So how’s everyone doing out there today? Will it make you feel better if I tell you this is the last post in the first International Crane Foundation series? Although if you are a birder you might be saddened thinking this might be the last of the bird posts for awhile. If you are in the latter, no worries. The Denver trip produced at least 6 new checks on the bird list and thinking at this moment of jumping to the back of the queue and processing them so I can claim the full check. I feel a little embarrassed when I tell people there are only 70 some birds on my life list – keep in mind that means photographed and blogged on so far. Hoping to be over a hundred by the end of the year. A few more trips like Denver’s and I’ll be in good shape.
Truth be told this post is somewhat bittersweet. I do like Cranes (as noted by my brother Ron) so knowing this is the last of the First Series is a little sad. On the sweet side, I purposely saved the best for last – this bird is in the top echelon of my favorite birds.
The title should have given it away, but this is indeed a Whooping Crane. One of two Linda and I spent a healthy amount of time photographing on our first trip to the International Crane Foundation. Unlike the previous post that talked about the issues with fences, these Whoopers live in the nicest habitat they have complete with natural enclosures and a pond that comes up right alongside the viewing area. There is also elevated bench seating for visitors to sit back, relax in the shade and listen to the ranger educate them on this wonderful bird.
We are generally there early in the season giving us the entire area to ourselves. No problem setting up the tripod wherever we want, right up to the waters’ edge. A fantastic experience for any bird photographer – even ones that claim they are not bird photographers ….like my wife who on the contrary has been upping the competition as of late. Every time we have been there, we’ve been able to witness two of the resident Whooping Cranes. I can’t say for sure it has been the same couple all those years, but they are pretty oblivious to our presence and mirror slaps. Calm birds and nice settings – what more can you ask for (well, if you insist, could have used some overcast that day to help cut down on the harshness of the sun).
Hit the jump to see and read more about the Whooping Crane!
The Whooping Crane is the true success story of the International Crane Foundation. In the other Crane posts, I pointed out the various populations that generally ran in the 10’s of thousands. The following stat from ICF’s website is a stunner: The Whooping Crane is recovering from a low of only 21 birds in the wild in the 1940s – let me emphasize that – TWENTY ONE birds. Today they range close to 600. Hats off to this accomplishment and proud to say as members we have helped support this cause. Still dangerously low in my opinion but the growth slope is increased as the population expands. Must have been pretty touch in go there during the 40’s. I don’t want to spoil the suspense of the intriguing story of how they accomplish this because I think you should treat yourself and physically head to the ICF and learn about it there. I will say it does involve humans dressing in Whooping Crane costumes and interacting with the chicks and young adults in an effort to mimic Crane parents.
Once properly reared they are then guided down to Florida via an ultralight to begin their hopefully successful life with a wild flock. From that flight imprint and mingling with the other Cranes in the flock they learn their migration paths for the rest of their lives. Of course there are numerous stories of people killing this majestic birds out of complete stupidity – a true loss not only due to their fragile numbers, but it costs more than $100,000 to rear and reintroduce each bird. To think that one convicted Crane killer was only fined $1 is sickening.
We were lucky enough to see these birds feeding in the pond. Most of the time they hang out among the reeds to feast and can’t really see them, but on this particular visit one of them was hunting right out in the open not 20 feet from us. Most of the time they tend to come up empty, but this tadpole met its match.
I’ll crop you in a bit so you have a better look at their diet. Yummy tadpole. Not as impressive as the Heron’s we’ve seen gorging on full fish, but still cool. That tadpole was gulped down with one flick of the neck.
You are probably patiently waiting for the obligatory dimension information. The Whooping Crane proudly carries the rank of the tallest flying North American bird. The next closest size is (Herons and Egrets) are a full 30% smaller than the Whooper. That flying frame is in the 5 foot range with a 7 to 8 foot wingspan. Oh, and they weigh in the 14 (female) to 16 (male) pound range. Our friends over at Wikipedia mentioned they can live around 23 years in the wild (when not cut short by dimwits)
There are actually two distinct populations of the Whooping Cranes. One set makes the trek from Wisconsin to Florida. There is actually another set that Summers in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada. This set then migrates to Texas for the Winter. Their specific destination in Texas is identified on Wikipedia and other sources as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge which is located near Rockport, Texas. Not often do you look at the region maps for a particular bird and it just has literally TWO LINES – on from Wisconsin to Florida and the other from Alberta to Texas – an clear representation for a bird that carries the Endangered Conservation Status
It has always intrigued us as to why the ICF sits outside Baraboo, Wisconsin, but a treat for all us Midwesterners that have the opportunity to at least witness the Whooping Crane – albeit in captivity. Looks like I’ve come to the end of the pictures – there are plenty more up on the EddieSoft Gallery (link here) if you crave more shots. Leaving you with one of my favorite captures from the shoot. I think of this image every time it feels like I’m getting buried at work and wishing there was a body of water I could dunk my head in.
It was truly a special day to witness these beautiful birds in captivity and can’t imagine what it would be like to be able to experience them in the wild… or can I….