A Wondrous Whooping Crane Sighting

For most of my birding life if you wanted to see a Whooping Crane (and of course add it to your Life List) you had to make a pilgrimage down to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. In the mid 1980s, I did indeed make the trip along the Texas coast to Rockport to see the bird. From there, I took a boat trip that took us as close as we dared to a feeding adult crane. It was definitely quite a sight, but it was not like a typical life lister where the "thrill of the chase" comes into play. But I knew this was the only way for me to see the bird so I accepted things as they were.

Fast forward about two decades and much like the tumbling down of the Berlin Wall, the seemingly unchangeable has changed. Thanks to the folks at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin it is now possible to see a Whooping Crane in the wild at some place other than Aransas. I was fortunate to have this experience in August, 2006.

It all started with a post on the Wisconsin BirdNet listserv that a Whooping Crane had been sighted at a pond on Hyslop Road just outside of Waunakee, Wisconsin. Subsequent posts described the regularity of the crane's visits to the pond. One post said the bird was always there around 1700 hours (evidently a former military man). I live about 12-15 miles away from this location so it was a total no brainer to head over there one fine summer afternoon. When I arrived, there were four other people staring intently in the direction of the pond. It was pretty warm - I remember the asphalt road was a bit sticky under my feet as I approached the group. I was just about to ask if anyone had seen the crane when lo and behold there it was - right out in the open in all its glory. It was feeding with a flock of about 25 Sandhill Cranes, which in and of itself was a beautiful thing to behold. Nobody said a word as the five of us stood there agog at the sight before us. It felt surreal to me to be seeing this bird like this in Wisconsin. It definitely ranks as one of my great thrills in birding.

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Whooping Crane Parents with Twin Chicks at Wintering Grounds
Klaus Nigge
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A Whooping Crane Female Offers An Insect To Its Hatchling
Klaus Nigge
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A Calling Whooping Crane ...
Klaus Nigge
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Whooping Crane (Grus Amer...
Arthur Morris
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Comments

  1. Sounds exciting! Depends on your definition of "in the wild," of course....
    Keep birding!
    r

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  2. I was leading a trip for the Connecticut Audubon Society in 2006 to the Platte River in Nebraska. We spent four very cold days searching for Whooping Cranes and other Great Plains species. On one of our last days, we were watching all of the Sandhill Cranes fly back to the Platte River to roost at sunset. I was carefully watching the flocks of cranes flying toward the river when all of a sudden there appeared a large, white crane. Being the first to spot it, I started screaming at the top of my lungs "WHOOPING CRANE! WHOOPING CRANE!!" Everyone on the trip got a look at the bird as it flew by. It landed in the river, and was visible from one of the bridges crossing the river. Everyone on the trip got a chance to see the bird through spotting scopes. After about ten minutes the bird disappeared in the mass of Sandhill Cranes that were descending upon the river. I'll never forget that experience.

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