Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Great White Birds stay on the Prairie this summer

Whooping crane image courtesy of James Villeneuve
Among the most positive bird news this summer was the record nesting success for the whooping cranes at Wood Buffalo National Park. The community brought forth 63 new birds, beating the previous record of 49 set in 2006.

Biologists counted 98 nests this spring and there were four pairs of twins. The wild population at the park is now over 400 birds. While they winter on the Texas Gulf coast at Aransas where Hurricane Harvey struck recently, the cranes are just beginning their southward migration and will not arrive until much later. News from Aransas indicates that the habitat should recover from the surge of salt water.

With that many cranes now breeding at Wood Buffalo, we may begin to see more young cranes stop short and spend the summer at prairie wetlands--within their historic range. (See this story.)

This summer, a pair of young adult Whooping Cranes got to know one another at a wetland near the town of Minton, an hour and a half south of Regina on Highway 6. Photographer James Villeneuve spent several days with them, photographing them from a safe distance. Here is what he had to say when I asked him to describe the experience:

"I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours a day with them for a little more than a week. It was especially great to see that one of the birds was a second year bird (there is still some brown on the coverts). At sunset each night they would perform a dance together, it was special to watch. One night they chased a coyote that was approaching the edge of the water, I believe it was after one of the shorebirds sharing the water. After a series of cold fronts pushed through on consecutive days they left in high winds for what I believe to be the last time on July 30th."
Take a close look at the bird on the left in this photo by James and you will see those brown feathers he mentions on the wings near the black feathers.

This whooping crane pair summered on the prairie near Minton, Sask.
Image courtesy of James Villeneuve

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