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Times are changing
Marsh Musings

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and all that to all of you! This is a wonderful, stressful, busy time of the year. I had a great birthday and am grateful to everyone that noticed my passage into geriatrics.   

I have been reading some articles regarding tourist traffic through the Bottoms and our community. We are blessed with good hunters, falconers (did you see those African eagles that were here? What magnificent birds!) and birders. I can remember when birding was practiced by a few genius-level folks that had better-to-best binoculars and nice clothes with patches and logos commemorating trips, places, and birds that were completely off my map.

They stayed in nice places, ate great food, and had a glass of wine after dinner while discussing eye patches and wing length of birds I didn’t recognize. I didn’t speak their language. I ate what they watched. It did not seem possible that our worlds could mesh and coexist in a way that would make us all better stewards of our wildlife.  

The Bottoms has become the crucible for that chemistry to evolve. KWEC, the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Kansas Wildlife and parks, and Audobon all put money and effort into the Bottoms. The ability of the marsh managers to recognize the requirements of all these groups is deserving of mention. Karl Grover in his time and Jason Wagner now have the wisdom and experience to protect the soft spots of all the groups and make the experience of the Bottoms good for all interested parties. The foresight of Fort Hays to hire Curtis Wolf and his staff to educate our children and provide quality events and processes to make all of us better citizens in the natural world was remarkable. Robert Penner with the Conservancy is an ambassador for birds that is stunning in width and scope. Mike Radar with the department teaches us good stuff all the time. The dedicated birders are present and active.

One of the main tools that most of us have now is a camera. There is a very precise and documentary group of birders that specifically concentrate on physical and activity-related characteristics of birds. They generate lists and know things about the life cycles, color variations, and age-related changes in birds that most of us common birders don’t recognize. It occurs to me that there are different classes of birders. I don’t have any lists, and that is strange to my serious birding friends. I have been gifted with books that would let me generate lists but I can’t quite get there. I have photographs of birds that we all enjoy and documenting and sharing them with my dedicated birding friends is a great way for me to understand their language and vision in the field. They are kind enough to make me smarter. 

It is a useful endeavor in my world of hunting and elegant dining. Everyone has a place in the process. I will tell you how birding makes people with cameras and shotguns better. One of my favorite friends and I were sitting on buckets in slack water at the Bottoms trying to put a couple of fat mallards in the skillet. A group of three or four ducks flew over well within shooting range. We put our sights on the birds and my friend lowered his gun so I followed suit. As those birds flew on by without being disturbed, my friend said “We don’t shoot bald eagles.” There were no eagles in that group of ducks. There was a hen pintail and those ducks are special to us and we consider them endangered even though they might not be. That hen pintail was as precious to my friend as a bald eagle. That is the result of spending time with birders and smart hunters that know their birds and dedicating himself to bird identification. We want everyone to enjoy the beauty of Northern Pintails for eternity. We have a common goal and the Bottoms is the best place for all of us to work together to make it better for the birds while living our separate lives. A lot of wisdom lives in the marsh — don’t miss it!