Saturday, the 19th of May, 2007, began with overcast skies that became sunny as the 28 people who attended the Comanche County Nature Tour visited several sites to see flowers and listen to birds. Everyone gathered at the cafeteria in South Central High School at 8:30 in the morning. Refreshments of cinnamon rolls (baked by Jane Deewall), coffee, orange juice, and fruits were served. Each person received a favor bag that contained various items from local businesses and local and regional brochures. During this time, a Power Point presentation showed photographs of flowers taken by Phyllis Scherich.
The group then heard Stan Roth, noted naturalist, tell about the Gypsum/Red Hills and his adventures therein. In 1961, he and some students spent three weeks in western Barber County and southeastern Comanche County. They were looking for sites that would be interesting to students studying nature. He met Virgil Scherich during this time, and Virgil was greatly amused at a schoolteacher bringing kids from eastern Kansas out to the sparsely populated area. It was during this and subsequent trips that Stan began his cave bat studies.
The Geological age of the Red Hills is similar to that of the Flint Hills, with residue soil and rocks from 50 million years ago. Many minerals are involved, including calcium sulfate (gypsum) and selenium. The area of the Red Hills includes several counties along the southern border, including much of Barber, Clark, and Comanche, and some in Kiowa and Harper. The formation is referred to as the Blaine Formation, and has shale of different colors, sandstone, and gypsum. The Blaine Formation continues south into Oklahoma and Texas.
Sandstone and gypsum are fairly erosion resistant. The soil in between is not. Geologists have a term, "karst", for a region where soil under rocks erodes. This erosion results in many sink holes and caves. Gypsum caves are not very stable or very large. There are about 200 sites in the Gyp Hills, and there have been changes in them since the 1970s.
Bear Creek running under the Natural Bridge, 1960, Barber County, Kansas
Photo by Stan Roth, courtesy of the Kansas Geological Society.
Some interesting places in the Red Hills area have resulted from these attributes. One is Swartz Canyon in the southeast part of the county, noticed in the 1930s. Natural Bridge in the Sun City area, on the Ted Alexander Ranch is another; it collapsed in October of 1962. Big Basin in Clark County is the biggest basin in Kansas. Jacobís Well is located there, and in nearby Meade County there are several large playas.
The Gyp Mine, in the Sun City area, is important to bats, as it is a maternity site. During the birthing period, the female bats are all together, and the male bats go somewhere. By late June, the babies begin flying.
The caves in this region have bats that are not found any other place in Kansas. Stan said a friend of his did a study as a PhD. Project, and later became an international authority on bats. A series of studies begun in the 1960s has resulted in a lot of information about bats, insects, plants, etc.
The region is ecologically dominated by mid-grass prairie. It was noted that in addition to Stan, Dr. Robert Nicholson, a prairie ecologist, and Tom Flowers, a renowned naturalist would be helping in the tour. Dr. Nicholson has revised Pasture and Range Plants, for the second edition. Phillips Petroleum Company originally produced it in 1963, and there were eleven printings through 2001. Tom Flowers writes a column in the Dodge City Globe, and has authored a book, Birds of Meade County.
Other persons of expertise present were Joyce Davis, an avid and extremely well-informed birder, Dr. Ely, a retired biology professor from FHSU, who is doing research on the moths of Kansas, and Mike Haddock, an agricultural librarian and science libraries web coordinator at Kansas State University. Mike has authored a very popular and useful book, Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide. Additionally, he has created a wonderful website, Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses.
Lake Coldwater, aerial view on April 1, 1996. Source: TerraServer USA
Following Stanís lesson on the Red Hills, the group car-pooled to Lake Coldwater. The first area visited was the northwest shore of the lake. Purple poppy mallow, Indian hemp dogbane, Oldfield toadflax, catchweed bedstraw, and Englemannís daisy were among the 23 different plants observed there. Mike Haddock was present at all areas visited during the day, answering questions and photographing plants.
The second area was the Nature Trail south of the lake. Additional plants noted there included Western yarrow, Venusí looking glass, pokeberry, sow thistle, wavy thistle, and sandhill plum. One plant of interest was a thistle of very large proportions, later identified by Mike Haddock as a Scotch thistle, Onopordum acahthium. It is one of few thistles that have winged stems, and not widely distributed.
There was also an opportunity to see and hear birds. Joyce Davis of Dodge City helped to identify birds by sight and by song. A number of birds were identified including a scissor-tailed flycatcher, a wren, and a warbling vireo.
Returning to the cafeteria at the high school, people had box lunches prepared by the Timberwolf Cafe. Prizes were given for various reasons. The first one was for finding Juneís car key, lost earlier at the lake. Others were given for oldest person present, youngest, tallest shortest, closest birthday, and two for men who were man enough to go on a wildflower tour. Prizes consisted of potted wildflowers and a KNPS poster.
After a drive of about twenty miles, the group arrived at the Kliesen Ranch for the first stop of the afternoon. Gary Kliesen joined the group on his four-wheeler at this point, and Dee Scherich arrived a little later. It was amazing to locate over 15 plants and flowers in the sandy area that was dominated by sand sage. Twistflower plants, spiderwort, lazy daisies, small flowered gaura, plains larkspur, yucca, cutleaf evening primrose, Carolina puccoon, and butterfly milkweed were some of the flagged plants. Additional unflagged plants noted were dayflowers and white polygala.
At this first stop, the group had a "lizard lesson" in strict teacherly fashion when Stan Roth captured a mature prairie lizard (Sceloporus unduoatus) and a member of one of the more common families in the U.S.: the rough-scaled lizards. It has brown and creamy stripes. This particular one was a gravid female; Stan said that the female digs a hole in the sand for a place to lay her eggs. It is unable to voluntarily disjoint its tail; that characteristic belongs to the skink family of lizards, and they can not only disjoint their tail, but also regrow it multiple times. The second stop was a hilly area closer to June and Garyís residence. There were numerous cobea penstemons and cat-claw sensitive briars. There were many seeded plants of the blue funnel lily, too. "The hills were alive with flowers", to paraphrase a lovely tune from a popular musical. Lemon paintbrush, downy paintbrush, low fleabane, scarlet globe mallow, blue wild indigo, breadroot scurfpea, Stemless hymenoxys, Lamberts crazyweed, a vast area of a yellow variety of Berlindiereís flax, and ratany are only a few of the 36 plants flagged in this area.
In the area of the house itself, woolly loco, wild onion, gaillardia, false dandelion, rock pink fame flower, goatsbeard, Dakota verbena, yarrow, old plainsman, big bluestem, little bluestem, and plains larkspur were a few of the plants that had been flagged.
The Saturday tour concluded in the Kliesen home with refreshments of cookies and lemonade. On Sunday, a small group gathered at the site of a prairie chicken lek. Nine male prairie chickens and one female were observed, but no displays. On their way home, some of the group saw a couple of male turkeys showing off for a couple of females.
The Coldwater Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Native Plant Society sponsored this tour. June Kliesen was chairperson of the committee, Kin Pitzer was a member from the Chamber of Commerce; other members were Phyllis Scherich and Evelyn Reed. Clara Louthan constructed the favor bags, Johnita Stalcup handled the registrations, and Phyllis Sherman helped people check in at the registration table. Many other persons, businesses, and entities provided helpful support.
May 19, Guided Tours of native plants, wildflowers, & Birds
8:30 a.m. - Meet at High School, 600 N. Leavenworth, Coldwater, Kansas.
Morning Tour: Lake Coldwater & Coldwater Area
Lunch at High School
Afternoon Tour: Two ranches in Red/Gyp Hills area
Registration Fee: $10.00 includes morning rolls & coffee, and lunch
Hosted by Coldwater Chamber of Commerce & Kansas Native Plant Society
(Donít forget binoculars, sunscreen, and appropriate shoes.)
May 20, MORNING VIEWING OF PRAIRIE CHICKEN LEK
Registration: Johnita Stalcup Printable Registration Form
For additional Info: June Kliesen by phone 620-738-4340 or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you plan to arrive on Friday or stay over through Sunday -- or both! -- there are several choices of lodging. These include the newly remodeled and redecorated Timberwolf Inn (620-582-2033) and the Comanche Motel (620-582-2104) in Coldwater. The Mule Creek Hideaway B&B (620-738-4331) is in Wilmore.
Camping is available at Lake Coldwater, contact the Coldwater City Office (620-582-2940).
A limited amount of transportation will be available. If you have a
choice bring your "back roads vehicle". We will also be using our
"talkies" to communicate between vehicles - if you have a Motorola or
compatible one - you may want to check your batteries and bring it.
Kansas Native Plant Society - Events Check this page for upcoming events and tour announcements.
Field checklists for ALL Kansas counties [including Comanche and Barber] are available on the Kansas Ornithological Society website. Each checklist includes ONLY the species that have been confirmed in each county.
Field Checklist: Comanche County, Kansas (Pdf file)
Field Checklist: Barber County, Kansas (Pdf file)
These lists were compiled and are regularly updated by Chuck Otte of Junction City and can be accessed from the main Kansas Ornithological Society website.
You can follow online conversations about birding in Kansas at the following site:
-- Scott Seltman, Nekoma, KS 67559, in an email to Phyllis Scherich & Jerry Ferrin, 24 April 2005.
Comanche Pool Area 2005 Bird & Nature Tour: Buds, Birds, and Buffalo - A report by Evelyn Reed.
Wildflowers of Comanche County, photos by Phyllis Scherich and Bobbi Huck.
Evansville: Headquarters of the Comanche Pool, by Phyllis Scherich.
History of the Comanche Pool, by Mary Einsel.
This RootsWeb website is being created by Jerry Ferrin with the able assistance of many Contributors. Your comments, suggestions and contributions of historical information and photographs to this site are welcome. Please sign the Guest Book. This page was created 16 March 2007 and was last updated 1 June 2007.