Kansas - Where the Birds and Birders Are!

(I realize that this piece is not my original work, but it sets the stage for future essays - enjoy!)

Birds, and birders, flock inKansas' wetlands get nation's attention
BY BECCY TANNER The Wichita Eagle

What state in the nation, besides Florida, can boast having two wetlands of international importance?

Give up?


"Birders and other nature enthusiasts have known for years the importance of Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms," said Cheryl Miller, a Wichita birder who has visited the areas numerous times."

And now the rest of the world seems to be catching on.

"With the fall migration in full swing, the marketing of the 76-mile route that connects the two wetlands in central Kansas and brings motorists close to wildlife has begun.

Last month, the route was designated a national scenic by-way by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the past year, national magazines such as Birder's World, Wild Bird and Midwest Living have mentioned the two wetlands as destination travel spots.

Cris Collier, president of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau, was in Albuquerque this week attending a national workshop on volunteer programs on interpreting the outdoors.

"The awareness has been raised," Collier said of the Kansas sites. "We are looking at the Kansas wetlands complex and packaging it together so that it will have more appeal to people."

Soon, National Geographic will produce a new travel directory listing 290 best drives in the nation. It will include the Kansas drive.

The full economic impact, fueled by recent national attention, has yet to be felt, Collier said.

By 2008, a $3.8 million Kansas Wetlands Education Center will be built at Cheyenne Bottoms, and portable audio narrative devices will be available to visitors as they travel the route.

Collier expects there will be outdoor travel packages linking the wetlands with the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays and the Cimarron National Grassland in the southwest corner of the state.

Dave Hilley, manager of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, said that the refuge already attracts 100,000 visitors a year to see the 300,000 sandhill cranes, 600,000 geese and 75,000 ducks.

During most weekends in late October or November, the refuge's salt marsh drive is filled with out-of-state cars.

People line up to hear the deafening roar of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and ducks that suddenly dissolve in a flutter of wings and haunting calls, and rise and fly into neighboring fields.

Each year, the birds take a 7,000-mile journey from their wintering grounds in New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico to Canada, Alaska and Siberia for the summer.

"We are becoming what's known as a 'wildlife spectacle,' " Hilley said. "Our viewing opportunities are getting well-known."

Talk with residents in the area, however, and chances are it's been years, if ever, that they've visited the refuge, Hilley said.

"I'll give presentations and ask for people to raise their hands," he said. "If I gave it in Stafford County, maybe a dozen hands would go up. If I give it in Wichita and Salina, three times the number will raise their hands.

"And the reason is, you don't go to things in your backyard. I'll hear people say they drive by it every day and never go in."

The route also allows people to come within yards of rutting deer and strutting turkeys, ribbons of blackbirds and prowling coyotes, curious raccoons and waddling possums.

"I really feel people in the area and surrounding areas have no idea what a wonderful resource we have here," said Shirley Radcliffe of Hoisington, a native Kansan who is new to the area.

Only in the past couple years has she ventured into the area to view the wetlands.

"I've seen blue heron, egrets and pelicans and herds of deer," she said. "It is just amazing."

-----------Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.