By Curtis Wolf
KWEC site manager
Have you noticed the familiar call of sandhill cranes flying overhead in the last few weeks? It can only mean one thing. Spring migration is underway!
Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are two Wetlands of International Importance and provide thousands of birds a stopover along their North and South migration routes. Many of the more than 300 species of birds that have been documented at these two wetlands are only present for a short time during the year as they pass through the area.
Over the next few weeks, new species of birds will be showing up at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira almost daily. Phenology is the study of annual cycles that plants and animals go through. Bird migration is a good example of an annual cycle that animals follow. Over the years, biologists at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira have recorded the first arrival dates of most of the species of birds that can be seen at each wetland. Based on this historical data, we can quite accurately predict when we will begin seeing many of the bird species for the first time each spring. Information on bird phenology is posted on the KDWP Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR websites.
Interestingly, we have noted that many species have shown up a week, or more, earlier at Cheyenne Bottoms this year in comparison to the longterm average. For example, we saw the first killdeer on February 18. The average first observation day historically is February 28.
Working at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms, I find it fascinating to watch the daily changes in birds that we see during this time of year: thousands of Northern pintail ducks today, gone tomorrow, replaced by thousands of long-billed dowitchers.
With the arrival of new birds into the area, it also means that birdwatchers will begin flocking to their favorite local birding hotspots. The 2011 Wings and Wetlands Birding Festival held biennially in and around Great Bend is one unique opportunity for birders to dust off their binoculars and get out into the field. The festival is scheduled for April 29-May 1. Beyond the great guided birding trips to Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR, the weekend festivities will also include fun workshops, relaxing socials, and opportunities to experience the local communities along the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway. Novice and experienced birders are welcome at the festival. Registration is required and the early registration deadline for the festival is April 1. For more information and to access registration information and a complete schedule, visit wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu or contact the KWEC at 1-877-243-9268.
The festival dates coincide with the historical peak of shorebird migration, which provides opportunities to see numerous sandpipers, plovers, wading birds, and waterfowl. Approximately 180 species of birds have been recorded in most previous festivals. Notable species that may be seen are black rails, snowy and piping plovers, and lesser and greater prairie chickens.
Even if you are not able to attend the Wings and Wetlands Festival, make plans to visit one of our local wetlands and the KWEC this spring. The wildlife viewing is spectacular!