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As the afternoon wind sent ripples across the water, Karl Grover raised his binoculars and scanned the vast marsh for any sign of ducklings.

After a few moments, the grim-faced wildlife manager put the glasses down in disgust. Swimming in the shallows, were mature blue-winged teal, mallards and gadwalls, but few young.

"There's no young that I can see, except that one brood of three or four," said Grover, manager of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.

The drought of 1988, is taking its toll at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend, Kan. The Bottoms, a natural 19,900-acre marsh, is a nesting and migrational haven for hundreds of bird species.

Since the drought reached the Bottoms, one of North America's most crucial migratory marshes for shore birds, there have been fewer chicks hatched, massive fish kills and a reduction in the number of birds.

"Not many people really look at wildlife and fish during a drought," said Robert Jacobsen, acting director of the Denver region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They just look at the human misery. But wildlife's having a very hard time, too."

Already the drought is blamed for:

_ A 50 percent drop in the U.S. duck population. Federal officials have eliminated some early duck hunting seasons this fall.

_ A 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in the trout population in north-central Wisconsin streams and a comparable decline in the game fish in other Midwestern waters.

_ A 30 percent decrease in the Kansas prairie chicken population and a decrease in the populations of other upland game birds.

Until recently the drought was not a worry at the Bottoms, but this spring's heat and strong southerly winds have dried three ponds and left the other two seriously low. "We could just lose the entire marsh habitat," Grover said.

To help maintain marshy conditions, water from the Arkansas River is being diverted to the Bottoms. But the ponds still are dropping faster than they can be filled.

The lack of water already has caused a serious reduction in the number of ducks nesting in the prairie grasses along the marsh.

"Last year, we'd see a half-dozen nests every day, with six or seven young in each," Grover said. "This spring, we've only seen two broods total, and the average number of young is only two or three chicks."

Once the young are born, the hens must lead them to the water within 12 hours to feed on insects. Because many birds nested before the waters receded, the chicks must travel as far as a half-mile to water. Thus, they stand a greater chance of being killed by foxes, snapping turtles, raccoons and coyotes.

Birds aren't the only wildlife hurting, officials said. Watering holes across the region are drying up, cutting down the populations of small mammals, such as cottontails, raccoons and opossums.

Recent rains brought scattered relief to parts of Kansas and Missouri, but conservation officials said it wasn't enough to aid the wildlife.

Said Megan Durham of the federal wildlife service, "We need two or three years of good rainfall and habitat before we really would get a significant recovery."