Birders from all four corners of the country – including Connecticut, California, Michigan and New Mexico – flocked to Barton County this past weekend to enjoy all of the bird watching available during the spring migration at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
"I’ve been wanting to come here for years," said Nancy Welch of Hershey, Penn. "I see a lot of birds here I don’t see at home."
She is one of the approximately 189 visitors from 16 different states here for the bi-annual Wings and Wetlands Festival. About 165 species of birds were seen, including the least
tern, which is on the endangered species list.
The first stop on the activity-filled weekend was Squaw Lake outside of Great Bend, which is privately owned by the Turner family.
Squaw Lake is a sand pit dug in the 1940s. The sand was used to build a runway at the Great Bend Airport. According to Stephanie Turner, it is one of the oldest sand pits in the area.
Problems developed over the years because there is no inlet or outlet at the lake, allowing for stagnation to occur. It is fed by ground water.
"In 2005, we became concerned with the water quality out here," Turner said. "It is an aging water body."
As a part of a three-phase process, the lake has been reinvigorated. The first phase was water quality analysis, macro invertebrate study and irrigation. Phase two was dredging and aeration, and phase three is bank stabilization.
Some of the nutrient-rich water was pumped out of the lake and diverted to a nearby farm field at a cost less than conventional irrigation due to lower utility costs because of a more efficient pump. This continues to be done.
The water was nutrient-rich because of the large amount of goose sludge deposited by geese over the years. The Turners had six inches to a foot of the sludge dredged from the lake. Nutrient-rich water is toxic to fish.
Phase three has not been implemented, but will include planting native flowers and grasses near the edge of the lake to help keep the geese away. Geese do not like to be in places where they cannot see in a full circle.
In addition, the native vegetation will take in certain nutrients. The end result is that the water in the lake will be comparable to area groundwater in nutrients. The Squaw Lake project was a pilot project and is applicable to other bodies of water in the state, according to Turner. Fish are now reappearing, apparently as fish eggs have caught rides on the bodies of birds.
Elsewhere during the event, the enthusiastic birders grabbed their binoculars and headed out to Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira. The bird nearly everybody wanted to see was the snipe, and a few birders caught sight of one. Another popular species those from out-of-state wanted to see was the burrowing owl, which is a bird common in the plains. It is unusual because it nests in the ground, quite often in the home provided by prairie dogs.
Julie Meyers of Manhattan kept her list of bird species spied handy, ready to mark off another. "There are a lot of birds here," she said.
Touring with a group, the birders were thrilled when they saw of flock of great blue herons fly off. " I’ve never seen that many herons," said one traveler.
"I think it has gone spectacularly," said Curtis Wolf, manager of Kansas Wetlands Education Center. "We’ve had a lot of help."
The birders will have the opportunity again in April 2013 to come again to see the sights.