrating birds in the Central Flyway, including all of the Whooping Cranes that exist in the World, depend on this area to rest their weary feathers on their journeys north and south every year. Sadly the Arkansas River has no flow at the present, and the area is experiencing dust storms.
In addition to the Kansas Parks and Wildlife managed wetlands, the Nature Conservancy has an additional 8,000 acres of the preserve they manage. These areas are listed in the top ten wetlands of importance in the world. Please take a moment and think about the importance of these areas to the continuance of a balanced Ecosystem. Our support of government organizations such as Fish and Wildlife, Department of Conservation, Parks, and Wildlife, as well as Not for Profit organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Nature Conservancy, Audubon, etc. is critical. Money can make a difference! We have seen the progress made with DU and Nature Conservancy-funded preservation and restoration projects in these two areas.
Both Suzanne and I are DU Life Sponsors, and Suzanne is actively involved in Audubon, Nature Conservancy, and Missouri Master Naturalists. I encourage anyone who reads this to support these and similar organizations in whatever way possible. It is paramount for a quality life in which nature with a balanced Ecosystem has a chance to thrive.