CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A Playa Field Day with a focus on grassland birds will be Tuesday, November 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting in Canyon, and continuing with a field trip. Landowners, Master Naturalists, educators, and the interested public are invited to attend.
The field day will feature a presentation on grassland birds, a field tour with the opportunity to view waterfowl on selected playas, and a visit to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Umbarger. There will also be a presentation of general information about playa ecosystems, as well as playa restoration programs.
Activities will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Randall County AgriLife Extension Building Classroom, located at 200 Brown Road on the west edge of Canyon, on the south side of US Highway 60, with coffee and refreshments, and an overview of the day.
An opening presentation by Don Kahl, TPWD Region 1 Migratory Game Bird Specialist, will cover general information on playas and restoration possibilities through the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative.
Jaime Allen, Assistant Manager of the High Plains National Wildlife Refuge Complex that includes Muleshoe, Grulla, and Buffalo Lake, will give “An Overview of Grassland Birds” at 10:10 a.m. Her presentation will acquaint the audience with 8-10 bird species that utilize grassland habitat around playa uplands and shortgrass prairies, both seasonally and year-round.
The Audubon society’s North American Grasslands and Birds Report for 2019 states that fewer than 40 percent of the 550 million acres of historical grasslands that once stretched from Alberta to Mexico remain today. Most of these grassland acres were converted to cropland, others to energy development or other uses. As these tallgrass, mixed grass, shortgrass prairies, and desert grasslands are lost, so are the wildlife that depend on them.
Not surprisingly, grassland species are among the most imperiled group of birds in the United States. Total populations have declined more than 40 percent since 1966, and some species, like the lesser prairie chicken, hover at the brink of extinction. Bison, pronghorns, and monarch butterflies are only a few examples of other wildlife that face a diminished future if remaining grasslands disappear or degrade. Human health and livelihoods are also entwined with the fate of grasslands. Pollinating insects thrive in fields of wildflowers and native grasses, while the deep roots of native plants trapped nutrients and water—and keep prairies resilient through natural cycles of drought, fire, grazing, and storms.
At 10:45 a.m. a field tour will visit nearby playas south and west of Canyon that may hold waterfowl that can be viewed from the roadside. By 11:45a.m., the tour will arrive at the Camping Area at Buffalo Lake NWR, where the group will reconvene in the Education Room for a sandwich lunch and a presentation about the history and impact of Buffalo Lake.
Playas are shallow, rain-fed wetlands throughout the Great Plains. When containing surface water, playas provide crucial habitat for many wildlife that depend on water to survive. When dry, playas also support several other Great Plains wildlife species because they are often the only natural lands in a region dominated by agricultural production. Playas also recharge water to the underlying aquifer, filter nutrients and chemicals from the surrounding watershed, and add recreational value to the region.
The field day is sponsored by Ogallala Commons and its partners, the High Plains Water District, the Dixon Water Foundation, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Those attending are asked to wear clothing, footwear, and a hat suitable for the field tours. There is no charge for the event, though a $10 donation for lunch is appreciated.