Skip to content

Quivira National Wildlife Preserve and Cheyenne Bottoms

October 18, 2017

Long-billed Dowagers at Park Smith Pond. Quivira National Wildlife Preserve. Kansas

A lot of birds.

As the Arkansas River enters central Kansas it bends first northward and then bends back south in the shape of an upside down “u”. At its most northerly point in this bend lies Great Bend, Kansas, a major crossroad and business center in the region with a population of 16,000.

Two inland wetlands, teaming with fish, birds and wild life, are nearby where hunters and bird watchers intermingle and wonder what in the world there opposites are doing there. People who visit the wetlands can broadly be divided into hunters and birders. I was an in-experienced member of the later, greatly assisted by two Kansas friends, Margy Stewart and Ron Young who are well versed not only in birds but in the plants and insects of the region. Over the course of the three days, we met and talked to a number of locals, who were hunters. They were friendly enough, but at least the ones we spoke with couldn’t understand why anybody would come to the area just to watch birds…when you could kill them and, as one hunter remarked, “really study them up close.” I just gave up on explaining, responding “yes, it’s hard to understand.”

They were friendly enough, but at least the ones we spoke with couldn’t understand why anybody would come to the area just to watch birds…when you could kill them and, as one hunter remarked, “really study them up close.” I just gave up on explaining, responding “yes, it’s hard to understand.”

A few miles north of the city, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is the largest wetland in the interior of the United States and as such a great avian crossroads. Run by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, it is a critical resting area in what is known as the central flyway for birds migrating north in the spring to Canada and the Arctic region and then to Texas, Mexico and points south.  Covering an area of about 8,000 acres, about 45 percent of all shorebirds in North America utilize the area. Cheyenne Bottoms is critical habitat for many endangered species, including the whooping crane. While the place is teaming with wildlife any time of year, the best times to visit are in the spring and fall. As many as 600,000 shorebirds from 39 species pass through Cheyenne Bottoms during spring migration and up to 200,000 in fall. At least 340 species of birds of all kinds have been observed there.

That’s a lot of birds.

Pelicans surrounded by cormorants. Little Salt Marsh. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Kansas. October 14, 2017

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors can enter Cheyenne Bottoms through several entrances just a few miles north of Great Bend. There is also a visitor’s center, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, located on State Highway 156. It is worth a visit. On the other hand Quivira National Wildlife Reserve, near Stafford, KS, is a federally run facility. It is further away from Great Bend – 25 miles to the south and a touch east – and a little more difficult to find, but well worth the extra effort. Because of its somewhat greater geographical obscurity and shorter, more controlled hunting season than Cheyenne Bottoms, there are fewer tourists (that was certainly the case to my visit there). It too is teaming with wildlife.

On January 29, 2008, Quivira NWR and Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area were jointly named as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, and this they are. Yet, the topography of the two are quite different. As it name suggests, Cheyenne Bottoms is a large, lake-like depression surrounded by an outer circle of wetland swamps. Geologists are still not in agreement as to what natural forces created the depression nor how, why and when Cheyenne Bottoms filled with water. At 22, 135 acres, overall, Quivira is almost three times the size of Cheyenne Bottoms although the actual wetland area is about the same (7,000 acres). The wetlands have high salt levels, much more so than Cheyenne Bottoms. Quivira also has 13,000 acres of sand dunes covered with prairie grasses. It is book-ended, so to speak, by two sizable marshes, the Big Salt Marsh to the north of the Refuge and the Little Salt Marsh on the southern end.

Approximately the same number of bird species have been spotted at Quivira. Some 344 species of birds have been seen there, most of which are seasonal. The 2010 Christmas bird count totaled 43,548 birds of 95 species, more than half of which were snow geese which tend to winter there. In the Spring, shorebirds, pelicans, and gulls stop over en route to their nesting grounds further north. Plovers, avocets, stilts, ibis, and endangered least terns nest on the refuge during the spring and summer. Whooping cranes stop over on their way north to nesting areas as well.

It is estimated that some 800,000 geese and ducks pass through Quivira in the fall en route south to the Gulf Coast and Mexico. Endangered whooping cranes occasionally visit then as well en route to wintering grounds in Texas. This fall, 109 whopping cranes have been sited at Quivira up until now (October 14, 2017). Quivira also has mule and white-tail deer, raccoon, coyote, badger, skunk, two species of lizard, opossum, bobcat, red and swift foxes, six species of turtle, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, prairie dog, and wild turkey.

Avocets partaking in a dusk feeding frenzy. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. October 14, 2017

Some history

Given the cornucopia of food sources that exist within the area that includes both Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira, it should not be surprising that the region would be a magnet for Native peoples who lived there or came at different times of the year to hunt and gather. Add to that the multitude of bison – millions of them – that roamed what Hornaday referred to as “the southern range” – which included much of Kansas, including the Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira regions. What appears at first to be a dry, unwelcoming land for human habitation becomes something approaching a paradise.

I’ve looked for archeological studies of human habitation at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge to no avail although I’m pretty certain that such studies exist for both areas. In the mainstream literature there are snippets of suggestive information, the most famous of which, not surprising, is Spaniard Vasquez de Coronado’s 1541 visit to the Quivira region looking for the Spanish obsession, gold. “Quivira” was a general term for the “cities of gold” Coronado was looking for, and his native guides told him it was here, there, no, over there.  When Coronado found what he called “Quivira” and which his guides told him was Quivira, it was probably a settlement of Wichitas, and it was indeed (probably) near Great Bend.  No gold!  …(except the reflections of sunset in the water). Thus, as a reward for his efforts, Coronado executed his main guide. What? Where’s the gold? Only wetlands, rivers, and streams? Only wildlife in abundance, and a tall, healthy, peaceful people? But no gold? That’s a capital offense! He found none, but did find Native peoples living in the area that he called “Quivirans” which one author suggests were “probably Wichita and Pawnee.” Mandan were also probably present as well. 

When Coronado found what he called “Quivira” and which his guides told him was Quivira, it was probably a settlement of Wichitas, and it was indeed (probably) near Great Bend.  No gold!  …(except the reflections of sunset in the water). Thus, as a reward for his efforts, Coronado executed his main guide. What? Where’s the gold? Only wetlands, rivers, and streams? Only wildlife in abundance, and a tall, healthy, peaceful people?  But no gold? That’s a capital offense! He found none, but did find Native peoples living in the area that he called “Quivirans” which one author suggests were “probably Wichita and Pawnee.” Mandan were also probably present as well. 

In 1680, the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico revolted against Spanish rule, killing 400 Spaniards and driving 2000 of them from the Sante Fe – Taos region. When, twelve years later, in 1692, the Spanish returned to seize the region, a number of Native peoples fled, among them some Apache who relocated in the Quivira area. These communities and those adjoining were destroyed as the bison were slaughtered and the areas adjoining the Santa Fe Trail were systematically ethnically cleansed of Native peoples from the Kanza peoples in the area of Council Grove to the Sand Creek Massacre in southeastern Colorado.

Big Salt Lake at dusk. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. October 14, 2017

The effort – nay the campaign – to save the Kansas wetlands. 

The landscape surrounding both Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira is “High Plains dry.” Although the Arkansas River runs through Great Bend, given the amount diverted both in Colorado and western Kansas for irrigation agriculture, by the time the river reaches these two great Kansas wetlands there isn’t much left to the flow. To add to its irrigation possibilities, those western Kansas mono-culture wheat or corn farms also continue to such up, at an increasingly alarming rate, the waters from the Ogallala Aquifer below the surface.  One of Kansas’s hardest one environmental victories was the 1980s-1990s campaign to save Cheyenne Bottoms from completely drying up. Spearheaded by the late Jan Garton and the Audubon Society of Kansas, Kansans were able to save the day. The problem was simple: too much water from the sources of Cheyenne Bottoms was being diverted for agricultural purposes. A plan was worked out for farmers to use the water sources more strategically and sparingly that passed through the Kansas legislature. In the first two years after its implementation, farming profits in the region did drop, but after that, profits rebounded and have been stable ever since.

Now it appears likely that a similar campaign is about to be launched to protect what is left of Quivira. The problem is more or less similar. The reparian sources of Quivira – impacted by irrigation agriculture combined with increasingly severe droughts – is shrinking the wetlands there. While central Kansas was fortunate to have enjoyed ample rainfall this spring and summer, still, a visit to the ares left no doubt that the watered areas of the wetlands are shrinking. But while Cheyenne Bottoms is managed by Kansas, Quivira is a national wildlife refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service is aware of the problem but has yet to address it, in this time of Trump era budget cuts. One proposal is to compensate for the irrigation diversion by using more of the water from fast-shrinking Ogallah Aquifer. There are two problems with such an approach. First, the water at Quivira has an unusually high salt content, probably one of its appeals to the bird life there. The aquifer water is unsalted and an infusion of aquifer water could change the natural food balance. The second issue is the crisis of the aquifer itself, the volume of which is shrinking even more quickly than previously predicted. By tapping into the aquifer though, federal authorities can avoid conflict with local agricultural interests – many of them quite large scale – that would have to change the ways they manage their water supply. Still, why can’t the arrangement that Jan Garton and the Audubon Society of Kansas developed – which works relatively well – be implemented for Quivira?

American Coot. Cheyenne Bottoms. October 15, 2017


Cameroon – French Hypocrisy Renewed

October 9, 2017

Linguistic and social discrimination in Cameroon’s Anglophone western regions

Cameroon – The Crisis Deepens

Since I began working on the translation below, a number of days ago, more information has emerged concerning the repression which the Cameroonian government in Yaounde has unleashed in the Anglophone provinces of Cameroon to crush the movement there for cultural-linguistic-political rights. As usual, the news from Cameroon has hardly made a dent in the mainstream media here in the USA. Officially 17 people have been killed, hundreds wounded by the security forces (advised and armed largely by France). Unofficially, social activists claim that the number killed is between fifty and a hundred, with reports of many still being dragged from their homes, disappearing into custody. There are 300 U.S. Special Forces in the country, working, it is claimed, to counter incursions into Cameroon by Boko haram terrorists operations in the northern border region with Nigeria. Recently Cameroonian military at a base in Cameroon from which the US Special Forces work has been accused by Amnesty International of torturing hundreds of captures members of Boko haram.   It is not clear what role these American military are playing to support the Yaounde government in the Anglophone uprising; their involvement has yet to be confirmed, although there are rumors that they are involved too)

Cameroon – French Hypocrisy Renewed

by Odile Tobner.

(Note this commentary appeared at the website of “Survie” – a French-based organization that monitors the machinations of France in Africa. Odile Tobner is the organization’s president. It can be reached at Below is my own personal translation into English. For the original French text, click here. For more background, click here)

The actual death toll will probably never be known as a consequence of the violent repression and deaths of scores of Anglophone protesters in Cameroon. It continues to mount. Rather than show alarm, French diplomacy blithely comments that “it is following the situation with interest.” This, despite the fact that France is intimately involved with Cameroon’s repressive apparatus. It has nearly been a year now since demonstrations broke out in Cameroon’s anglophone provinces in the west and northwest of the country bordering eastern Nigeria. Read more…

Ivory Coast’s Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – 2

September 30, 2017

Ivory Coast during the Civil War in the early 2000s

Ivory Coast’s Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – 2

The $ 300 plus million Catholic Church that Honcho Felix built in the Ivory Coast is described as the biggest Catholic church in the world (by some) with the fewest [worshippers] in the pews

His $ 11 plus a billion fortune- French dealings. Some model in Africa!

The plan to exploit so many, and then build a giant Catholic church.

How French..

Jim Hagood

Houphouët-Boigny – France’s Key Man in West Africa

Although he is dead and gone now for 24 years, the spirit of Félix Houphouët-Boigny (pronounced hoofoo bowanyee) lives on in the Ivory Coast….malheureusement! – as the French would say. At his death in 1993 he had acquired an estimated net worth of somewhere between $7 and $11 billion, much of it from the profits skimmed off from the country’s lucrative (for him anyway) raw cocoa bean industry. Cocoa beans are the main export product of Ivory Coast and dominate the country’s economy, referred to as “l’or brun” – “brown gold” in french. The owner of seventeen villas in Europe, at the time of his death Houphouët-Boigny was considered by some sources to have been the largest property owner in Paris, while the country as a whole has been mired in poverty.

Although Houphouët-Boigny started out his career as an anti-colonial nationalist – in fact he was the leader of the cocoa producers’ union for a while and one of the founders of the Rassemblement démocratique africain (RDA) an assemblage of anti-colonial African radicals – by the early 1950s he had, for all practical purposes switched allegiances. But then it was most useful to have a political turncoat who earned his spurs early on in a radical social movement for then France could cover its continued racist and exploitative policies in Africa under the cover of “moderate” African nationalism, which was by the way, neither moderate nor particularly nationalist at its heart. Read more…

Ivory Coast’s Cocoa – A Blessing and a Curse – 1

September 27, 2017

Cocoa beans piling up at Soubre, railroad transit point north of Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire)

It’s called “Belgian or Swiss” (or French or Dutch) chocolate, but in fact there is no such thing. The main ingredient in chocolate, cocoa beans, does not grow in Belgium, Switzerland, France or Italy and never has. all these countries have ever done is add sugar and a few other ingredients, to make it more palatable to European and North American tastes.  It would be more accurate to refer to the stuff as Ghanaian, Ivory Coastal or Cameroonian Chocolate. Originally a equatorial Latin American product, today it grows largely in West Africa, East Asia and a bit in Mexico and Central America.

“It’s white people who eat chocolate, not us” commented a cocoa farmer from the Ivory Coast.

Read more…

LETTER TO MY FRIEND … a poem by Phil Woods.

August 28, 2017

Aseel Abu Oun, 8 years old, run over by an Israeli settler in Foroush Beit Dajan village, near Nablus, West Bank, Palestine.


“Those who do not advocate a ‘solution’ of the Palestinian problem through dispersion and expulsion promise the native inhabitants a grim future in their ancient homeland . . .. ‘when we have settled the land, all that the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like roaches in a bottle.’”*


Suffering does not automatically

make a people noble, nor

automatically make them Just.


Imagine a Scale. On it

we will determine:

Who has suffered more?

A Peaceful world cannot be

made this way.


Do I recognize the extraordinary

suffering of the Jewish people?

It is inescapable. And every time

I learn more—the pogroms—

it’s always worse than I imagined.


Out of what ashes & pain

can we build justice?

1919, in the same building

in London what do the still

Victorian Brits do? Read more…

Denver City Council “Swallows the Kool Aid” – It Approves a $1.8 Billion Public-Private Partnership Agreement at Denver International Airport With Ferrovial, S. A. – Part Two

August 24, 2017

For decades the failures of water, energy, rail and health privatisations have made clear across the globe that those who promote privatisation offer false promises. Elections have been fought and won on promises to keep public services in public hands. In sectors like health, education, water, energy and transport, community attitudes strongly support public provision.

Rosa Pavanelli General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI)

The Proposed “Office of Public-Private Partnerships” – A Bad Idea For Denver. 

An article in The Denver Possupported the recent agreement between the Denver International Airport (DIA) and the leveraged Spanish firm Ferrovial that was approved by a 10-2 vote on August 14, 2017 (at 1 am – so it was, technically August 15). The same article announced that there would be more agreements like it, public-private-partnership agreements, on PPPs or “P3s,” as they are called. Unless there is public pressure to the contrary, The Post is probably right. Unfortunately.

The DIA – Ferrovial contract is a classic public-private-partnership”. Another piece in The Denverite a few days later elaborated on the city’s plans to do just that. In fact, the city wants formalize P3s, to create an “Office of Public-Private Partnerships” “to vet and coordinate such projects.” The article mentions the National Western Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as two likely candidates “in the near future.” Read more…

Hemingway and Gellhorn and Uncle Ira – Ira Magazine

August 22, 2017

Ira Magazine, 1943. We (my sisters and I) were told that in the late 1930s in order to “Americanize” the family name, Magaziner, that the family had a long discussion that lasted several years, after which, it was resolved to make a great change, to drop the “r” in Magaziner and to exchange that for “Magazine.” This they did.

Hemingway and Gellhorn.

It’s a film about the turbulent, yet professionally productive marriage between Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who unceremoniously dumped him after a brief relationship. A close friend and skilled local poet, Phil Woods, loaned it to me. As is well-known, Hemingway became an American literary icon. Other than in journalistic and peace circles, Gellhorn’s contribution has dissolved to obscurity despite the fact that she was one of the finest war correspondents of the twentieth century. The film, panned by many critics, but which I thoroughly enjoyed, knocks Hemingway down more than a few deserved notches – perhaps not so much his writing as the reckless way he lived his life – and resurrects Gellhorn, deservedly so.

After seeing the film, it was high time to read Gellhorn. Plenty of her stuff is available. I chose a little volume: Martha Gellhorn The Face of War – a series of short 5-20 page sketches that start with the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to the 1980s Central American wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. A keen observer, fearless – or so it seemed – she gives as human a face to war as anyone I have ever read. Her writing is crisp, clear and to a great degree without illusions. A pleasure to read, even if the subject matter is completely depressing, and it is. Read more…