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Scientist Q & A: A Fall Migration at Cheyenne Bottoms

Rob Penner is the Avian Programs Manager with The Nature Conservancy in Kansas. Today he speaks with us about what bird species visitors will see during fall migration at Cheyenne Bottoms.

Question: Good afternoon, Rob. Can you tell me a little about Cheyenne Bottoms?

Answer: Cheyenne Bottoms is 28,000-acre premier system of wetlands surrounded by large tracts of grasslands. And it is one of the most important bird migration points in North America.

Question: And, it’s located right here in Kansas, near Great Bend.

Answer: Yes, Great Bend is located in the south central part of the state, about 3 hours from Wichita.

Question: What is the best time to visit?

Answer: Of course, the spring migration is always a great time, but many people may not realize that the fall is an excellent time to go birding as well. This year is especially shaping up to be a great bird season.

Question: Why is that?

Answer: Well we’ve had very timely rains this spring and summer, many of which are drying up and we are getting excellent mudflats. Because of this, we are seeing big numbers of shorebirds, especially waders and herons.

Question: So, break this down for me. What am I likely to see during different parts of fall and early winter? And what part of the day am I likely to see the greatest numbers?

Answer: If you visit in September you are going to encounter lots of shorebirds. Dowitchers, Baird’s sandpiper, least sandpiper, avocets, and black-neck stilts will all be passing through.

If you’re a grassland bird enthusiast, September through October is your best viewing time. You could see grassland sparrows, upland sandpipers, vesper sparrows, and Savannah sparrows.

By late October and early November, the ducks and geese move in. You’ll probably see many blue wing and green wing teal, northern pintails, snow geese, Canada geese and white fronted geese.

And if you don’t mind the chilly weather, early winter will have many raptors, like northern harriers and short-eared owls.

And the best time to go birding is either early in the morning or around sunset.

Question: Sounds like a wide range of species to see during this migration. 

Answer: Absolutely. Fall is a great time to visit. Visiting can really give you an excellent opportunity to see why the work we do here is so important and experience first-hand how many species depend on these wetlands. Visitors should definitely take time to visit this fall.

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