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MARSH MUSINGS

BY ERIC GIESING

POSTED October 22, 2011 9:24 a.m.

Welcome to another edition of Marsh Musings. This week we will be writing about one of our most recent adventures in Cheyenne Bottoms. Dr. Witt, along with trusty "Queen Smooch," took me duck hunting for the very first time, and what a special experience it was.

You are probably in awe that I had never been duck hunting before, especially being a biologist working at one of the best areas to see migrating waterfowl in the entire United States. If so, you are not alone with that line of thinking. In fact, everyone assumed I was a huge duck hunter and that I moved to the area just for the hunting perks. The truth is quite the contrary. I grew up hunting deer and turkey, but was never really exposed to duck hunting as a kid. In fact, I have always carried a negative impression of duck hunting for some strange reason. To me, hunting has never been about shooting animals, but rather an excuse to go to the woods and escape from the everyday world. I find few things more relaxing than watching the forest awaken and observing animals behaving naturally in their habitat. Therefore, sitting in a duck blind in ice-cold water and having guns go off like World War III has never appealed to me. I decided to let go of my pre-conceived notions and give duck hunting a try with my trusty hunting buddies.

Dr. Witt and I got our gear ready and met up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning. Dr. Witt cutely packed us breakfast and coffee like usual, and we headed to the Bottoms. We arrived at the Bottoms just in time for it to start raining, but nothing could dampen this experience. We made our way to a blind and each took a seat in the cattails, including Smooch. We patiently waited for ducks to fly over us, but I am pretty sure we had a warning flag by us to keep birds from flying around us. It was in this waiting time though that I had one of the neatest experiences to date.

We had the pleasure of seeing thousands of American white pelicans fly so close over us that we could hear and sometimes feel the wind from their wing beats. We even had some land right in front of us! Now these birds have always looked big to me, but you truly have to see one up close to fully appreciate it. All three of us sat in awe as these birds soared and kettled right above us for what seemed like hours. We also saw an elusive black rail fly five feet in front of us. These were truly unforgettable experiences and definite moments to add to our ever-growing list of marsh memories.

Over the next few hours, several bunches of ducks flew by us, but all of them seemed just out of reach. I eventually made the decision to venture a little further out into the marsh to have a better opportunity for a duck. I had just arrived at my new location, knee deep in mud, when a flock of ducks flew right over where I had just been sitting. I realized then that ducks are smart animals.

We ended our morning with the neat experience of harvesting a few northern shovelers. We then slowly made our way back to the vehicle as Smooch, happy as a lark, carried our birds for us. I think she would have been skipping if she were a human being. It was in this walk that I began to ponder the day’s events and came to several conclusions. First off, ducks are faster than I could have ever imagined. I will have to keep that in mind next time. Second, duck hunting, although very different than deer hunting, is a lot of fun. Who would have thought you can talk, eat food, and move while hunting! We got very few ducks, but the wetlands-inspired conversations and unique experiences made the day one to never forget. Third, few things are better than camaraderie between friends. Simply sitting and enjoying nature by yourself is nice, but appreciating it with a friend is truly wonderful. Finally, I realized that no matter what, people need to take a break from their busy lives, get outdoors, and simply appreciate nature, whether that be through hunting, photography, nature hikes, or whatever best suites your interests.

My wife even learned something from our adventure. She now knows just how good duck fajitas are! Until next time!

 

Eric Giesing is the Education Director for FHSU at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center and Dr. Dan Witt is a finally retired doctor, photographer, and nature enthusiast.

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