The fall migration is upon us! Teal season was a bit sparse since not very many showed up. It was still warm up north, and the migration hadn’t really started. It is cooling down now, so the birds will be coming through with enthusiasm in short order.
I am already seeing Franklin Gulls, Forester Terns, Yellowlegs and Snipe. Big duck season is approaching, and the stars of the migration for a lot of us are the Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. We already have Sandhill Cranes sighted close to the Bottoms. They usually appear before the Whooping Cranes show up.
Karl and Charlie keep meticulous records on the arrival of many species of birds and have amazing information. The earliest arrival of a Sandhill was Sept. 9, 2011. The earliest Whooper was Oct. 7, 2000. They have records all the way back to the 1970’s.
As many of you know, hunting ceases if Whooping Cranes are in the marsh. It usually lasts only for a couple of days until they move on toward the wintering grounds around Rockport Texas. In 1994, two birds stayed around for almost a month in October/November and duck season was almost eliminated. It is absolutely illegal to disturb the Whooping Cranes. The game wardens monitor and protect these birds very diligently. It requires a long lens to get pictures in our marsh. If you want closer and better pictures, go to Rockport. They have “Crane Tours” conducted by people trained in the best methods of protection and who are able to get closer to the birds without disturbing them. In 1941, there were about 20 Whooping Cranes in existence. Now there are over 600 including 160 in captivity. A separate group winters on the west Coast of Florida. They got there by following some ultra-light aircraft who guided them from the breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park to Florida. They are tough birds- one that was banded in 1977 lived 28 years.
We are more than fortunate to be able to see these great birds in our own back yard. As you know, the Tribune is diligent in announcing the presence of these birds. People travel here from lots of places to get a glimpse. KWEC is terrific about monitoring and locating the birds—and can provide information and possibly tours to see them.
Not all big birds with black tips on their wings are Whooping Cranes. We have lots of pelicans that glide effortlessly across the sky in precise formations that are mesmerizing. The Whoopers have long necks and a squawky call similar to Sandhill Cranes. To stand in our marsh and watch these elegant birds pass through or land for a while is one of the most intimate and sincere gifts of our lives in this place. It takes my breath.