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ARANSAS IN THE FOG 


SOME OTHER WILD BIRD STORIES
Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
 
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
» No Barbeque this Summer 
 » Barn Swallow "Mama" 
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee 
 » Just Another Golden Eagle  
  » Four Birds in One Tree: 
A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» Narcissism or Territorial
Defense: Macho Cardinal
 
  
» Narcissism or Territorial
Defense: Macho Cardinal
 
  
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Galahs Playing Around and Around and Around ...  
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
  
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
 » Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
 
» A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
   
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
   
» What Are You Doing Here? Scissortail Flycatcher
» Hospital Halucinations 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 

My Experiences with Whooping Cranes

by Sally Blanchard
(Photos courtesy of the International Crane Foundation)

With the help of conservationists, the population of wild Whooping cranes has increased from a low of 21 known birds to over 260 birds in the original South Texas/Wood Buffalo Park, Alberta, Canada group.  With other flocks being established in New Mexico and Florida, there are about 400 Whooping cranes in the wild with another 135 or so in captivity. The tallest bird in North America, they are still one of our most endangered birds.  I have been lucky enough to have several experiences with them.  

My friend and best bird watching buddy, Susie and I traveled throughout areas of Kansas and Oklahoma to see birds. There were some wonderful places especially during migrations. My favorites were Lake Cheney just west of Wichita, Cheyenne Bottoms, and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge near Great Bend, the Chaplin Nature Center along the Arkansas River near Arkansas City, and the Oklahoma Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge. There was nothing quite like being in one of these places when a major thunderstorm came through. I have never seen clouds so high, so dark, and so fierce as I saw on the Kansas plains. A friend of mine once said that she liked Kansas because the sky was always all around you. Spring migration was often a combination of great bird watching and cumulonimbus mammatus clouds plodding though the sky like dark bruises; the kind of clouds that spawn tornadoes. 


My Backyard
    One of the most exciting Whopping Crane experiences was actually in my back yard one afternoon when I lived in Wichita. I lived near the Arkansas river (note: in Kansas it is pronounced R-Kansas not Arkansaw) so I often saw migrating birds following the river. I kept binoculars on my back porch so I ran and got them when I heard a small flock of Sandhill cranes flying over. I had seen Sandhill cranes on several occasions but still loved to look at them whenever I could. A minute or so after they passed over, another small group of birds flew over and the call seemed quite a bit different.  I was glad that I took the time to look at them because they weren’t Sandhills, they were whooping cranes. This was in the early 1980s when the Whooping cranes were still very rare.


One day a friend of Sue’s came birdwatching with us. She had never been bird watching before but thought it might be fun. At Lake Cheney, we saw several birds including several ducks and of course everything we saw was pretty much new to her “life list.” Then at the northwest part of the lake, we saw several Bald Eagles and got to see one swoop down, catch a fish, and take it up to a tree branch to eat it. A bit later in the day, we found a small group of Whooping Cranes on their way north.  This was the mid 1970s and Bald Eagles and Whooping Cranes were still pretty unusual birds to see. To me it was amazing for a person to go bird watching for the first time and see such rare birds.   

Aransas in the Fog
One of my most incredible Whooping Crane experiences was a trip to south Texas to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. A friend and I took the boat trip out to the marsh area where the almost 5 foot tall birds do their mating dances before they leave for Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada where they breed and raise their babies. Whooping cranes mate for life; although if a mate dies, they will form a new pair bond with another bird if possible. The boat stopped and we watched one pair for about 15 minutes. They were feeding and they didn't do their famous dancing, prancing and whooping calls. Even though that was a disappointment, it was still spectacular to see them. We saw a few more pairs but they too were not in the dancing mode. The boat went a bit farther into the marshy area and there was another pair. We watched them for a few minutes and then one of them started moving around and bowing and dancing. Then the bird leapt into the air with a loud whooping call and the ritual that has gone on for thousands of years started.  We were lucky to have seen this because as we continued to find more Whooping cranes, the fog rolled in and it was so dense that the boat moved at a snail's pace until it had to stop completely. We spent what seemed like an eternity just sitting in the water with the hope that the fog would clear so we could get back to the dock. The day didn't turn out to be very clear but my memories of the Whooper dance are very clear.


The International Crane Foundation
      Several years ago, I was in Wisconsin to give a parrot seminar and my hosts took me to Baraboo so that I could visit the International Crane Foundation. This was a special treat! I had watched a television show of the co-founder George Archibald dancing with cranes so I knew about the foundation and was excited to go there. I was lucky enough to have a special tour and see all of the cranes. I have a recollection or watching them feed a young whooping crane with a hand puppet. They do this so that the cranes won't imprint on people.

At that time the ICF had all 15 species of cranes. The ICF is not only working to increase populations of cranes through captive breeding, they also work to preserve the habitat that cranes need to survive in the wild. Twelve of the fifteen species of world cranes are in decline, three are stable and the Whooping crane population is increasing (but still endangered) thanks to conservation efforts.
» Black-crowned Crane - Africa
» Black-necked Crane - Central Asia
» Blue Crane - Southern Africa
» Brolga Crane - Australia
» Demoiselle Crane - 6 populations Europe, Asia, India, and Africa
» Eurasian Crane - populations in Asia, India and Africa
» Grey Crowned Crane - Africa
» Hooded Crane - North-eastern Asia
» Red-crowned Crane - East Asia, Korean Peninsula, Japan
» Sandhill Crane - North America
» Sarus Crane - India, Indochina, Australia
» Siberian Crane - Siberia, Northern Russia
» Wattled Crane - Sub-saharan Africa
» White-naped Crane - Northeastern Mongolia, China, Southeastern Russia
» Whooping Crane - North America

For more information about the cranes of the world and their status in the wild, go to:
International Crane Foundation
E-11376 Shady Lane Rd. P.O. Box 447
Baraboo, WI 53913 USA
Phone: 608.356.9462

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