There are several thousand Sandhill Cranes feeding in the fields north of Quivira Refuge. They have been there all winter. That in itself is unusual. Even more strange is the single juvenile Whooping Crane that has wintered over in our area and stays with that flock of Sandhills. They normally migrate to Rockport and Port Aransas in Texas. We went down there a few years ago and got beautiful pictures of those Whoopers in the estuary and tidal water area of the coast. They have boat tours that take you very close to the birds for photography.
I remember contemplating the cost of protecting that flock of Cranes. Their population got so small that they were forced to inbreed which weakens their genetic line and makes them vulnerable to a lot of things. When I see them at the Bottoms or Quivira I am reassured that the effort and money were worth it. It won’t be long before they start coming back through our area on the way to their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park located in the Northwest Territories. That park is only about a thousand acres. That’s not a lot of room. There is another flock in Florida that is “non-migratory.” It was established to provide more cranes to populate the flock, but it hasn’t been too successful. The cranes lay an average of 2 eggs and both parents incubate the eggs for about a month. One chick usually survives, so the increase in numbers is slow. They are slow to mature — they usually produce their first fertile eggs between 4 and 7 years of age. They tend to mate for life.
This weather seems odd to me. I can’t seem to recall freezing temperatures so persistent and refusing to quit. I probably said the same thing last year. I’ve only been comfortable walking outside less than 10 occasions. Roy walks outside most of the time—he’s tougher than me. I am grateful every day that we have the Activity Center with the walking track and those wonderful machines. Count our blessings!
There have also been some swans on the Wildlife Drive at Quivira. It’s worth the trip to see them. There are about 10 birds. Lots of Snow Geese are still around and the ducks are starting to migrate back north. The ducks are spectacular — Red Heads, Canvasbacks, Mergansers, Pintails, GoldenEye, Scaup, Bufflehead, Gadwall, Wigeon—it is a great time to take your bird book and bone up on some of the less common birds. They are really pretty right now, hunting season is closed and they are not as nervous.
Stay warm, dress for the weather, and go see the ducks and cranes. Migration is starting. Don’t miss it!
Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.