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Wetland Explorer
Giving thanks
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Photo by Pam Martin A monarch butterfly gulps nectar from goldenrod flowers at Cheyenne Bottoms in September. South Central Kansas was one of only three places, reporting good numbers of monarchs this year.

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism program specialist
On Tuesday, visitors to Cheyenne Bottoms could hear the guttural purr of sandhill cranes, heading south to warmer climes, and the boisterous chatter of thousands of geese, flying after dusk in wave after wave to the water’s safety. An experience I am very thankful to witness each year.
Kansas doesn’t have mountains or oceans but the one thing it does have is a lot of open land and wildlife that can commonly be seen if you closely observe. And it has two large wetlands that attract wildlife from the Central Plains and far beyond – the Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. After working in an area day after day however, even the most amazing place can become routine until you’re reminded of its singular allure.
“I’m Pam Martin, and I work at Cheyenne Bottoms, the largest inland wetland in the U.S.,” I found myself saying several times at a recent conference.
I met people who worked at Yellowstone National Park, Banff National Park in Canada, Rocky Mountain National Park, Padre Island National Seashore and many other exceptional places. Amazing places, but all those individuals were genuinely intrigued by our area, here in the Central Plains. So I started thinking more deeply about what makes this area so special.
For instance, did you realize that one third of the world’s population can’t see the stars and the Milky Way? That’s “world”, not continent or hemisphere. Out here on the prairie, and especially at the Bottoms and QNWR, on a clear winter night it seems you can touch the stars. A connection to the cosmos many will never know. I am deeply saddened for those people, but so thankful we still have that experience here.
If you are at all familiar with Cheyenne Bottoms and QNWR, you know how excited we all get when whooping cranes arrive. Well this autumn, a record 103 whooping cranes have stopped at Quivira! And that was at the beginning of the week, more may have stopped since then. That’s one third of the Central Flyway population, an amazing occurrence.
Shortly after the Kansas Wetlands Education Center opened, whoopers chose to stop at the Bottoms in large numbers. I sighted 38 that year. There are few places on Earth where you can experience seeing one of the world’s most endangered birds in the wild.
It’s usually windy at the Bottoms and Quivira, and, when I’m trying to load up the vehicle and items go blowing away, I curse the wind. But the wind makes the prairie come alive and, when you’re along the water’s edge, with pelicans and gulls swirling above you and shorebirds and ducks swimming in front of you, peace descends.
For me, it’s a physical release of care and worry. An intangible benefit of living and working at the largest inland wetland in the U.S.