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“An Incredible and Surreal Experience:” A Flock of 152 Whooping Cranes!
Wednesday November 7, 2018   |
Saskatchewan has long been a staging area for migrating Whooping Cranes, but recent sightings of up to 152 Whoopers at one location north of Saskatoon have been historic in nature.

Imagine the excitement of such a feeling and witnessing such an event! Lucky groups of birders recently reported a large and unprecedented group of more than 100 critically endangered Whooping Cranes north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. On Thanksgiving Day [in Canada], Monday October 8th, enthusiastic birders Sandra and Guy Wapple headed out to try to see the staging Whooping Cranes for themselves. Their story is fun and exciting, and we share it herein.

On their way northward, Guy and Sandra detoured into the town of Warman to pick up their friend Dale, then drove northwest trying to locate the historic gathering of Whoopers, but they ran into an unseasonal snowstorm along Highway 12. After a fairly adventurous afternoon of touring around in the snow, they were unable to find the rare cranes.

With the weather improving by Thursday, they decided to try again. It was still unseasonably chilly, but it was sunny, the winds were light and no snow was forecast. Sandra and Guy picked up their friend Phil Taylor, birder extraordinaire, and headed out of Saskatoon at 3:30pm with high hopes of finding the Whooping Cranes. Unfortunately, Dale was tied up at work, but he said he would catch up with them later, assuming they were successful in locating the cranes.

Toward the end of the day, Guy, Sandra, Phil and Dale were able to find the concentration of Whooping Cranes. “What a sight it was!” Guy explained, “We set up our spotting scopes at a respectful distance and began counting.”

Phil and Guy carefully counted the Whooping Cranes – several times! “We eventually arrived at an absolutely mind-blowing total of 152 birds(!!!!!),” Guy described. “There were 145 adults and 7 juveniles!” Several of the adults had colored leg bands to assist in their identification, so while viewing through his spotting scope, Phil called out the band color combinations and Sandra recorded the information. Guy noted the information they collected would be passed along to the Canadian Wildlife Service.

“Without a doubt, it was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced during my 45 years of birding” wrote Guy. “What made it even better was being able share this memorable occasion with Sandra and two very good friends.”

For the entire post, see http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=1483225&MLID=SK&MLNM=Saskatchewan

As a side note, several excited birders were able to witness this historic congregation of Whooping Cranes north of Saskatoon, including the Saskatoon Nature Society field trip members. Numbers of Whooping Cranes staging at the site continued to increase during early October from totals in the 80s to the 152 Whooping Cranes described above.

The numbers of Whooping Cranes found in the Central Flyway population of Whooping Cranes now numbers more than 500, probably in the neighborhood of 520 to 530 after the summer nesting season in the area of Wood Buffalo National Park in southern Alberta. This Central Flyway population, which has increased slowly from a low of less than 20 Whoopers in the 1940s, migrates south to winter along the Gulf Coast of Texas at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

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