Scientists in Ellinwood conducting research
By Karen La Pierre
Scientists from across the nation are conducting research on grassland birds, insects and grazing on CRP land while staying in Ellinwood. It is a joint project between Wichita State University, Emporia State University, Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism and the USDA.
“It requires a lot of people to find bird nests on that many fields,” said Heather Kraus, crew leader and graduate student. She is working on her thesis, which is on nest success and conditions for birds on CRP land.
There are other groups working across Kansas with 36 sites in central Kansas.
Those staying in Ellinwood are Kristina Washer, Bedford, Mass.; Mikaela Kropp, Northbrook, Ill.; Heather Kraus, Emporia, Kan.; Breanna Wagner, Steward, Minn.; Gabriel Deutschman-Ruiz, Cleveland, Ohio; Shourjya Majumder, Suffern, New York; Trey Hendrix, Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Spencer Crawford, Glen Rock, New Jersey.
Wagner said she had she had worked in Minnesota and North Dakota and wanted to travel to another state to see what it was like to work here. Another said they had never driven on a dirt road so it was interesting to drive on the country roads and seeing the dust clouds blow up.
The group has found some rewards while working. Kansas sunrises are beautiful, and the group has enjoyed the wide variety of birds in the area, including eastern meadowlarks, plentiful here but endangered in other parts of the country.
“There’s a lot of really good birding around here,” said one scientist. “There’s a lot of cool natural areas nearby. We’ve been visiting Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms on our days off.
“We’ve been enjoying that.”
Avid birders keep a list of birds that they have seen, called “lifers”. Here, they’ve been able to add to their lists. Central Kansas is a transitional zone for eastern and western grassland birds and has a great variety of birds.
They have seen for the first time burrowing owls, scissortail flycatchers, and western meadowlarks.
When work starts at 6 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m., the days are long and hard in the Kansas heat, humidity and wind, but have been rewarding for these eight scientist working towards advanced degrees in biology or conservation. This career field requires at least one year of field work.
While out in the field, fighting ticks, chiggers and mosquitos, the workers drag a rope 20 meters a part. Two others walk behind to see if they can startle birds into flight.
“I never expected chiggers in the grassland or the prairie or grasslands,” Wagner said. “We always came across them in beaches or lakefronts up in Minnesota.”
Kraus is working on her thesis and is a student at ESU. She and other staff will submit a written report on the findings of this study.
The group began work in late May and will continue until late July. After this project, the group will disperse across the world. One will go to Australia, another to Michigan and Tucson.