Thursday, June 7, 2018

Kansas Staycation: Cheyenne Bottoms

July 2017
Note: The outside photos were taken during a trip to Kansas Wetlands Education Center and Cheyenne Bottoms with my PEO group in May. The photos with Randy and the girls were taken last July when they were here on a visit. However, I realized I'd never posted the photos of the girls, and so I used them here for additional illustrations for this Kansas Staycation. And, as a side note, I can't believe how much Kinley and Brooke have changed in 11 months!
This killdeer didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center. He voiced his trademark call and danced toward me as I headed down the brick pathway of the Center's garden.
While he wasn't the most cordial welcoming committee, the reason was soon evident. A mother killdeer was nearby, patiently hatching the next generation of killdeers. Visitors were welcome to wander the gardens, just as long as we stayed clear of the maternity ward. After all, it's nature first in these parts!
The killdeer may not have offered a warm and friendly welcome, but don't keep that from adding a visit to Cheyenne Bottoms and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center to your Kansas Staycation list this summer. In May, I was in charge of planning a field trip for my PEO group. Here in the Stafford area, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is in our "backyard," so to speak.
Standing: Ruth Rewerts, Betty Sellers, Barbara Grimmett, Jeanie Johnson, Suzie McMillian, Jean Fanshier  Knealing: Kim Fritzemeier, Ruth Teichman
In 2008, both Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms were jointly named as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.
Photo from the Kansas Wetlands Education Center website
The Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) is located in Barton County, 10 miles northeast of the intersection of US Highway 281 and US Hwy 56/ Hwy 156 in Great Bend.
July 2017 - Randy & I took Kinley & Brooke to the Center
KWEC is a branch of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History and a unit of Fort Hays State University. (More on the Sternberg Museum in another Staycation post scheduled for next week.)
The Kansas State Historical Society says that the 19,857-acre Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is part of a 41,000-acre natural land sink. KWEC Educator Pam Martin told our PEO group that one popular theory is that the natural basin was formed thousands of years ago as the Rocky Mountains pushed up to the west.
It is one of the few natural lakes in Kansas. Before it was divided into several lakes, the entire area was a large, low-lying bottom that filled with water during rainy periods. During dry periods it was used for pasture land and haying.
During wet periods hundreds of thousands of waterfowl inhabited the area and it became a popular spot for hunting. It was named for the Cheyenne tribe that used to inhabit the area.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the State of Kansas acquired the land, and dikes were constructed to impound water in five pools. Canals and dams were built to divert water from the nearby Arkansas River and Wet Walnut Creek to supplement water provided by two intermittent streams, Blood and Deception Creeks. According to legend, a battle in 1825 between the Cheyenne and the Kiowa turned one of the streams blood red. (Wikipedia.) Blood Creek now flows into the lowlands.
Today Cheyenne Bottoms is a designated wildlife area managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Nearly half of the bird species in the United States can be found at the Bottoms on their seasonal migrations. Endangered birds -- including the whooping crane, peregrine falcon, and bald eagles -- travel through Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira.
In the KWEC classroom
Cheyenne Bottoms is one of the top staging areas (the places migrating birds stop to feed and rest) for shorebirds and waterfowl in the United States. These wetlands hosts tens of thousands of shorebirds and up to 1/4 million waterfowl each year during their migrations. The shallow marshes — averaging less than one foot deep — are ideal habitats for wading shorebirds, like this avocet, which serves as the Bottoms' mascot on its logo.
Following the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, which taxed sporting arms and ammunition, funds became available to develop the Bottoms. In 1952, after the construction of dikes, roads and hunting blinds, part of the area was opened to public hunting. In 1957, a new canal from the Arkansas River was built. However, relatively little water from the Arkansas was pumped into the wetland because of drought and claims by other entities on the water supply.
In 1971,  representatives from 18 nations convened in Ramsar, Iran, to encourage preservation of the world's significant natural wetlands. The Ramsar convention in 1988 designated Cheyenne Bottoms as globally significant, one of only 24 sites in the U.S.
In the 1990s, an extensive renovation subdivided the marshes. Also in the 1990s, the Nature Conservancy began acquiring 7,694 acres of land adjacent to the Bottoms. In late May, the Conservancy purchased an additional 152 acres of land to add to its holdings by the Bottoms.
The Conservancy bought the land to safeguard and enhance the wetland habitat. Of the 478 species of birds that have been documented in Kansas, 346 have been observed using Cheyenne Bottoms. Through banding efforts, researchers know that birds migrate north as far as western Alaska and the tundra at the edge of the arctic, and south to Louisiana, Texas, Central America and the far reaches of South America. Providing abundant food and a place rest, Cheyenne Bottoms is an essential link in this migration.
Central to the Conservancy's restoration and management plan is the importance of providing a mosaic of aquatic habitats — large, small, shallow, deep, salty, fresh, weedy and open water — to attract a diversity of bird species. The adjacent grasslands provide nesting and wintering habitat for grassland birds like ring-necked pheasant and raptors like red-tailed hawks that stay in the area year-round. During the spring and summer, visitors will see cattle on the Conservancy's land at Cheyenne Bottoms. Controlled livestock grazing is an effective and inexpensive management tool for maintaining the range of habitat conditions.
I guess this red-winged blackbird is "authorized personnel."

The Kansas Wetlands Education Center had its grand opening in April 2009.
Hours at the KWEC are from 8 AM to 5 PM Thursdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 on Sundays. It's closed on Mondays, New Years Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's also available after hours by reservation.
Information for this post was taken from the KWEC brochures and displays, the Kansas State Historical Society and Wikipedia.

A trip to nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge would be a good addition to this Kansas Staycation. Click here for Sightseeing in my Own Backyard and here for a review of the Quivira Visitors' Center from Kinley (sort of!).  In September, come to Quivira for Monarch Mania.

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