For the past week, a handful of whooping cranes have been resting and feeding at and near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas.
In recent days, two adults and a juvenile have been spotted at Quivira’s Little Salt Marsh along with nearly 15,000 sandhill cranes and almost as many geese, Barry Jones, visitor services specialist at the refuge, said in an e-mail to a Listserv of Kansas birders.
Early Wednesday, the three whoopers had apparently moved on, Jones wrote in another e-mail, but another pair have arrived in their place.
Refuge officials are asking Kansans to report any sightings of the birds by going to www.fws.gov/refuge/quivira or by calling the refuge at 620-486-2393. The website contains a list of birds sighted at the refuge. The list is updated weekly.
For many Kansans, the arrival of the cranes is a sign the fall migration has arrived.
Each year, about a dozen or more of the endangered birds can be spotted during late October and early November at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County and at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend. They also can be seen in the marshes and fields around the region. It is often possible to view two to five birds daily during this time, Jones said in a statement.
Warmer temperatures and the drought have somewhat delayed the migration process this year. More whooping cranes are expected to arrive within the next few days and weeks.
The birds come through Kansas as they migrate from their nesting grounds in northern Canada to their wintering spot at Texas’ Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico.
At Quivira, the best areas to look for the birds are at the south end of the Little Salt Marsh, where there is an Observation Tower and telescope to scan the marsh, and at the west side of the refuge’s Big Salt Marsh, where another telescope is located. The best chance of seeing them is at sunrise and sunset.
Because the birds are endangered, observers must maintain a half-mile distance to prevent disturbing or harassing them.
During the period when whooping cranes are in the Quivira area, all hunting at the refuge is suspended until the birds have left the area.
The 5-foot-tall birds are all white, with a dark red cap, dark gray bill and black legs. In flight, the birds hold their necks straight out and their legs extend beyond their tail. Their wing tips are black.
The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is in central Kansas, west of Hutchinson. It is a little more than an hour’s drive from Wichita.