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Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Vol. 32, No. 2 - December 1985 - Cheyenne Bottoms

Volume 32, Number 2 -
December 1985

Cheyenne Bottoms

by Marvin Schwilling




Editor: Robert F. Clarke

Editorial Committee: Tom Eddy, Gilbert A. Leisman, Gaylen Neufeld, John Parrish

Online edition by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts. Send requests to The Kansas School Naturalist, Division of Biological Sciences, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, 66801-5087.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by Emporia State University, 1200 Commercial, Emporia, Kansas 66801-5087. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of August 12, 1970 Section 3685, Title 34, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management, and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas 66801-5087. The Naturalist is edited and published by Emporia State University, Kansas. Robert F. Clarke, Division of Biological Sciences.


Marvin Schwilling is a Chase County, Kansas, native. After graduating from Colorado State University in Wildlife Management, he began work with the Kansas Fish & Game Commission in 1951. For 15 years he was Manager of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Management Area. At present he is assigned to the nongame, threatened, and endangered species program of the KF&G Commission, and is located in Emporia.

Cheyenne Bottoms

by Marvin Schwilling

Cheyenne Bottoms is a 41,000 acre - 64 square mile - elliptical shaped, basin-like sink six miles northeast of Great Bend in Barton County, Kansas. The structural movement in the earth's surface that created the basin occurred between early Late Cretaceous time and late Pliocene time, about 80 to 100 million years ago. This is a relatively flat, featureless basin whose floor slopes gently to the southeast. The Kansas Fish and Game Commission operates a 12,000 acre wildlife management area that consists largely of the lowlands along the southeast edge.

diagram of Kansas, locating Cheyenne Bottoms

Geological studies show that the north, west, and south sides of the basin walls are Cretaceous rocks which rise more than 100 feet above the basin floor. On the northeast side, sand dunes rise also about 100 feet above the basin. Soils along the east and southeast sides of the basin are alluvial deposits and rise only 30 to 40 feet above the basin.

There are two principal streams that flow into the basin: Blood Creek, that enters from the northwest, and Deception Creek, entering from the North. There are also numerous small ravines and draws that enter and spill into the basin.

Geological formations indicate that during Pleistocene time an ancient stream draining northwest Barton County, and probably the upper Smoky Hill River, flowed through Blood Creek and Cheyenne Bottoms. This stream joined another ancient stream known as "Chase Channel" and both joined the Arkansas River in Reno County. Later land shifts diverted the Smoky Hill River from the Blood Creek drainage. This caused a reduction in flow that allowed the stream channels to fill at about the same time the sand dunes east of the Bottom began to form.

Additional evidence that the two rivers were once joined is provided by early samples of fish from the Blood and Deception Creek drainages. These samples include species found in the Smoky Hill River drainage - but not in the Arkansas River drainage - mixed with species found in the Arkansas River drainage - but not in the Smoky Hill River drainage.


The first written account concerning the basin, known to me, was in 1806 when Zebulon Pike crossed the large marsh and mentioned it in his journal.

geographic diagram of Cheyenne Bottoms

The origin of the name "Cheyenne Bottoms" is said to follow a battle between Indian tribes In which the Cheyenne Indians defeated the  Pawnees, or Kiowas, in a ferocious battle for the hunting grounds in about 1825. Blood Creek was also named following this battle, as the creek is reported to have run red with blood.

In 1839, Dr. Frederick Wislizenus tells of becoming lost in foggy weather in early October and found himself in a great swamp - "All sorts of water birds swarmed around from all sides. Never have I seen together such quantities of swans, cranes, pelicans, geese, and ducks as were here." He further writes that the water sometimes reached his chest, and that the sun was sinking when he reached the far shore.

In 1867, the Kiowa Chief, Satank, abandoned the women and children of his tribe at a camp at Cheyenne Bottoms. The tribe deposed Satank and he was replaced by Satanta.

Also, In 1867, Kansas historical writings tell of a government food and buggy giveaway program to the Indians camped in a large bottom called Cheyenne Bottoms.

Major floods recorded In 1885-87, 1902-05, 1912, produced lake-like conditions in the basin.

In 1896, an irrigation congress was called to meet in Great Bend, and the Grand Lake Reservoir Company was formed to divert water from the Arkansas River into Cheyenne Bottoms to form a great recreation and resort area as well as extensive irrigation. This ditch (Koehn Ditch) was completed in 1898 and water ran into the bottoms, spilling down a 30 foot waterfall at the southwest corner.

Even at this early date there was little doubt that the Arkansas River, Dry and Wet Walnut Creeks, and Blood and Deception Creeks would not provide sufficient water to maintain a large lake 10 feet deep in the basin during dry weather cycles. It was recognized that there was plenty of water in the underflow and it was stated that "Indeed, the underground Arkansas River is a slow moving but immense stream, whose surface is about ten feet below the land surface of the valley."

It was proposed to make the water pump itself. At the head of the canal the water would be lifted about 10 feet; when it reached the Cheyenne Bottoms Lake, it would fall 30 feet. The 30 foot water fall would drive water wheels, which in turn would drive generators. The electricity generated would be wired back to the head of the canal where it would propel great pumps. Once started, the system would continue with no expense, except for maintenance and repair.

This tells us that the underflow at the turn of the century was within ten feet of the surface of the valley.

The company went broke and was disbanded in 1903.

In 1899 a plan was proposed to divert water into the Bottoms from the Smoky Hill River, north of the area, by way of Cow Creek. And an opposing group formed a drainage district with plans to drain the basin so that the land could be used for agricultural purposes. These two groups were very much in disagreement as to best use to be made of the basin.

After reorganization of the Game Department In 1925, the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission declared that the development of Cheyenne Bottoms would be assumed as one of its responsibilities and a part of its long range program.

The Bottoms filled to a 20,000 acre - or more - lake in 1927 and 1928. (The Tiller & Toiler, Larned, Kansas, newspaper, stated that the lake covered 35,000 acres in 1927.) Much interest developed into creating a National Wildlife Refuge and the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that this be done. For awhile this seemed a certainty.

Legislation was passed in Washington, D.C. in 1930 to provide $250,000 of federal money ($350,000 had been requested) to acquire lands and initiate construction of a National Wildlife Refuge. Actual funding was later reduced to $50,000. The project foundered and was scrapped.

The passage of the Pittman-Robinson Act in 1937, which provided federal aid to states for wildlife restoration, enabled the Kansas Fish and Game Commission to purchase and develop the low southeast edge of Cheyenne Bottoms into a wildlife management area. Acquisition was initiated in 1942, and except for the inlet and outlet canals, was completed in 1948. Dikes, roads, hunter blinds, etc. were built and it was partially opened to public hunting in 1952. The area was officially dedicated with a gala ceremony as a waterfowl management area after completion of the Arkansas River diversion dam and inlet canal in 1957.

Man's use and attention to Cheyenne Bottoms has taken many forms, from coursing meets in the late 1880's to farming and oil drilling. The first oil well in Barton County (Sooey No. 1) was drilled in what is now the center pool of the wildlife area. Market hunters were attracted to the Bottoms by the huge concentrations of ducks and marsh birds. In 1880, Canvasbacks brought $8 per dozen, $6 for Redheads, $3 for Mallards, and other "mixed ducks" went for $1.50. Attrition to duck populations came from other sources, such as periodic drying and pesticides, as well as the 1916 die off due to what certainly must have been fowl cholera. Plant and wildlife surveys were conducted early in this century by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and from 1968 through 1973 a weekly column Cheyenne Bottom Notes, appeared in the Great Bend Tribune.

The area was leased to the United States Army Air Force in 1945-46 and the basin was used as a bombing and target range. This activity must have been devastating to the wildlife. In a like vein, Barton County established their sanitary landfill in ravines along the south edge of the basin. This has increased erosion into the basin as a result of the removal of permanent grassland vegetation. However, the major concern is the probability of chemicals, especially insecticides, leaking from this waste into the basin where they could cause an ecological disaster.

see caption below

Location of inlet canal route and Wildlife Management Area.

Not all human activity has been detrimental. Mr. Frank Robl, who lived north of Ellinwood, conducted extensive waterfowl banding at his home refuge and at Cheyenne Bottoms, beginning in 1923. It was primarily data from the return of his bands through the following years that helped to chart the migration patterns of ducks and geese which eventually established the Central Flyway as one of the nation's four major waterfowl migration corridors.

The Fish and Game personnel began expanded duck banding in 1962 with extensive duck and goose bandings in the mid and late sixties. Mr. Edmund Martinez, an entomologist employed by the State Board of Agriculture and stationed in Great Bend assisted with this banding. Mr. Martinez developed successful techniques for capturing many species of shorebirds with mist nets and began banding shorebirds and songbirds on the area in the mid-60's. Today he has probably banded more shorebirds than any other bander in the interior of the United States.


On October 8, 1942, the first land was purchased (6,800 acres at a cost of $54,000). Total land acquisition was completed in 1956, totaling 19,840 acres - (basin, inlet and outlet canal).

Management of the area proved difficult at best and numerous management plans and revised management plans have been prepared. A list of the primary plans that have been developed include:

  1. Proposed development and operation plan for Cheyenne Bottoms, Wilson and Company Engineers. October 1948.
  2. Management plan for the Cheyenne Bottoms Waterfowl Refuge. Richard B. Eggen and David C. Coleman, Kansas Fish and Game. May 15, 1958.
  3. A waterfowl food-plant management plan for the Cheyenne Bottoms Waterfowl Refuge. Frank C. Bellrose, Illinois Nat. Hist. Survey. October 14, 1959.
  4. Plants useful in resisting soil erosion by wave action and food plants for waterfowl. G.W. Tomanek and F.W. Albertson. Ft. Hays State Univ. 1959.
  5. Report on an engineering study of the control of water for a management plan at the Cheyenne Bottoms Waterfowl Refuge. David W. Appel and Jacob O. Jones, University of Kansas. December, 1959.
  6. A study of the control of water at Cheyenne Bottoms Waterfowl Refuge. David W. Appel. Jacob O. Jones and Yun-Seng Yu. University of Kansas. September, 1961 (Progress Report).
  7. In 1960, Annual Project Statements and modified management plans were initiated and provided in Pittman-Robinson Federal Aid Project W-22-D.
  8. New management options for the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. John Boudreaux and Mary Geder, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. January 17, 1980.

A proposed development plan was completed by Wilson and Company Engineers in October 1948.

The original plan for operation as proposed by Wilson and Company called for maintaining water levels in Pool 1 as a reservoir to provide water to divert to the perimeter pools to fluctuate water levels to control the threat of botulism. Originally, there were no plans to drain Pool 1, except for maintenance and repair of dike and water control structures.

However, water levels were maintained at very uniform levels throughout the project until 1959.

The management plan developed by the Forestry, Fish and Game Commission in 1958 promoted water level manipulation. Perimeter Pools 2, 3, and 4 were to be drawn down each spring on a particular schedule to permit growth of aquatic plants, while at the same time Pool 1 was to be filled as a reservoir to reflood the perimeter pools in the late summer and fall.

Production of aquatic vegetation is dependent on water fluctuation involving relatively clear water. The 3,300-acre reservoir in Pool 1 was shallow, with an average depth of four to five feet and was exposed to severe wind action. Excessive carp populations also developed. The resulting turbidity eliminated virtually all waterfowl food (both vegetation and microinvertebrates) production in Pool 1 and severely limited production of food producing aquatic plants in the perimeter pools when the turbid water was used to reflood in the summer and fall.

Recommendations by Dr. Frank C. Bellrose, Illinois Natural History Survey, called for alternately using Pools 1 and 2 as a reservoir supply to reduce water turbidity.

In 1961, the procedure for manipulating water levels was changed to permit the periodic draining of all pools to: 1) reconsolidate the soil structure in the pools, 2) control carp populations, 3) improve production of food-producing aquatic plants, 4) facilitate reconstruction of 167 earthen islands surrounding concrete hunting blinds located in Pools 2, 3 and 4, and 5) facilitate repair of dikes and water control structures.

Periodic drainage of pools in sequence was seldom accomplished for several reasons: 1) inadequate capacity of outlet canal, 2) hunter blind island repair schedules, 3) construction and repair of peripheral dikes, 4) construction of pumping station, and 5) untimely and excessive rainfall.

In most years, the drawdown was followed by aerial seeding of millet. When the seeded pools produced a good millet crop peak waterfowl populations sometimes reached astounding abundance.

see caption below

Canada Geese winter at Cheyenne Bottoms. The
winter goose population sometimes reaches
40,000 birds.


Marshland habitat is one of our least abundant and most important habitats. A marsh supports a tremendous variety of wildlife as well as the greatest concentration of wildlife individuals to be found in any habitat type.

Due to man's alteration of this habitat for agricultural purposes and land development between 1950 and 1970, about 1/2 million acres of marshland were lost each year in the United States. More than half of this nation's original wetlands have now vanished forever. Thus the huge Cheyenne Bottoms marsh located in the heart of the Central Flyway, midway between the nesting and wintering grounds, has been, and probably still is, the most important waterbird area in the Flyway.

After heavy rains in the fall of 1927, the following story was written by an unknown author employed by the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission:

"Kansas has gone wet. This, one of the original states in dry respects, is one of the wettest places on earth this autumn. Thousands of rainclouds put Kansas on their calling list in 1927. The result is water everywhere.

"Almost in the heart of Kansas is the Cheyenne Bottoms, a depression of approximately one hundred square miles. Fully sixty-four of these hundred square miles have been under water in pre-settlement time.

"Geologically, the Cheyenne Bottoms, as the oval-like bowl is called, puzzles man. Some have thought that is outlines the mark of an anticline, the top of which had caved in and so drilled for oil. Some showings of oil have been found but none in paying quantities. Two major dry water courses empty flood water into the Bottoms. These are Blood and Deception Creeks. There is a trace of an outlet from the Bottoms to the Arkansas River. This is a depression probably twelve or fifteen miles long into which water seldom flows. It is called the Little Cheyenne. The bed of the Bottoms is probably thirteen feet above Little Cheyenne. To the west of the Bottoms is a huge plain extending westward to the foothills of the Rockies. South is the Arkansas River which winds its way through a flat country. North are the hills of the Smoky Hill River. East of the Bottoms is another plains country with a flow of water to the south. Water runs in all directions about the bottoms excepting north and although this basin is lower than any of the streams in this part of Kansas, but two empty into the basin.

"The place got its name from the Cheyenne Indians who used it as a rendezvous for hunting. They won it in a fierce battle either with
the Pawnees or Kiowas. Blood Creek got its name from the slaughter in that battle which occurred more than a hundred years ago.

"Years of drought caused the water to disappear and for thirty-nine years the Bottoms have been little more than a swamp during the wettest seasons.

"This year more than thirty square miles of this area are under water, ranging in depth at the deepest from nine to ten feet.

"There are probably more migratory birds in the Cheyenne Bottoms this year than in any equal area in the United States. The shallow shorelines are alive with waders, including practically all the snipe, the plover, avocets, and sandpipers. Stilts are flocking to the Bottoms because there is so much shallow area. Gulls by the hundreds rest on the water or feed on grasshoppers, bugs and worms in the agricultural country surrounding.

"And ducks! Not since 1904 has Kansas seen as many ducks as this year. Where they come from, hunters do not know. They were not here last year nor any place in states west of the Mississippi and east of the Rockies. They must have come from other flyways.

"The teal and pinch teal were on the Bottoms in August very soon after a cloud burst caused the inundation. Canvasback were seen as early as the first of October. There had not been a killing frost in central Kansas up to October 3 but the ducks came down any way. There has been some snow and cold weather in extreme northwestern Kansas and Nebraska but not sufficient to drive the large ducks this far south.

"Ducks must be imbued with telepathic powers. The early ducks got news back somehow about the new inland sea. How could the larger ducks have found it out had this not been the case? Perhaps the larger ducks sent scouts out to pioneer a way south this year.

"The inland sea in Cheyenne Bottoms is not dissimilar in characteristic to the shallow bays of the gulf coast. The huge basin is not deep. The highest hills about it are not to exceed one hundred feet above the floor of the basin. One can walk out into the water for a quarter of a mile and not get into water over boot tops. All the land in the basin is in use either in pasture or for crops. The fence lines starting from the hillsides run into the lake and gradually the posts disappear in the deeper water. There are probably one hundred hay stacks peeping above the surface. At the west end is some farming. Wheat which would have yielded twenty bushels per acre is under six feet or more of water. But one house is flooded. It is more of a hunters shack than a dwelling.

"Already some land owners are joining to plan ways and means of draining the Bottoms. Yet this land would be high priced at fifteen dollars per acre.

"The tragedy of it is, nature will drain this inland sea by evaporation. And this magnificent body of water which is now used by more ducks than any like area in the world, could be maintained!

"It would cost a million dollars to buy land and keep the Cheyenne Bottoms flooded but it is worth it."

"It is possible to create and maintain a sea sixty-four miles in area, exactly the size of the Sea of Galilee.

"In 1904, a company of dreamers constructed a ditch from the Arkansas River west of Great Bend and led the water by a surface route dumping it into the Bottoms fully sixty feet above the floor of the depression. The plan was to catch flood waters of the Arkansas and Walnut Creek and create in the Bottoms a huge lake, using the water for recreational and irrigation purposes. The schemers were more bent on stock selling than permanent results.

"But they did run water from the Arkansas River into the Bottoms and maintained a stream for one hundred days. It was during this year that the greatest slaughter of ducks ever known in Kansas followed. Hunters flocked to the Bottoms and shot for the market. Dealers made regular trips to the camps, taking ammunition with them and buying the ducks the hunters had bagged. These ducks where shipped in refrigerator cars from Hoisington, Great Bend and Ellinwood, towns about the Bottoms. They were sold in eastern markets.

"It is different this year. Many of the same hunters are in the bottoms and they are there for pleasure only. The Forestry, Fish and Game Commission of Kansas placed wardens at the Bottoms. These wardens are not there to round up the hunters but to keep a bureau of information for visiting sportsmen. The department got the farmers to agree to build blinds and furnish decoys about the lake and charge a nominal sum for the day. The charges average about fifty cents per flights or one dollar a day."

"At the eastern end of the Bottoms, Henry Bortz, a trap shooter and hunter of years' standing, resides on a fine farm. He is a representative of the department. Although he is wealthy, he is taking up the work for the love of it and in order to help along conservation.

"It is inspiring to visit the Bottoms and meet the hunters moving out. A few of them have the limit of fifteen ducks but all are pleased because they have seen lots of ducks, had some shots and spent an inspiring time out in the open.

"The experience of sitting in a blind with thirty square miles of water in front of one, with ducks in the air and on the water and ten thousand shore birds flitting here and there is something never experienced by anyone in Kansas. To visit the Bottoms will make a conservationist out of a hardened killer.

"It is possible to maintain Cheyenne Lake as it is. But the state of Kansas has not the finances to do so. The Forestry, Fish and Game Department is engaged in a lake building program but it needs help on this big and tremendously important project which is equal in importance to conservation as the Bear River Marsh project of Utah. In some respects it is superior because it will create or maintain new water and relieve congestion in other places. The Bureau of Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture has, at invitation of the Forestry, Fish and Game Commission of Kansas, had its representative in the Bottoms and is fully apprised of conditions.

"Who knows, perhaps Kansas will regain its lost inland sea."

see caption below

Dowitchers feeding on a shallow water mud flat. A
large variety of shorebirds and other waterbirds in
astounding numbers use the fertile marsh habitat
at Cheyenne Bottoms.

The rain continued in 1928 and Mr. J.B. Doze, State Fish and Game Warden (The position now designated as Director) prepared the following account of conditions at Cheyenne Bottoms.


"The Lord God of Hope has placed a protecting arm around the wild waterfowl of the middle west. Man failed the birds by dillydallying and delaying, but the Power that guides the clouds steered the nebulous billows into the heart of Kansas, released the sustaining winds and refilled Lake Cheyenne in the famous Cheyenne Bottoms of Barton County. Twice have the Heavens leaked into the lake until now the shore line of the lake is, at places, a mile farther back towards the surrounding hills. The water area has been increased almost 10,000 acres. Probably 40 sections (25,600 ac.) of land is under from one to twelve feet of water. Wheat fields have disappeared under the waves. In places the water has surrounded farm houses. Repetition of recent rainfalls will mean the abandonment of several farms which have been considered high and dry. Men, who now own land in the center of the Bottoms, probably will never live to see their land again. All of this immense body of water has come from 234 square miles of drainage.

"Within three miles of the Bottoms but separated there from by a high ridge leased with sandstone and shale and limestone is Walnut Creek with a drainage area of 1700 square miles. What an opportunity for man to gouge a hole through this ridge and maintain the greatest lake between the Mississippi River and the Great Salt Lake!

"Between Canada and the Gulf there is no place for wild waterfowl to get a drink without endangering its life. An inland sea, the size of Galilee, has been given to North America wildlife by the Heavens. It is man's job to maintain it and it can be done if all who are conservationists will lend a hand.

"NOTE: The Curtis-Hope Bill now in Congress will help take care of this matter. Coupled with the new Game Refuge Bill, already passed by the Senate, it will perpetuate Lake Cheyenne.

J.B. Doze
State Fish & Game Warden."

According to Milton Schrapel, a longtime resident at the east edge of the Bottoms, the water level in 1928 reached the foundation of his house and would have been higher had there not been outflow down Little Cheyenne Creek. Bill Melson also reported outflow from the Bottoms in 1928. This drainage may have been blocked later by the dirt storms of the 1930's. Water levels in April 1973 came very close but did not reach the remaining foundation of the Schrapel house.

Now, however, this marsh may soon be lost as man diverts more and more water, an absolute necessity in maintaining the marsh, to other of man's activities. The threat is extremely serious. It has already affected the management and water levels in Cheyenne Bottoms. There is little reason to believe that it will not get worse.


Cheyenne Bottoms has been designated as critical habitat for the endangered Whooping Crane, whose total population once dropped to a mere 14 birds, but the total number in 1985 had risen to about 185 individuals. This area has also been declared critical habitat for the endangered Interior Least Tern, which nested on the area as recently as 1978. As many as 88 endangered Bald Eagles have been recorded on the area, and used a Cottonwood grove just east of the wildlife area some years as their winter roost. The endangered Peregrine Falcon uses the management area as an important feeding and resting stop during fall and spring migration. As many as 25 Peregrines could be recorded in a single day as recently as the mid-1960's. Also, the threatened Prairie Falcon is a low density, but regular, winter resident most often around the perimeter of the marsh.

Fourteen species or subspecies of ducks are known to have nested at the Bottoms, including Mallard, Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Woodduck, Redhead, Canvasback, and Ruddy Duck. A population of giant Canada Geese also nests on the area. In 1969, duck population on the area exceeded 12,500 young.

see caption below

Gulls, pelicans, ducks, and shorebirds concentrate
at marsh water's edge, Total individuals often
number into the millions.

Kansas' rarest duck, the Mottled Duck, nests here and is the only known inland population. It was discovered nesting here in 1963. Previously this species was supposedly restricted to the Gulf Coast. Cheyenne Bottoms also provides the only known nesting area in Kansas for the Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Wigeon, and Canvasback; as well as the state's largest nesting colonies of King Rail, White-faced Ibis, Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons. Large numbers of Yellow-headed Blackbirds are colonial nesters throughout the marsh.

Peak numbers of 600,000 ducks and 40,000 geese have been recorded on the area at one time, and shorebird use may exceed 14 million individuals during the height of the migration period.

No studies have been completed to assess the invertebrate mass as a food supply for waterbirds, but to support the vast populations that are attracted here the energy flow through the marsh is almost beyond imagination. The fertile shallow water provides an excellent staging area for populations to rest and feed midway in migration.

The current area checklist shows 320 species (and at least five more have been added - Clark's Grebe, Thayer's Gull, Ruff, Sage Thrasher, and Swamp Sparrow). This is over three-fourths of the 415 species known from the entire state.

In addition to the 14 species of nesting ducks, eight additional are migrant, plus three Scoters and three Mergansers. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are abundant in summer. Heronries in the cattails in some years include more than 1500 Black-crowned Night Herons, with lesser numbers of Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons; and twice the Tricolored Heron has been known to nest. In recent years Cattle Egrets have been increased sufficiently to outnumber the Black-Crowns.

Tree Swallows have nested when nesting boxes were maintained in the marsh, and Barn Owls sometimes rear their young in the concrete hunter blinds. Snowy Owls use the blinds as perches and observation posts in late winter.

Several species have first pioneered as nesting species into the marsh and then spread into other parts of the state. Most recent of these are the Cattle Egret and the Great-tailed Grackle, both of which are now quite abundant.

Some of the most unusual birds that have occurred include the Brown Pelican, Wood Ibis, Gyrfalcon, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black Skimmer, Black Headed Gull, and Monk Parrot.

Muskrats are abundant in the marsh, but are much reduced in drought years. Mink and raccoon are common, and an annual harvest is taken by trappers. Skunks are also common and are the number one predator on duck nests.

There are at least 12 species of snakes regularly found in the basin. The Western Massasauga rattlesnake is quite common. They are the smallest and most mild mannered of our Kansas rattlesnakes. There is no record of anyone having been bitten by a rattlesnake on the area.

Black Bullheads and Carp provide most fish species for the fishermen. The marsh is fertile and fish growth good. Originally the waters were stocked with gamefish. Borrow pits that provided the dike road fill were originally nine feet deep. Crappie and bass fishing was excellent for a few years and channel catfishing remained good into the 1960's. However, wind action and shifting of the marsh bottom gradually filled the borrow pit areas and the waters are now too shallow to support these populations.


When the wildlife management area was completed in the mid-1950's, provisions had been made for an adequate water supply to sustain and manage the large marsh. This was accomplished by constructing a diversion dam across the Arkansas River and diverting water into a canal that led to Dry Walnut Creek and to another dam that discharged the flow into a canal leading into the basin. With a reliable water supply, habitat in the marsh could be manipulated to provide best conditions for the wildlife. The reduction in water flow in these drainages could not be foreseen. Today, only about 30 years later, the Arkansas River seldom flows and water in the Walnut Creeks has been vastly reduced. The entire system produces less than ten percent of the desired legal water rights.

With this massive reduction in water supply, management to manipulate the habitat is not possible and emergent vegetation chokes the open water areas.

The causes for reduced flow in the streams is attributed to a vast increase in irrigation, as well as land treatment practices that keep surface water from entering the streams.

The threat to the marsh is extremely serious if continued, and if another water source cannot be obtained the marsh will dry and be lost. The area will then revert back to an intermittent wet or dry basin that would be dry at least two thirds of the time.

It appears that if a permanent marsh is to be maintained more water must be available. Storage areas for deeper water would need to be provided or a larger land area obtained to permit more storage of excessive surface runoff.

Outdoor enthusiasts must organize to educate and convince our society that wildlife is a necessary component of our ecosystem that must be maintained if we are to continue to live in a healthy society.

Learn about the state water plan now being developed. Write the Kansas Water Office about your concerns of reduced stream flows.

Hunters, birders, and other outdoor enthusiasts must tell the legislature and Kansas Fish and Game Commission officials that the Bottoms should be saved. Call, write, and visit with your state representatives and senators. Stress the importance of this area to wildlife.

Join a wildlife club and encourage them to join the effort to save the Bottoms. Talk to your local newspaper, radio, and TV sports editors concerning the state's water problems and the threat to Cheyenne Bottoms.

Information concerning Cheyenne Bottoms can be obtained from the Fish and Game Commision Headquarters, R.R. #2, Box 54A, Pratt, Kansas 67124; also from the Fish and Game Office at Cheyenne Bottoms, Rt. 3, Box 301, Great Bend, Kansas 67530, or from Save The Bottoms, 219 Westwood Road, Manhattan, Kansas 66502.

KS chickadee checkoff image


Don't Forget - check off a contribution for Nongame Wildlife on your State Income Tax Form.

Kansas nongame and endangered wildlife work has been limited by a shortage of funds. However, now all Kansas taxpayers have the opportunity to provide financial support for an expanded program.

During the 1980 Legislative session the Nongame Wildlife Improvement Program was passed. This provides the Kansas taxpayers the opportunity to check a box on their state tax form to indicate a contribution for the state's Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund.

The money generated from this source will be specifically earmarked to fund conservation projects by the Fish and Game Commission for those species of wildlife which are not game species or furbearers. Endangered and threatened species are examples of nongame wildlife, as are some 22,600 species ranging from hummingbirds to chickadees and to herons and swans as well as minnows, lizards, turtles, freshwater clams, and insects.

Your contributions will determine how much nongame work in Kansas can be expanded, please be generous.

You, too, can be helpful by learning about endangered and threatened species; what efforts are being made to protect their habitat and determine their needs. Then share your knowledge with others, asking them to help solve the problems.

Join conservation organizations in the fight to protect nongame and endangered wildlife and to provide a healthy environment for all living things, including man.


Natural Kansas, edited by Joseph T . Collins, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, $25. Intended for the lay reader, this 304-page book is a vivid tribute to the state's rich and diverse natural heritage. It surveys, in eleven essays, the state's natural phenomena: the land, waterways, weather, plant life, and wildlife. The emphasis is on Kansas unchanged by mankind. About 200 illustrations include splendid color photographs. All schoolrooms in Kansas should have a copy - as well as anyone interested at all in nature.

The Kansas School Naturalist Department of Biology 
  College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
Send questions / comments to
Kansas School Naturalist.
 Emporia State University