It is "Crane Season" in Kansas!! We have the sandhill cranes and whooping cranes both migrating through Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira Refuge. Sandhills are congregated in large numbers, and the whoopers give us a quick view of very special birds in the process (we hope) of re-establishing available population. Lots of money has been spent in support of the Whooping Cranes. One of the major concerns about their survival is the small number of birds and the limited DNA availability for the successful breeding and survival of the species. Inbreeding in a species has generally led to a weaker offspring, and that is a concern for their still-precarious survival.
Sandhill cranes are hunted for their excellent meat and Kansas is one of several states that has a season. Be sure and have your identification documentation-- confusing a Sandhill with a Whooper can be very expensive and embarrassing-- not to mention the loss of a very protected bird. It would probably be better to shoot a Bald Eagle than a Whooping Crane-- although both are BAD, and it creates a very tedious and long day for the game warden.
The whoopers are headed to Texas for their winter retreat. They go to Aransas Pass and Rockport, Texas where they spend time in the estuaries dining on blue crabs as a staple in their diet. There has recently been a shortage of blue crabs which is also a threat to the whooping cranes. The migration through Kansas is a very special time and a great opportunity to see these beautiful birds. The local newspapers will have locations and numbers so that the birds can be seen. Be sure and keep a safe distance from the birds so they are not disturbed-- but it is a special moment when these elegant birds spend some time with us.
Both species provide a tremendous photographic opportunity. I have been able to get decent images of both species here in Kansas. I went to Rockport and Aransas Pass last year and got some good pictures in that location. The best area to get sandhill crane pictures is a Bosque Del Apache Refuge in New Mexico. November and Decdember are the best times-- around the first of December is prime. They have pools where the birds are only 20-30 yards from the shore, so excellent images are available. They also have a large population of snow geese on that refuge. Dan Soeken and I went there
a few years ago and that was when my interest in wildlife photography was born. It was pure magic to get the pictures of those elegant birds-- I only had a "point and shoot", but even those pictures were better than any I had ever taken. Steve Traudt from Grand Junction Colo. taught that course and the rest is history. Now that I have some extra time on my hands-- maybe I will
get some pictures that will be even better.
Eric and I are out and about and excited every day to see these birds. We even had the amazing opportunity to see them this past Wednesday in the Bottoms. We hope they continue to thrive and bless us with their presence. Go see them at every opportunity-- it is a gift.