Whooping cranes make surprise stop in Marion County

Nine whooping cranes feed Sunday on farm ground about a mile east of Aulne in Marion County. Mark Miller of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks estimates 250 cranes are migrating through Kansas this spring.For the first time in recorded history, whooping cranes were sighted in Marion County on their migration journey north.

According to some sources, spotting a whooping crane in Kansas is the sighting of a lifetime.

Mike Miller with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said an estimated 250 wild whooping cranes are migrating through Kansas in the spring.

?They are often seen on Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County or Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in Barton County, but they are occasionally seen in other areas,? he said.

?They usually migrate in small family groups and are currently on their way to the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada.?

Because the whooping cranes are on the Federal Endangered Species List, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keeps track of sightings and reports.

Magnificent bird

Jim Mason, a naturalist with Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, said the whooping crane is ?a magnificent bird? and that is still in the process of recovering.

?They were almost exterminated,? he said. ?They are on the rebound, but have a long way to go to get back to the numbers they did have.?

Mason said the whooping crane?s lowest point was around World War II when only 13 birds were left.

?It was really, really dire,? he said. ?A lot of people have not seen whooping cranes because they are so rare, and serious birders would really get a kick out of seeing whooping cranes anytime.?

For those lucky enough to see the whooping cranes in Marion County before the birds continue migrating would be a treat, he said.

?Having a chance to see nine of them together in the middle of Kansas?I would rather imagine there have been people calling in sick to make the drive to Marion County to see the birds,? Mason said.

The birds could leave any day, but Mason said as long as there?s a north wind they will probably stick around.

?If it switches to the south, they may pick up and go,? he said.

Amazing view

For one Marion County residents Lorrie and Nick Peter, seeing the cranes was incredible.

?It is amazing to watch them,? Lorrie said. ?I walk across my yard and the road and kneel down to look at them. I can actually stand in front of my kitchen window and see an endangered species in the middle of a farming community.?

When Peter said she first spotted the whooping cranes, her husband didn?t think it was possible.

?He told me they are not in this area,? she said. ?But after some social networking with other birders, he was convinced.?

The whooping cranes were still here Monday, she said. ?I left for work this morning and six of them were still there,? Peter said.

In case someone should spot the whooping cranes in Marion County, Mason offered the following advice.

?People should keep an eye on the sky and when they see one, they should wave and say, ?Hi!?

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