Date: 2/28/18 12:50 am From: Steve Seibel <sseibel999...> Subject: 2/26 and 2/27-- Sandhills cranes at Quivira NWR and migrating north from Quivira NWR
I drove out toward Quivira NWR around noon on 2/26. On the way, I crossed paths with about 30 American White Pelicans about 9 miles west of Hutchinson. Despite the strong south winds, they were southbound-- they were blown to the north as they circled in a thermal updraft, yet after leaving the thermal they managed to glide southward efficiently enough to make some net southward progress.
I spent the afternoon driving some roads to the west and northwest of the refuge looking for Sandhilll Cranes and seeing none. Finally around 5:17 I visited the overlook on 140th St. and noticed many Sandhill Cranes at the west edge of the Big Salt Marsh, to my northeast More cranes arrived as I watched. By the time I left around 5:38, several thousand were present there. This location is also visible looking SW or WSW from the southwest corner of the wildlife tour route that connects to 170th St. Many cranes, probably at least a thousand, also settled down at a location N of 170th St.
I was back in the area before sunrise on 2/27. Looking WSW from the southwest corner of the wildlife tour route, I watched several thousand cranes take wing between about sunrise and 8AM. Some also lifted off from a location N of 170th St.
All the cranes I watched departing the refuge had flown generally NNW, so I checked out the area NNW of the refuge. By 8:20 I was finding groups of cranes feeding in stubble fields about 5 to 7 miles NW of the N end of the refuge. Of course I can't rule out the possibility that some of the cranes had begun migrating soon after taking off, using powered flapping flight, without stopped to feed.
Around 10:05 in the morning was the first time I spotted cranes circling in thermal updrafts, near the feeding areas noted above. Between 10 and noon I drove from this area to Ellinwood to Claflin to a point a mile east of Wilson, with flocks of migrating Sandhill Cranes in view almost the entire way. The cranes were circling up in thermals and then gliding. The wind aloft appeared to be from the SSW-- there was certainly some W component-- but the birds were adjusting their heading on their glides to compensate for the eastward drift accrued while circling, so that their overall course over the ground was nearly due north. From noon to 2 PM I watched more flocks of cranes fly over, from the point just east of Wilson. Then I drove back toward the refuge, more or less retracing my north bound track, and seeing more flocks of cranes pass over. My last sighting of cranes engaged in obvious migration may have been around 2:45-- I need to recheck my notes for any possible later sightings. It's hard to guess how many Sandhill Cranes I saw migrating northward-- certainly well over a thousand.
As I got closer to the refuge, I saw many cranes moving around the area N of the refuge in the late afternoon, including a very large group of likely over 1000 cranes feeding on the ground about 5 miles north of the refuge. None of the 3 fields where I saw groups of cranes feeding in the morning were still occupied by cranes in the afternoon.
Near sunset, over a thousand cranes congregated at a location N of 170th St. and possibly N of the refuge border. Some of them moved south across 170th St as it started to grow dark. On Sunday 2-25 I saw a lot of movement all the way up to dark, so it's possible that most of the cranes I saw N of 170th on 2-27 ended up moving to a different spot for the night-- such as the location at the west edge of the Big Salt Marsh.
During my wanderings on 2-27 , I wasn't in a position to watch for Sandhill Cranes arriving at the refuge from the south during the prime migration of hours of the early to mid afternoon. By the time I got to the refuge in the late afternoon / evening, the lift was poor and any new arrivals would probably have been flying low and difficult to distinguish from the birds already present. But based on the strong south winds and at least moderate thermal activity, I'd be very surprised if there weren't many new arrivals of Sandhill Cranes at the refuge on this day.