GREAT BEND — The shallow bottoms at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area bring an amalgam of birds from all over the country to forage at its watering holes and about 60,000 bird watchers from around the world to view them.
Spring is one of the best times to make the trip to the 41,000-acre state park in Great Bend. It sits in a natural geological depression.
“In spring, waterfowl and sandhill cranes can begin arriving as early as February,” according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT). “Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, begin arriving in March and April. Most shorebirds arrive in late April and early May. By late May, the birds that are still present on the area will tend to remain and nest.”
The shallow wetlands and grass support about 350 bird species. Half of North America’s shorebirds visit each year, including the endangered whooping crane.
The whooping crane is the tallest bird native to North America. Their name derives from the distinctive whooping call, done during spring courtship often by a pair of birds like a duet.
The whooping crane population once dwindled to about a dozen in the wild, but now number in the hundreds.
Cheyenne Bottoms has become a frequent stop for a large number of them since the land became a preservation.
The KDWPT acquired the land in the 1940s and 1950s. Dikes were constructed and canals made to divert from bodies of water, including the Arkansas River and Wet Walnut Creek, into five pools.
In 1988, Cheyenne Bottoms was designated a “Wetland of International Importance” under a worldwide treaty.
In February, Ducks Unlimited, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of wetlands and associated upland habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife, announced a campaign to raise $300,000 to match more than $1.2 million in federal grants.
The multiyear project will primarily replace nonfunctioning pumps and water control gates within the almost 20,000-acre public wildlife area, as well as remove tons of silt that has accumulated over the decades.