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Here come the Whoopers!
Marsh Musings
Dr. Dan Witt Special to the Tribune Whooping cranes are shown at Cheyenne Bottoms.
Dr. Dan Witt Special to the Tribune Mallards stop at Quivira Refuge. Note the phragmites (vegetation) in the background.

It was so good to get to visit Eric and Whitney and their babies last week. They have certainly extended their world from the starting point of KWEC and Cheyenne Bottoms. California seems so far away.

The “event” of our year is in progress. The Whooping Cranes have arrived at the Bottoms and Quivira! It happens twice a year – coming and going. We get to see them from a distance and once in a while they will be close to a road where you can get a picture without disturbing them. It is a critical error to chase or disturb these birds and has the potential to be very expensive. I would be interested in knowing how much money has been spent in the effort to re-establish a sustainable flock. I’m not sure it will ever be completely successful – their numbers were so low at one point that the gene pool “consolidated” and the inevitable inbreeding occurred. Rob Penner will know the facts about that process – I just know they are one of the most majestic birds on this earth and I get a shiver every time I see them. They certainly have a purpose. Don’t ever miss a chance to see one in person. 

These birds were on the north end of pool 4. Pat Cale saw them and called me while I was at Quivira watching two adults and a juvenile parade on the west edge of the Wildlife Drive. I am grateful to Pat – he is a diligent exceptional hunter. He and I went to Africa five times together and have unbelievable memories. I am going to ask him to write this column discussing the origin of our wildlife laws that he has researched and documented. It will be a spectacular article and you will be amazed at his discoveries.   

I raced back to the Bottoms and was disappointed that the birds had moved too far out for a decent photograph – what you see is the best I could do. I’m somewhat reluctant to show you that picture, but it is what it is. The beautiful picture of mallards on the edge of the marsh is telling. Phragmites are taking over so much of our wetlands. The Bottoms are invaded and damaged by that plant. It sucks water, takes over almost all the area where it exists (we are losing the west end of Wilson Lake, both sides of the Saline and Smoky Hill rivers, and even sections of farm ground all over our state). Our little duck club has multiple sites of that evil plant that will be difficult if not impossible to eradicate.  The state of Michigan has a special section of their Wildlife department that does nothing but fight phragmites. They burn, plow and smash that plant. Many wetlands in the northeast have lost most of their habitat to this awful plant. Drive to Susank from Hoisington and look at the multiple spots of phragmites. Game birds hide in the plots very successfully. Dogs can barely work through it. Cattle will eat the young plants in the spring and have been used as one part of the process to control this plant. They won’t eat the mature plants. If you spray and kill the plant, it leaves a hard long stalk that is very stable for long periods of time. I hope the state of Kansas gets on board to fight this plant before we lose a lot more habitat. I know that Jason has a machine and the will to address it at the Bottoms. Thank you, sir, it is a horrible plant.

Goose season is upon us. Pheasants and quail seem to be in good numbers. Curran and Henry and I hunt snipe. You don’t get a thimble of meat, and the limit is eight. It is one of the best game birds out there. It’s not easy hunting, and as you all know, getting ammunition for substance hunting is getting harder every day. I think people are stockpiling ammo and supplies are very limited. It is a strange time.

Love and respect these huge white birds with a red top and black wingtips. They add something to the world we live in that cannot ever be replaced. They make me humble and so very proud every time I see them. I hope they inspire you in the same way.

Hug your family, love your community and cherish the Whoopers when they visit.


Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast. He can be reached