Date: 9/10/17 4:55 pm
From: Tom SHANE <tom.shane...>
Subject: Subject: Playa
Mr. Burkepile and Kansas birders, I have thought about your question several times in recent decades, but did not follow-up on the topic. The first playa where I remember watching birds was just northwest of the town of Plains in western Meade County on July 4th, 1964. There was a good variety of birds there, including a male Cinnamon Teal along with Yellow-headed Blackbirds which I recorded in my field notes. I recorded the place as a marsh. When Sara, a Scott County native, and I were first married she, along with her father, uncle and brothers just called them ponds. We both call them playas now, but cannot give you a date of the transition.

The following is only a scratch on the surface of the topic. I made a quick check of the publications in my library that could shed some light on the subject. The index for the Transaction of the Kansas Academy of Science (TKAS) covering the period 1872 through 1965, has no entries for playa. The run of publications including a thesis, directories and Birds in or of Kansas, including: Long 1935; Goodrich 1946; Tordoff 1956; Johnston 1960, 1964, & 1965; Rising 1974; Thompson and Ely 1989; do not mention playas in the opening sections of those publications. TEGOPSY (2011) Birds of Kansas mentions “ephemeral playas” once in the paragraph on natural lakes. Mosby & Lynn (1956) Water Birds Resident in Kansas in Summer, 1955. TKAS, does not list types of water features other than lakes & ponds. Zuvanich & McHenry (1964) Comparisons of Water Birds Observed in Kansas in 1955 and 1963. TKAS, mention water features such as: sewer lake, marsh, state & city lakes, reservoir, pond, slough, and surface water. It is apparent that they called playas, “surface water” by the locations mentioned. The first paper on birds and playa lakes in Kansas was most likely by Tom Flowers (1996) Classification and Occurrence of the Birds of the Playa Lakes of Meade County, Kansas. KOS Bull. 47(2): 21-28., <http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/bulletin/Vol47No2.pdf>.

Doc Sutton in his 1967 book, Oklahoma Birds, does not mention playa but apparently describes one nicely ------ “Webb Lake (near Hardesty, Texas County), an impressive body of water when there has been plenty of rain, but dry as a bone in periods of severe drought.” Baumgartner & Baumgartner (1992) Oklahoma Bird Life, has a photo of and labels the picture a Playa Lake, north of Boise City.

I checked the book by Ken Seyffert (2001) Birds of the Texas Panhandle, where he dedicates half a page to the subject of playas scattered across the Texas Panhandle. He also cites older publications such as Simpson & Bolen (1981) Wildlife Assessment of Playa Lakes., US Bureau of Reclamation SW region Amarillo, Texas. In an older book mentioning playa by Oberholser (1974) Bird Life of Texas, he shows a photo of Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge with the opening of the caption reading: “Sink-type-Lake --- or Playa --- on Panhandle.” I called Ken yesterday morning and asked him when the word playa was first mentioned in the Texas Panhandle literature. He was excited and thought that was a fabulous question. He stated that birders and others were using the word playa regularly when he first started bird watching at Amarillo in 1963. James Stevenson (1942) Birds of the Central Panhandle of Texas, Condor 44: 108-115; discusses the temporary lakes, but calls them “wet-weather” lakes. Arthur Hawkins (1945) Bird Life in the Texas Panhandle, The Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 18: 110-150; calls them playa lakes, and provides a nice brief discussion of bird groups to be expected at various water levels along with types of vegetation and the percent land coverage of the playas.

The Texas Panhandle is often associated with southwestern offices of various government agencies and the word playa was probably used more frequently than those regional agencies Kansas was associated with. All but one university in Kansas are located far from the playa region in Kansas. Until you live in the middle of the playas of western Kansas, one does not appreciate the importance of them, especially to migrating birds. So the Kansas ornithology professors did not research or write anything about them. Dr Ely had students working on playa lakes, but that will have to be researched at another time as far as the use of the word playa in their theses. I have a copy of the thesis by Davis, but cannot find it. That compared to the universities and colleges situated in the middle of the playa zones of the Texas Panhandle. Texas Tech University has been a regional leader on the subject for a long time now. The highly visible PLJV, which started in 1988, has probably done more than any other factor in converting Kansas people and birders to using the word playa.

For those in the need, you can find complete references on the ones I left very short, in: Thompson, Ely, Gress, Otte, Patti, Seibel, & Young (2011) Birds of Kansas, or in my book; Shane (2012) History of Ornithology - - - in Kansas <http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/zeabook/12/>

So, Mr. Burkepile, please let us know what you find out from the old-timers up around Hoxie on what they call playa lakes, and thanks for bringing up the subject.
Tom Shane
Garden City

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