BARTON COUNTY — Shorebirds, according to Monica Iglecia, assistant director of shorebird habitat management with Manomet, a nonprofit scientific consulting firm, appear to be simply tiny little birds from a distance. But, through long-distance migration, populations of these birds are important indicators of the health of some of the planet’s most important ecosystems.
This importance of shorebirds was the focus Tuesday morning at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center where a symposium sponsored by Manomet was underway. Manomet is a nonprofit conservation consulting company whose scientists work with private industry, nonprofit and governmental partners across North and South America to create a more sustainable world.
Around 30 attendees included land managers, conservationists and biologists from organizations including the US and Canadian chapters of The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Manomet, and state wildlife departments from Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Missouri.
Fieldwork and tourism planned
The agenda for the symposium that started Tuesday and runs through Thursday will delve into migration and stopover ecology of shorebirds, their reproduction, threats, and food resources. Wetlands management techniques, habitat plans, and conservation efforts will be topics of discussion, and attendees will learn to identify, survey, and estimate populations in the field. There will also be opportunities to get out into the local communities around the Cheyenne Bottoms so those attending can gain an appreciation for human life around one of the key stopovers of the Central Flyway.
Changing management practices
KWEC Director Curtis Wolf provided an overview of the wetlands center, and KDWPT Cheyenne Bottoms Manager Jason Wagner provided important information about the Cheyenne Bottoms, how it was formed, and how it has been managed since the early 1940s. He described how water is diverted from the Arkansas River into the Bottoms to ensure replenishment of the water there. Over 60 inches of water is lost to evaporation every year, while only about 25 inches of precipitation is normal, he said, making a fresh water source vital to the health of the Bottoms. That fresh water has diminished in recent decades since the adoption of center pivot irrigation, he added, making other land management techniques necessary. Silt buildup has been especially problematic, as well as fertilizer runoff, both of which have led to increased prevalence of cattails and other invasive plant species that have required intensive management. He briefly shared an overview of those techniques, and answered a number of questions from attendees after his presentation.
Flyway critically important to long distance fliers
Robert Penner, the Avian Programs Manager with the Nature Conservancy, oversees the organization’s Cheyenne Bottoms holdings. He is also the chairman of the US Executive Committee of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). Cheyenne Bottoms 30 years ago was designated a WHSRN site when it was identified as a Wetlands of International Importance. Located along the Central Flyway, it is accessed by migratory shorebirds traveling from as far as Manitoba, Canada, to the southernmost tip of Argentina, he said. These birds have high metabolic rates, so stopping at wetlands like Cheyenne Bottoms along the way so they can feed is critically important.
“There are roughly 57 shorebird species on the continent, Penner said, and of those, 37 are fairly regular visitors along the Central Flyway, and half of these are of high conservation concern or even on the endangered species list,” he said.
At the summary of his presentation, Penner commemorated the anniversary, presenting Wagner and Chris Knight, the Nature Conservancy’s Kansas Director of Conservation Programs, each with a plaque from the WHSRN executive offices. The plaque celebrated the relationship between WHSRN and these agencies.
While attendees will be conducting field work in the afternoons, and further discussions tomorrow morning, the evening events will include a visit to the Underground Saloon in the Historic Wolf Hotel on Tuesday evening, and dinner Wednesday at a Great Bend restaurant.