Maybe some day 7-year-old Keaton Leiker will have his own pair of binoculars to view the birds at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms.
Keaton said he has watched birds before because his family is interested in science. Keaton was part of the Christmas Bird Count at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend. The count goes through the first week of January.
The youngster from Wilson has a good teacher.
Keaton’s mother, Melanie Falcon, is the science teacher at Wilson Junior and Senior High. Falcon has coached Wilson High School teams in the ECO-meet competition contested at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center and Camp Aldrich.
Curtis Wolf, the site manager at Ft. Hays State University’s KWEC at Cheyenne Bottoms, coordinated the bird count with Mike Rader.
The two dozen volunteers included “birders” from Ellsworth, Pawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick counties. They braved a temperature of 21 degrees at 8 a.m. with a wind chill of 7 degrees because of a brisk northwest wind from 15 to 20 miles per hour.
“It was a little bit intense when we started, but everyone was prepared,” Wolf said. “It started off cloudy, windy and cold. But once the clouds broke off and the sun came out, the birds became more active and the volunteers were able to identity quite a few more birds.”
Wolf was pleased by the public’s response with the weekend Christmas Bird Count.
“It accomplished what we wanted because we got some people out who haven’t done this before,” he said.
The volunteers were separated into small groups, which surveyed a 10-mile radius around Cheyenne Bottoms. Wolf said the serious bird watchers own their own powerful binoculars, but KWEC also supplied binoculars to those who needed them.
“They are constantly watching and listening,” Wolf said. “When you hear a bird, you want to identify them as quickly as possible. The group likes to work together.”
Levi Beaver traveled from Lyons to participate in the bird count. He’s always fascinated by how the sight and smell of the birds are so accurate.
“Their sight is amazing and they can identity colors so much better than people,” he said.
A total of 72 species were identified during the morning watch, which included such species as mockingbird, wood duck, ringneck, blue heron, doves, crows, chickadees and even a turkey. A mountain bluebird, more common further west, was spotted by a group.
The Kansas Wetlands Education Center and the Nature Conservancy worked together on the count. The Bottoms are an important migratory stopover for thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl. Each winter, more than 148 species of birds have been recorded wintering in the area.
Saturday marked the 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which makes it the longest-running citizen science survey in the world. It provides critical data on bird population trends.
For more information, call the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at 877-243-9268.