From the FieldEgret In Flight

Recently I had the chance to give a photography presentation in Great Bend, Kansas. This meant I had the chance to spend some time at Cheyenne Bottoms. Cheyenne Bottoms is an important wetland, covering about 41,000 acres. As the largest interior wetlands in the U.S., Cheyenne Bottoms is an important stop-over for migrating birds travelling the Central Flyway. Due to the large numbers of birds that move through Cheyenne Bottoms at different times of the year, it is a great place to observe (and photograph) birds.

I used to live not far from Cheyenne Bottoms and have driven by it countless times. My explorations of the area were limited to a couple of brief drives to the first area of water and then back out. A few weeks ago I had the chance to drive through the entire area with a friend of mine, Eldon Clark. We had a great time watching and photographing the birds and I’ve been looking forward to getting back for another visit.

This time around my wife was with me and we made our visit on a windy afternoon. Not ideal for photography, but it is what it is. Our first stop was at the visitor’s center…I’d like to say because we really wanted to learn all we could, but honestly we needed to find some bathrooms (they are really nice btw.) But seriously, if you visit Cheyenne Bottoms please stop at the visitor’s center. It is really well done and the staff was very friendly and helpful.

Morning at Cheyenne Bottoms

Cheyenne Bottoms Morning – ISO 100, 16mm, f/11, 1/5

We were able to visit for sunrise the following day. Early morning clouds blocked the sunrise for the most part, but we both enjoyed watching the birds. We also spotted two American Mink which were the first we had seen. I wasn’t able to get any photos of the mink, but it was really cool to get to see them.

American avocet at Cheyenne Bottoms

American Avocet – ISO 100, 380mm, 1/6.3, 1/800

I won’t even try to tell you all the different birds we saw. I’m not good at all at identifying birds. I’m really in awe of people who can tell with just a glance what a bird is (or identify a bird from its call). I can ID the common birds that everyone knows, but beyond that I have to hit the books and then most of the time I’m not certain.  I’m pretty sure the above bird is an American Avocet. We didn’t see large numbers of these birds, but it was fascinating to watch the ones we did see working the water for their food.

American Bittern at Cheyenne Bottom

American Bittern – ISO 2000, 180mm, f/5, 1/800

This American Bittern was a first for me. We almost drove right by it without even seeing it. Very striking bird, I’m glad I had the chance to photograph it. I’m starting to find out how easy it would be to get hooked on birding. Seeing a species for the first time is pretty cool.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird – ISO 1250, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/800

This yellow-headed blackbird was also a first for me. There were several along the roadside and this particular one was not bothered in the least that we were only a few feet away. This bird was busy preening itself and wasn’t going to stop just because a couple of voyeurs were staring.

Great Egret at Cheyenne Bottoms

Great Egret – ISO 100, 400mm, f/7.1, 1/800

I’ve seen Great Egrets before but I think I will always be excited to see them. They seem really out-of-place to me, it seems to me I should only see birds like this in some far away, exotic location.

Egret In Flight

In Flight – ISO 640, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/800

The sun had finally broken free of the clouds when I made the photo above and the warm early morning light created some nice colors – better than the harsh afternoon light we had on our visit the day before.

I’m sure I’ll be back to Cheyenne Bottoms again in the future. There are some really great photographers that shoot here on a regular basis and I’m always inspired by their work. I’m also trying to get better at identifying birds and this is a good location for me to try to learn more about birds.

According to Google, Cheyenne Bottoms is ~2 hours from Manhattan, ~3.5 hours from Kansas City, ~2 hours from Wichita and ~2.5 hours from Garden City. Not a terribly bad drive to reach from about anywhere in Kansas. If you are in need of a day trip this would be a good destination, especially during migrations when lots of birds are in the area. The Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway passes by Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is not far away either.

I’m always going to photograph extensively around wherever I happen to live. I do like to explore new locations as well and I have a large list of places I would like to visit someday. I’m not going to leave my camera gathering dust while I wait for “someday” to happen though. I’ve been trying to remember the advice that it is experiences, not things, which really make life something special. Getting out and interacting with the natural world around me – whether far from home or a short drive away, at a location for the first time or the 50th time – is one way to help create those experiences.

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