One of the interesting pieces of information is the number of species a playa lake supports. Keith McKnight of Ducks Unlimited and Luke Lewis of Mossy Oak Properties gave a talk at the symposium about incentives to enroll private landowners in playa lakes conservation. A portion of their information included the number of species supported. The species supported include 37 mammal species, more than 200 bird species, 13 amphibian species, 124 aquatic invertebrate species and more than 340 species of plants (Playa Lakes Joint Venture 2006). What an amazing number of plant and animal life these small water sources support. During winter migration, waterfowl can number between 1 and 3 million birds.
In thinking about winter migration, I'm reminded of a vivid picture of the number of birds seen during this time of year. We lived in Nebraska just off the Republican river for 2 years. One of the most memorable days was during winter migration of the Canada and snow geese, and the sandhill crane. They spend quite a bit of time on the Platte river just outside of Grand Island. We drove up one day to look around. Watching the sandhill crane do their "dance" was a hoot! They are so funny to watch as they are in the field. All of a sudden you will see one just jump up and start flapping his wings. They will continue this for a while and then go back to feeding. It really is quite a sight to see.
Along with seeing the grain fields being completely covered with crane and geese was the sound. When we rolled down the windows on the vehicle, the sound was tremendous. Geese were honking and the crane were "whistling". When you have several hundred in one small area - it can be very loud! In all my classes, I had never understood the descriptions of the winter migration, until that day. Then to see these birds blacken the sky as they take off in flight is a completely different sensation. It can be almost dizzying to watch. All the birds seem to take flight at the same time. From a distance, it looks like a cloud of smoke, but not drifting like smoke. It is very difficult to describe so you truly understand the phenomen.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned 2 men who presented a talk at the symposium. They had put together a program to try to provide incentives for private landowners to enroll in a conservation program for the playa lakes on their property. The primary incentive in this was the diversity this would provide to the landowner. The playa and surrounding buffer zone would provide income opportunities in the form of hunting, recreation, and bird watching/wildlife watching that had not been available prior to enrollment. The program had some interest but at this point did not generate participation like the 2 men had hoped. The program is a great idea but it is going to take some time to convince farmers and ranchers to take a piece of property out of production and put that land into one of these programs. This takes dollars out of their pockets when land is not producing - that is their income. However, if they can see a way to gain some benefit while helping the land and water source, they will be much more willing to listen.
Let's hope the idea continues to gain in popularity!