The Cheyenne Bottoms basin is a 41,000-acre lowland, located 7 miles northeast of Great Bend. The protected land consists of the 19,857-acre Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks and the 7,695-acre Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. The Bottoms is primarily wetland habitat but also includes grasslands, agricultural land, shelterbelts and riparian areas.
Cheyenne Bottoms is considered one of the most important ecosystems in Kansas and has been designated a “Wetlands of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and a “Globally Important Bird Area” by The American Bird Conservancy.
At least 333 of the 471 species of birds known to occur in Kansas have been recorded at the Bottoms. There are 134 species that breed and nest on the area, 148 species that may winter here and 63 species that are permanent residents.
Approximately 40 species of waterfowl and nearly 40 species of shorebirds have been reported from the Bottoms.
In both spring and fall migration, large numbers of geese, ducks and shorebirds can be observed in the tens of thousands. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is one of the premier waterfowl hunting locations in the Central Flyway. The combined state-owned and Nature Conservancy properties comprise one of the best birding areas in the country.
A bird checklist with information about whether a species is common, uncommon or rare, can be found on the Kansas Wetlands Education Center website at http://wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu/.
Source: Kansas Wetlands Education Center
The Wings ‘N’ Wetlands Birding Festival returns to Great Bend and central Kansas April 24-25.
The festival, held in odd-numbered years, corresponds to the peak of the shorebird migration through central Kansas at the internationally known wetlands, Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. However, because bird numbers were down during the drought, no festival was held in 2013.
Participants have the chance to see sandpipers, plovers, rails, terns and Greater prairie-chickens.
“We’re in the height of spring migration,” said Curtis Wolf, site manager of the Kansas Wetlands Education Center. Birders can often spot more than 125 species of birds in the spring.
More 20 whooping cranes have passed through the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County since the end of March, according to staff at that refuge.
For bird enthusiasts, the festival provides an opportunity to expands their “life lists.”
“Many birders are listers,” said Wolf. “Birdwatchers keep lists of the birds they see in their yard, in counties and states they visit, and over their lifetime. It becomes a friendly competition between birders to see who can document the most birds.”
In fact, Kansas Wildlife, Parks, & Tourism sponsors an annual Kansas Big Year competition, where birders can submit their annual Kansas list of birds for prizes.
Local residents may be able to make a list of a different kind, as vehicles with license plates from many states will make their way to central Kansas this spring. Birders are expected from New Hampshire, Mississippi and Ohio, as well as Kansas and its border states.
One of the main draws of the Wings ‘N’ Wetlands Festival is the time spent birding in the field. Expert birders from across the state volunteer to guide festival-goers on birding field trips over the two-day festival.
Also, participants can sign up for a tour to visit a nearby Greater prairie-chicken lek to observe the unique behaviors of the birds on their breeding grounds.
Many of the guides are active Kansas Ornithological Society members (the formal birding organization in Kansas), and are excellent ambassadors of the study of birds, Wolf said. They are quick to help novice birders improve their identification skills and help advanced birders try to find rare species.
“We recruit about 20 guides, so we can keep groups small, and provide excellent one-on-one birding experiences,” Wolf said.
Registration, a schedule and more information about the festival can be found at kansasbirdingfestival.org, the Wings ‘N’ Wetlands Facebook page, or by contacting the KWEC, 877-243-9268.
This year’s festival is an event of the Kansas Birding Festival Inc., with coordination from the KWEC, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, & Tourism, The Nature Conservancy, and the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau.